Massage Frivolity or Necessity?

Well, of course, I would say necessity wouldn’t I? But I believe this is sound advice based on many years of study and hands on experience.

Until I began my training in massage therapy I had no idea what was in store for me.  I, like many of my peers, thought it was something that professional sports people and rich folk indulged in. I had begun my course as a stepping stone to something else - BUT..

As soon as I began to study the subtle intricacies and interconnectnedness of the human body I was hooked. As I then began to identify the different structures that were responsible for movement and even more intriguingly that could be manipulated for better range of movement and to relieve pain the stepping stone became mynew favourite place!! I have been practising and writing about it ever since!

The daily activities of the moving body are achieved by the contraction and extension of groups of muscles. All movements and postures are achieved in this way, via the co-operation of agonist and antagonist muscles – we learn this in primary school, but many of us fail to grasp the true significance of this in our daily lives.

The more frequent or the more extended periods of time spent holding the same posture or repeating the same movement can result in overuse in some areas and weakness in others. Over time the resultant strain on attachments can cause joint instability, inflammation and damage to tendons and ligaments and thickening of the myofascia or connective tissue.

Likewise, those muscles that are underused, (when working opposite the muscles being overused) frequently become inactive, creating a need for compensatory actions.

Our muscles work in groups, so if one muscle becomes inactive the movement or posture can still be performed by other members of the group - a bit like Take That, without Robbie Williams!

Unlike Take That, the other members of the group, whilst they will do their best to provide what is asked of them, the strain will eventually become too much and one by one they will become compromised and cease to perform. Which is generally, what has happened when we wake up one morning with a stiff neck, painful shoulder or gammy leg and complain that we must have ‘slept funny’!

This would be an ‘overuse’ injury often caused or aggravated over time by repetitive strain and poor postural habits.

Another type of muscular or soft tissue injury occurs as a result of small tears in the muscle fibres caused either from trauma (bumps, scrapes, trips, falls, whiplash etc.,) or overload, (such as overreaching, holding heavy weights under tension, sharp twisting and bending movements etc.,) Under these circumstances muscle cells secrete a glue-like substance to stick the fibres back together like a sort of internal super glue. This process forms adhesions in the muscle – areas that are healed but ‘fixed’ in place. They are easy to identify as they form into solid feeling bumps and are often sore to the touch.  Colloquially and quite incorrectly these are called ‘knots’. But as I have (hopefully) explained, they aren’t so much ‘knots’ as they are ‘stickies’. Adhesions are one of the reasons massage therapy has thrived in recent years, because it is very easy to demonstrate release of a ‘knot’ and its resultant benefit on pain relief and mobility.

These would be described as compensatory, strain or contact injuries. They are caused mainly by overexertion and stress. Most accidents, trips, falls etc., could be avoided if we would only slow down a bit and give ourselves a little slack now and then! Likewise overexertion and stress can cause our muscles to be held under tension for extended periods, resulting in friction, strain, microtears and adhesions.

Our modern lifestyles of sedentary working and pushing our physical limits at weekend marathons, bikeathons and racing around at breakneck speed to cram in as much activity as possible, have created a bit of a paradox:

Determination to conquer anything that threatens to slow us down

A lifestyle that creates more physical imbalance and strain than ever before

So in answer to my original question – Frivolity or Necessity – I would very much say that regular Sports or Remedial Massage is a necessity.  Perhaps not quite as much as food and water, but perhaps more so than a hot beverage from your favourite fancy coffee chain! (A 50% reduction in consumption of coffee shop coffee could likely get you a massage every 4 – 6 weeks)

A good Sports or Remedial Massage Therapist should be able to alleviate your discomfort, highlight areas of strain to watch out for, explain where your imbalances are and advise on what action you might take to conquer that which might otherwise slow you down, cause you pain and make you miserable.

But having a regular massage at a clinic isn’t the only way.  I lecture my clients constantly on self treatment and maintenance.  Learning how the body works and understanding its needs is our best way to stay fit and healthy.

Most of us clean our teeth as part of our daily routine, to stay healthy. It is my personal opinion that if we could all learn an effective self-care routine to do the same for our musculoskeletal system, many common painful conditions could be alleviated or avoided altogether.

Learning massage, understanding how to care for the moving body and having a professional treatment every now and then in my opinion therefore, should be regarded as important as taking care of our teeth.



Posted in Body, Sports and other Physical Injuries.