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Self Care – Cough less and cough with less pain

When you stop coughing,
continue to practice social distancing.
Act responsibly in protecting
the health of yourself and others.

Practically speaking,
you can stimulate the skin in a way
that reduces the frequency and pain of coughing.

This is based on a neurological principle discovered by English surgeon John Hilton. Loosely stated, hot, cold, and pain travel in the same nerve, and stimulating the skin with cold neurologically relaxes the musculoskeletal structures underneath that skin. That’s really handy if you know how to use it. In most cases, a bracing dose of cold is more effective and creates fewer problems than heat.

Getting rid of the dry hack:

Solid research reveals that a dry hack is often associated with the trigger points in this, the sternocleidomastoid muscle. I’ve gotten rid of and elicited a dry cough during a session many times by working this muscle. If you’re reading, watching TV, or doing other things that pull your head forward with a slight twist to one side, this muscle gets tight.

If you look in the mirror and one side seems to lay closer to your neck than the other side, it is probably associated with the cough.

The easy solution is to put one of those little Salonpas patches on it if you have one. Put it along the middle of the muscle where I have the green X. They’re available at every drug and grocery store. They’re even cheaper on Amazon.

This post shows you how to use Ice-and-Stretch to release this muscle at home with stuff you probably already have. I’ve done this countless times when a client gets a cough while lying on the table. It’s a great technique.

This is probably one of the most useful stretches you’ll ever do.

This muscle is complex. It impacts the vagus nerve, which runs in a sheath along the inside of the muscle. This means that it impacts many things, from sinus irritation and headaches to coughing and hangover. I have several posts about problems related to this muscle. (sternocleidomastoid)

Sore sides or nagging shoulder blade when coughing:

There are several ways to release this, but I’m going to strongly suggest that you use a Salonpas patch. Put it right there where the green “X” marks the spot. It works very consistently.

If you don’t have the patch, it’s cheaper and quicker to do the doorway stretches in this post. Here’s the thing: If you don’t use the Ice-and-Stretch method, you might aggravate it. If you use Ice-and-Stretch, it is REALLY intense when you ice this area, but that means it’s much more likely to produce great results.

Burning in mid-back from coughing:

This muscle is very involved in coughing and gets aggravated when coughing is relentless. The best solution is a Salonpas patch because this is a hard area to stretch. Put if right on the red spot in the pic.

You can use contrast therapy as well. Here is a post with guidelines.

Contrast Therapy.

Sharp pain in low-back when coughing:

This is a tougher one. It involves two muscles in the low back and is usually part of a bigger low back problem. The multifidi, tiny strands of muscle that connect the vertebrae, create pain because the vertebral joints are binding. The quadratus lumborum, which attaches to those same vertebrae, is aggravated for the same reason.

The patches (see above) are usually very effective. They help with the sharp pain of the cough and make your back feel more stable. The pain relief gets rid of the dragging feeling. I’ve used them a good bit with friends and family when working outside or moving. Always good results.

Put the patch on the X like the picture on the box. A bit higher than you might think. Feel for the section of your spine between your ribs and hips. Center it in that area but make sure that you cover the base of the ribs to dampen the pull of the diaphragm on low back muscles when you cough. Still, make sure to have coverage into the lumbar vertebrae to quiet those trigger points as well. I know the pain is lower, but it’ll be more effective directly on the trigger points.

If you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning but are good after moving around a bit, IcyHot sticks on and stays on a little better than the Salonpas patches. Clients who put them on before bedtime can get up at night and in the morning without wincing back pain. Click on the one in the pic. They last about 12 hours.

As I said before, this is usually part of a larger, ongoing low back problem. These yoga poses are variations of some standard PT exercises for this low-back instability. I recommend that you do them with the standard AIS method of reps held for 1.5 seconds instead of the typical prolonged yoga stretch. Here’s a post on guidelines for AIS.

There is some real wisdom to the old practice of rubbing your kid’s chest down with Vicks. The vapocoolant relaxes the intercostal muscles and makes it easier to breathe. Relax. Breathe easier. Your Mom would approve.

For longer relief and to stabilize your low-back:

Do 3 rounds of these exercises. The second and third rounds should be easier with better range of motion.

variation of supine twist by Yoga Journal

The Supine Twist

The supine twist mobilizes those little facet joints that are the focus of binding pain.

Start with 20 to one side, then 20 to the other side. Bring the feet closer to your hips to target higher in the low back. Move your feet away from your low back to target muscles in the hip.

Many people prefer this variation on the supine twist.

It often produces little clicks of mobilizing vertebrae that release the trigger points creating immediate relief.

Bridge Pose by YogaOutlet


Bridges are good at stabilizing the low back, lengthening the core, and strengthening your hamstrings.

20 reps. Start slow and easy. Lift a little higher each time. Follow the AIS Guidelines.

Ice your back afterward to stabilize the joints and reduce inflammation.

If you have this sharp pain in your low back when coughing, see your bodyworker for longer-lasting relief.

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Tony Preston has a practice in Atlanta, Georgia, where he sees clients. He has written materials and instructed classes since the mid-90s. This includes anatomy, trigger points, cranial, and neuromuscular.

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