Chasing Symptoms

Image of waterfall with words The Problem With Chasing Symptoms

Chasing symptoms is costing us time, energy, and lots and lots of money. So, why is it so popular? Let’s get into it. To start with, what is a symptom?

  • Any phenomenon or circumstance accompanying something and serving as evidence of it
  • A sign or indication of something

Those are the dictionary definitions of “symptom”. Pain is a symptom. Excessive tension is a symptom. Even muscular weakness is a symptom. The list of symptoms that I see in clients on a regular basis goes on and on: headaches, muscle aches, joint pain, restlessness, low energy, brain fog, insomnia, decreased mobility, irritability, arthritis, high blood pressure, muscle cramps, hot flashes, sinus pressure, etc. All symptoms. Symptoms are uncomfortable and we want them to just go away. We chase symptoms instead of true health.

Actually, most modern diagnoses are just symptoms of bigger things. They aren’t THE thing. So if a symptom is a sign or indication of something else, then why would we try to silence the symptom? That is symptom chasing. Bouncing around from symptom to symptom trying to minimize it or make it go away. All without listening to what it is really telling us. Like pulling the leaf off of a dandelion instead of digging up the roots. Our western medical system is built on this. I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t seem to be working all that well. We seem to be getting more ill and less functional by the decade. It is pervasive both in internal medicine and in physical medicine. My focus is on the latter. How our physical bodies function and offer little breadcrumb messages towards true health.

What Can I Do Instead?

My answer to everything is always look deeper. Don’t stop on the surface level concern. And certainly don’t try to make it go away. Your body is giving you information in the form of symptoms. Information that can be helpful if we consciously choose to listen and not just get rid of it through medication, chiropractic, massage therapy, physical therapy, diets, etc. Simply take the time to listen to your body and know that each surface level symptom or complaint stems from something deeper.

How Holistic Bodywork Looks Deeper

When clients come in to see me for the first time. I have them fill out an intake form and I do a brief verbal interview. I ask them what has been going on, what they are experiencing, and maybe how they spend their days. But really, I let the body talk to me. I never ignore what the clients say or brush it off. The information they give is an important piece to the puzzle, but it is never the whole story.

Symptom chasing is so ingrained in our culture. So 9 times out of 10 people come to me to get rid of their symptoms. Spoiler alert: I don’t try to get rid of symptoms. Ever. I think focusing my time and attention on symptoms is a waste of time and energy. Instead I use the symptoms, the clients story, and the body all as a way to see the bigger and deeper picture.

A major part of the process is connecting the dots WITH the client. Explaining what I am feeling and asking questions about their experiences. This helps to build awareness around the why and also helps to build a framework for moving forward. That is how holistic bodywork looks deeper. We don’t chase pain, tension, or symptoms. I definitely don’t try to get rid of them either. Together, we use them as very important clues and shovels to get to the roots.

Case Study

I know a lot of the explaining above feels vague, so let’s dive in to a real life example. Personal information changed for privacy 🙂

Sally is a 38 year-old female. She came to me with complaints of decreased range of motion in her left shoulder, severe neck tension, and frequent migraines. She works a hybrid desk job 40 hours a week and has 3 kids heavily involved in sports and extracurricular activities. Sally is married. She has tried chiropractic, massage, and physical therapy, but nothing seems to last.

Session 1

When I first got her on the table, face down, her entire back is tight and gripping. Like she has been running from a bear for the last week and doesn’t want to let her guard down in case it returns. The left side is more tight and hard, like a brick wall. I ask her some questions about her work environment. We find out there could be some tweaks made to make her set up more ergonomic when she works from home.

The left side of the body is related to the feminine. So while working on some standard positional release methods for the shoulder, I start to ask her if she has down time, is able to express emotions, and what her personality is like. It turns out, she doesn’t have much time for herself and doesn’t like to express grief. She has a strained relationship with her mother as well. She tends to power through and stays busy with her kids and work and house duties.

Sally’s husband is an active partner, but she does not like asking for her own time or confiding in him about her stressors. She believes this is just how life is. I can see how all of these factors are playing a major role in what her body is expressing. We talk about these things together and some of it resonates, but some of it Sally isn’t quite seeing. Which is okay. We focus on the parts that are hitting home. After this session, I recommend that Sally does a calendar analysis and find time for herself every day. On top of that I believe she has a lot of stuck grief in her chest and upper back. I tell her about a guided visualization, and she is interested in checking it out. That concludes session #1.

Session 2

When Sally comes back for session 2, she reports that she has not had a migraine since our last session (1 month ago), which is an improvement for her. She was able to find 30 minutes of down time each day. Sally also tried out the guided visualization two times. The first time she felt weird, but the second time she felt something open up. The tweaks we talked about with her home computer setup have not been made yet, but will be soon.

When she gets on the table, her body is noticeable less rigid. Like her nervous system decided the bear isn’t coming back for her after all. The left side is tighter than the right, but less than last time. Today, we focus most of our time on the chest and neck. We connected where some of the stuck grief comes from. A few tears and a nice muscular release. With the neck, we talk about control. It was related to both work dynamics and dynamics in her relationship with her husband. These are things she has been aware of, but Sally was not aware how it was manifesting in her bodily symptoms.

Together, we come up with a plan to continue the 30 minutes a day downtime and weekly guided visualization. On top of that, Sally will do some journaling around control in work and her relationship. Journaling is a great introspective tool.

Session 3

Sally comes in to this session with a definite pep in her step. Her symptoms have dropped off dramatically and she is mind-boggled considering she hasn’t had to do hours worth of stretching or spent $$$ on weekly massages to maintain it. The journaling opened up a few things and she was able to see some spots she was previously blind to. She will continue that work within her marriage counselor.

When she gets on the table, her back is is even less tense than last session. Like she was never running and hiding from the bear in the first place. This session is focused on her left shoulder. With the chest and upper back less tight and gripping, we can see the mechanics of the shoulder are out of balance. The muscle that is tight is reflecting that drive to just pull her shoulders back and power through. We talk about specific situations where this is relevant in her life currently while manually re-balancing the muscles with positional release and trigger point therapy.

Sally is adament about maintaining the shifts she has implemented. Intentional down time, set time for grief release, and looking deeper than surface level symptoms have made great changes for her. We agree that with her progress she will just reach out when she gets to the next layer or needs guidance.


Chasing symptoms is a waste of time and energy. Ultimately, it is a distraction from the real issue and doing the internal work. Remember that your body is a reflection of your internal environment. That means that mindset, emotions, behaviors, choices, spirituality all come through your physical body. The culmination of our personal history, personality, mind, heart, and soul.

If you are ready to stop chasing symptoms and dig up some roots, Holistic Bodywork is a great place to start. This is for anyone who has persistent and ongoing symptoms, is ready to do the internal searching and shifting, and get real relief. Schedule your session today. If you live outside the Lansing, MI area online/distance sessions also available. All of the digging and banter without the hands-on portion. Reach out for available times for distance sessions.

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