I used to think massage was only to make me feel good. Now, I understand that, if done right, massage is a method of injury prevention and treatment. In retrospect, I wish I had known to apply it when I was younger, on things like strained muscles. It has definitely helped me as an over 50 year old recreational athlete for various musculoskeletal issues.
You could picture massage as an extension of the benefits of regular muscle movement. You know that if you stay in one position for too long, you get stiff. You know this is especially true if you have engaged in vigorous activity. If you can remind yourself to move regularly, though slowly and gently, during the rest and recovery period, you ward off stiffness and your muscles recover more comfortably.
This is probably true for two reasons. First, muscle movement increases return blood flow. Blood on the return trip to the heart is via veins and is passive. That is, it happens when muscle movement squeezes the veins, thus pushing the blood. The blood moves one direction, toward the heart, because there are strategically placed one-way valves to keep it moving in the heartward direction. This moves both nutrients and waste products for the muscle tissue, helping them to recover.
The second reason movement helps is that it keeps the musculoskeletal structures mobile. For some reason, after vigorous activity, these structures can tend to settle into a tightened position. Moving them regularly counteracts this, keeping them more supple and primed for further motion.
A massage works in similar ways. The pressure of the massaging action is rhythmic and varied. It increases passive movement of blood, but without any effort on the part of the individual. Depending on the massage technique, the passive muscle movement can be more thorough and deeper into the tissues. Thus, the muscles end up feeling refreshed.
The pressure can also be used to very specifically work on muscle fibers that need extra attention to help relax. Some fibers get triggered and bunched up in ways that are not easily released through regular movement. Massage pressure can be used to help coax those trouble spots into relaxing.
All of this means that the body will be able to move more easily and with less chance of straining a tight muscle. Motion stays more fluid, so graceful, good form is more likely. Good form means less stress on joints and muscles. Since activity can be maintained more comfortably, strength remains.
If there is already an injury or strain, massage can aid with the healing process through all of the same mechanisms. You can even go a step further by adding some heat to the equation. A warm environment or hot bath can get the muscles a head start in relaxing and circulation. This is particularly helpful if you are massaging yourself, since you can rarely be as thorough or apply the same pressure to your own body as a massage therapist can.
There are some inventive tools that can be used for better self-massage. Around our house, we use foam rollers on our legs a lot. I also recently learned about a device for the arms called a Roleo. This nifty contraption has done wonders for my lower arm, which was hurting quite a lot from a carpal tunnel like pain. The pain was making everything from gardening to crocheting difficult. A couple times using the Roleo and it feels much, much better, so that I hardly notice it now. I just have to follow up with the Roleo once in a while to maintain this.
I never had a professional massage until about 5 years ago. Then, every few months, I would try someone new, but either for reasons of price, location, or personal preference, I couldn’t settle on one provider. Then, I found Sheila Aguirre. She runs her own business, called Body Wow (208-250-2970) and she is everything one could hope for in a massage therapist. Find her here on FaceBook. She has helped both my husband and myself with some spasming back muscles and nerve pain. If you live near me, you should give her a try. If you live somewhere else, I hope you can find someone like her.
Now, I look at massage payments and investment in massage tools as part of my preventative health measures, like eating well and exercising. The older one gets, the more maintaining mobility is key to overall health. Massage, both self-administered and from Sheila, helps keep me moving.