The Risks and Rewards of Massage Therapy
The human body is an incredible thing. Just like a dutiful mother that picks up after her family and says nothing, your body picks up after you. The body compensates for the things we do like slouch our backs at work all day, run and play sports without stretching properly and sleep on our tummies while our spines are being crunched like accordions. The body does what it can to prevent us from feeling pain which I call masking. But depending on the damage being done and how long it has been going on, your body may reach a point where it can no longer compensate behind the scenes. Allowing you to feel the pain is a form of communication, begging you to take notice and make a change.
There are some things to consider when starting a massage regimen.
If you have had chronic tightness and long-term metabolic waste build-up and trigger points in an area, you may have some discomfort when initially working that out. Think of it as waking the sleeping giant. For example, your calves might be particularly tender if the muscles in them are very tight. Wearing high heels causes shortening of the muscles there. Prolonged shortening can cause ischemia (less blood delivery), tightness, trigger points and tenderness.
Massage can reveal pain that has been hiding, but if you can work through it, you can eliminate it and bring health and vitality back to those areas that have been overly stressed for too long.
Therapeutic massage is a good idea because allowing that pain to continue indefinitely is risking that reversing the built-up damage will be more difficult to do down the road. Additionally, tight muscles can press upon structures such as nerves and vessels. Prolonged abnormal irritation to nerves can damage them. Also, tight muscles can pull upon bony structures such as vertebrae, causing the spine to become out of alignment. Oftentimes, common aches and pains can be traced back to tight muscles that are affecting certain body parts by association or compensation. For example, if you have knee pain, you might have tight quadriceps. If you have low back pain, you might have tight glutes. If you have headaches, you might have tight muscles in your neck or behind your skull. Massage is a reasonable option to explore and rarely carries side effects.
As alluded to earlier, the disturbance of long-term tightness is like poking the sleeping bear. Everything has adapted to being tight and massaging that is like taking the mask off. Some people have very tight muscles but don't actually suffer from them. They come in for a massage and say they want as much pressure as I can give because they have a high pain-tolerance. While on the table, the deep pressure feels great to them. But then later, the soreness comes. Some soreness should be expected for people who have very tight muscles, particularly for people who have never been massaged or not in a long time. This is why you should consider applying cold therapy, or ICE to areas that were deeply worked. Ice will help extra blood retreat from the area which will bring down swelling. Reduced swelling equals reduced pain.
Being sore after a massage does not mean you were given a bad massage. Post massage soreness & malaise is a common reaction to deep tissue treatment. Soreness typically lasts about 24 hours. If you are sore for more than 24 hours after your massage, tell your therapist so that she will know to use less pressure with you next time. Feeling a little nauseated after a massage is also a possibility, but it is less common than soreness. It is rarely something to be alarmed about, but nausea after a massage should also be reported to your therapist. Having said that, after you have had two or three massages in close succession, your muscles will begin to tolerate the therapy better. They will hurt less because they will be less tight. Healthy, loose muscles do not hurt when pressed upon.
It is important to remember, too, that there are multiple layers of muscle tissue. When you have your first therapeutic massage, the layer that is being affected the most is the superficial layer which is the layer just under the skin. Layers beneath that are likely getting some benefit but depending on how thick and tight the superficial layer is, they might have to wait until the top layers relax. Notice the picture of the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius muscles cut and refracted so that you can see the underlying gluteus minimus. In order to access the gluteus minimus, your therapist has to loosen the maximus and medius first. She probably won't be able to reach the minimus within your pressure tolerance while the layers above are still tight.
The key thing to realize here is that your symptoms might be stemming from those underlying layers. You have a massage and it feels great but your pain might not go away or stay away for long if the more problematic muscles haven't been accessed. Even with deep tissue massage, it might take a few sessions for the therapist to work her way down to the place where the sleeping bear lives. Therefore, you might experience more soreness after your second or third massage than you did after your first. Sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better. Soreness from accessing deeper layers laden with trigger points has the potential to last longer than 24 hours. Self-care such as icing, stretching and mobilization can help reduce it.
Many of you have symptomatic areas that are no longer being masked. You feel the pain every day. This is your body telling you that you need a massage and that the time for waiting is over. Don’t wait until it gets so bad that you can’t function or it becomes very hard to reverse. Depending on the source of your symptoms, massage may get to the root of the problem and even eliminate it naturally. Massage is often a better option than taking drugs to mask your pain. Pills tax your liver and adding unneccessary chemicals to your body may not be the right option for you.
You will likely need more than one session to find and correct all the dysfunction that has built up over the years. That is why you should consider investing in a packaged therapy program. Your therapist can work within your tolerance level to ensure that you will get the therapy you need as comfortably as possible.
Get more in tune with your body and do what is long overdue. Schedule a massage today!
Certified Neuromuscular Therapist
Right as Rain Massage