It’s A Muscle, Not a Dinosaur… and Other Things I Learned On the Massage Table

I have a bit of an issue with my back, as you may know if you read my entry from the day it tried to kill me. I also have trouble with a bad disc in my neck. I used to think of massages as luxurious, expensive things that I wasn’t allowed to have very often. But more than once, after having one (usually via gift certificate from Jack), my voice teacher would notice that my posture was better, I wasn’t doing any of the tiny little things while I sang that indicated alignment problems or pain, and I sounded better as a result. (Singing is a very physical thing, even though it looks like we’re just standing really still.) Between that and the fact that I usually felt better and usually slept better, I decided that I needed to start thinking of massages as physical therapy, since, for me, that’s what they are.

So I joined one of those monthly places where you sign up for a year and you get a massage every month, for about half what you would pay at a spa.

 What a doozy I had yesterday.

I hadn’t been to see Art the Indistinguishably Asian Massage Therapist since February. (It seems rude to ask him where he’s from. It’s already enough of a stereotype that he’s Asian and a massage therapist. Why draw attention to the fact that I’m thinking it?) I’m still having trouble with a lot of stiffness and soreness in the morning since the Great Coffee Filter Incident, and my right hip has been tricky. (My hip? I’m 34 years old, for crying out loud. My hip, now?) I’ve been worried that a massage might do more harm than good in my present state, but after two months of building soreness everywhere else, and the corresponding decline in sleep quality, I gave in and booked an appointment.

Face-down on the warm table and under Art’s skillful and soft hands, I am immediately putty. I will let him do whatever he wants. This is really key to making your massage work, because resistance will only hurt you. Sometimes when Art manages to get my ear all the way to my shoulder, I wonder how I’ve become so Gumby-esque. Other times I wonder if a sheet has slipped a little too far, revealing a little too much, but I can’t bring myself to care enough to open my eyes. By the time the 90 minutes are over, he could ask me to bear his children for the further enrichment of Wherever He’s From and I would say “shhhurrre” in a drooly, gravelly-voiced haze of happiness.

When this session was over and I was still all warm and bendy, Art told me in his trademark soft voice and lilting accent that my back was very, very tight, and my legs are rotated outward in a way that shouldn’t be happening. He believed this to be related to my hips, so he wanted to check my heliocastroneves muscle.

Helio Castroneves. Climbing fences can cause muscle strain. (photo from

My which?

“Iliosaurus.” Is what I thought he said this time. 

...This one?

Um… my…? (The accent gets in the way sometimes and I don’t want to offend.)


“Yeah, okay.”

“Therapists don’t like to do this,” Art gently explained, “because… it’s not pleasant. It’s not pleasant work. Not a good feeling.”

I nodded that I understood and was willing to gut it out.

So he gently and delicately probed his fingers under every abdominal internal organ I have to make his way to this band of muscle that lives under them.

He was right. Not pleasant. Rather unpleasant, in point of fact. But I relaxed into it. He located the muscle band in question and explained that it is shorter and thicker than it is supposed to be, therefore causing my pelvis to tilt and possibly causing my hip and lower back pain. “But this side,” he said, disemboweling me on the left, “is not so bad.”

He came around to disembowel me on the right, and yowza. I felt that muscle band pop right up when he got to it.

“Ohhhh,” Art intoned. “Yeah, this one’s bad.”

Art explained that lunges with five pound weights on either side could help stretch this iliowhatever muscle, and over time, that might help with the pain.

After he had left the room and I had almost gotten my newly pliable and internally rearranged self up off the table, he knocked. “I want to try one more stretch with you,” he explained from the other side of the door.

So I get to lay here longer? Okay.

Art lifted my right leg so that the back of my knee was resting on his inner elbow. Then he pulled it up and over to cross my body. My entire right side came up off the table and moved with my leg.

Apparently, that’s not supposed to happen.

“Wow,” Art said, still slowly moving my leg across the table.

I don’t generally mind hearing a guy say “wow” while judging my flexibility as I lie relatively unclothed on my back, but this wasn’t that kind of “wow.”

Meanwhile, my body was screaming at me. My groin was killing me and my glutes were stretching like crazy. I was laughing, but only to make the “ow ow ow ow OWWWW” less scary for the massage recipients in the other rooms, and for Art, who kept saying, “This is really baaaad,” but not stopping.

Finally he did, and held my leg where it was. “Do you see your foot?” he said. My lower leg was probably at about a 45 degree angle to the table, so the sole of my foot was directed at the corner of the room. “That’s supposed to be here,” he explained, indicating that my foot should be parallel to the floor. “And your whole body is lifted off the table. That’s bad.”

I took note of my present physical arrangement, resembling a pretzel twist that had mutated in the factory.

“How old are you again?” he asked, grinning.

That’s it, Secret Asian Man. Taunt the suffering woman on the table. You know what? No children for you.

Art explained that this is a really bad state for my iliobrontosaurus to be in, and I really need to work on stretching it. Promising myself I’d google something that sounded something like what he was talking about when I got home, I assured him I would do so.

It’s actually called the iliopsoas (ill-ee-oh-SO-us… the P is silent), and it’s a grouping of muscles that wind around from the lower lumbar spine, over the hip, under the abdominal organs and joins up with the groin. This is what it looks like.

It's that thing that comes down from the spine and then around the hip.

Who comes up with these goofy configurations?

I found a few YouTube videos of stretches I can do. One of them involves lying on my coffee table, which then of course immediately involves fending off the furball that can’t understand why I’m lying on the coffee table, but thinks it means “please climb on me, howl in my face and sit on my chest.” The stretches are, frankly, not a bit relaxing, but since you’re supposed to hold them for so long, you really do start to feel things lengthen and let go. I’m hoping they’ll really do some good. Next time Art wants to relocate a limb, it would be nice if he didn’t mock me.


3 thoughts on “It’s A Muscle, Not a Dinosaur… and Other Things I Learned On the Massage Table

  1. You know, I really like reading you. You’re starting to make sixty-six not seem so bad. The problem I have with stretches is that I only do them until the immediate problem is gone, then stop. Which brings back the immediate problem.

    • Ugh, it’s terrible! Most of the time I think I’m doing pretty well, but then I write something down and I’m like, “Aw, hell.” But I’m working on it! I’m doing the stretches! Apparently my “immediate problem” is going to take a while to go away (it’s caused by sitting, so unless I can start walking 90 miles round-trip for work and standing all day while I’m there, I’m in trouble).

  2. Pingback: In Which I Bestow Honors On People | thesinglecell

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