Massage is most often associated with a relaxing spa service. However, just as there are several types of yoga or physical therapy styles, massage therapy varies among practitioners. As such, bodywork can have many benefits and is a great way to support a healthy lifestyle. This is especially true for those that treat soft tissue therapy not as a luxury but as an essential part of self-care. Recovery strategies have become more commonplace recently. They include anything from yoga to vibration guns to heat or cold treatments.
Their goal is to accelerate the natural healing processes our body’s cells undergo after vigorous exercise or physical demands. Massage is possibly one of the most powerful recovery tools because it can accomplish many recovery goals in one session.
Higher anxiety levels tend to lower pain thresholds. Or, said differently, the more stressed out you are the more intense your pain might feel to you. Lowering your stress levels can mitigate perceived pain. A massage is a powerful tool that uses mindful touch to soothe the fight or flight branch of your nervous system and helps stimulate its counterpart: the rest and restores branch. In a relaxed state, we sleep better, retain more information, heal faster, and usually report a decrease in pain symptoms.
- Reduces Muscle Soreness:
Regular tissue work can help reduce muscle soreness. DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness is what most people experience 24-48 hours after a challenging workout or physical activity. Massage promotes fluid exchange in your tissue. Your tissue, including muscles, relies on this movement of fluid to exchange nutrients for toxins and deliver oxygen to depleted tissue cells. Basically, massage can help you recover faster so you can get back to your active lifestyle. Challenging experience depends partly on how much independence tissue layers have.
- Increases body awareness:
Your skin is your largest organ. As embryos, our brain and skin evolve from the same cells and can be considered continuations of each other. You can think of your skin as your brain turned inside out and your brain as your skin turned outside in. Input to your skin, e.g., through massage, stimulates your brain. More specifically, your brain has a map of every part of your body so input to each region of skin can increase your brain’s awareness of that region. The more aware your brain is of your body, the better it can judge where you are in space and where your body parts are relative to each other. This is pivotal for movement coordination and even injury prevention.
- Addresses scar tissue:
Scars are a result of your nervous system’s response to tissue damage. Whether from an injury or surgery, scar tissue heals wounds and serves its purpose. However, scar tissue fibers, unlike “normal” tissue fibers, are disorganized. This creates two problems. On one hand, this tissue cannot function as well as undamaged tissue and does not yield as well to stretch or compression which is necessary for your muscles (and its connective tissue) to function efficiently.
Secondly, this disorganized tissue provides a blurrier picture on your brain map. This makes it so that your brain cannot activate that area as well or as quickly as other muscular regions. Concerted and frequent scar tissue (especially when started soon after an injury or surgery) work can help dampen this effect and maintain good tissue health.
- Increases range of motion:
Massage promotes blood flow to muscle tissue. This increase in circulation alone can allow you to move further at joints like hips and shoulders. (Pain-free) Massage also positively affects your brain’s awareness of your tissue which essentially makes you feel safe. Your brain is always unconsciously scanning for threats. If you have ever been startled, you know what it feels like when your muscles reflexively get stiff. Similarly, stress and anxiety can contribute to “stiffness” on an unconscious level. Massage can help bring on a state of calm which can often help you move more freely.
About the Author:
Jessica is a registered yoga teacher, a licensed massage therapist, and co-owner of The Movement Guild. TMG is a Chicago-based small business that offers one on one physical therapy, chiropractic care, personal training, and massage and mobility therapy.
She offers customized manual and movement therapy to private clients and teaches specialized yoga and kinstretch™ (mobility) classes. She also provides continued education courses to yoga teachers that replace conventional anatomy and memorization with modern movement education and foundational joint mechanics.
Jessica holds certifications in functional range conditioning, kinstretch, integrative movement systems, cranio-sacral therapy, functional movement taping, RockTape blades and myofascial cupping.