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What's the point of massage?

I get many clients coming to me for a massage – whether it be sports massage or remedial deep tissue massage expecting or maybe simply hoping that the treatment will solve their problems. When I offer (threaten) these clients with some form of corrective exercise plan they often look less than impressed.

With many physios stepping away from hands on work to alternative treatments such as ultrasound, dry needling and corrective exercise there is also a questions of whether it is any use at all. So when is it best to have a massage? What do they actually do, and are they any use or is it just pampering?

The first thing I explain to my clients is that massage, for all intents and purposes, is a short term aid. It will rarely ‘fix’ a problem. So why is it any use? Well the first thing you have to look at is why you are tense or injured in the muscles or other soft tissue you are seeking treatment for.

If it was a sudden injury born out of an accident or over-training then massage may help to break down excessive scar tissue that has helped the soft tissue to heal, while at the same time it can stretch and help to improve blood flow which helps bring oxygen and other healing elements to the muscle. Once it has gotten the muscle into a better state it is up to training – corrective alignment and strengthening exercises to make sure the muscle is strong enough, aligned correctly and activating on demand, otherwise the likelihood of re-injury is higher.

If the tension or injury is born out of more chronic movement patterns then massage will simply help to take some of the tension out of the muscle. It won’t fix tight shoulders or lower backs, but may take away some of the niggly pain and discomfort long enough for you to seek help and get a corrective exercise plan going that should help to prevent the tension or injury from returning. It may also help to temporarily switch off dominant muscles so you stand a better chance of getting your weaker muscles trained up!

There are times however when unusual circumstances bring you tight muscles that simply need a bit of TLC. I recently spent several nights hanging off an air mattress with the children camping and with the best will in the world, exercise and stretching wasn’t knocking the tight muscles I got from it on the head. I’ve had clients who have suffered accidents which have required a large amount of surgery and some permanent damage, meaning their bodies are unlikely to ever get back to a truly balanced state. It’s times like this that massage alone – even if it is a bit of pampering can re-set you back to normal (or as close as you’re likely to get) and send you happily off to training, or at least pain free movement.

Happy Training!

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