I feel it's far too often I get a look of surprise from massage clients and friends alike when I'm talking about the various things massage can help. Especially the dynamic therapies of Thai Massage and Tui Na. I understand I went to school for this stuff, and I've devoted quite a bit of time training my body, and feeling how all the muscles move and relate to injury, but come on I feel the general population really needs to know how much massage can help.
Being a massage therapist I can say, for sure, massage may not be a cure all. Simply because in all these things I'm going to name off, there are possibilities of a different cause for the injury or problem. What I am saying, however, is that our muscular system has a huge effect on our bodies, how we feel, how we function, and that fixing the muscular causes has great potential to alleviate a plethora of associated health concerns beyond the main issue or complaint.
So, What’s the bigger picture? What issues, specifically, can massage help with?
The bigger picture!
The bigger picture is this. There are many more types of massage out there that offer FAR greater health benefits than the general Swedish massage. I know you may say I’m bias because my focus here is going to be on Thai Massage and Tui Na, but what I’m about to say fits in with any modality or treatment plan you follow. Whether it’s from a Chiropractor, Physical Therapist, Exercise Physiologist etc. they will all tell you that One thing doesn’t fix everything!
Bones need muscles to move them. Unbalanced musculature and/or posture needs exercises to strengthen and fix the imbalance. All exercise requires proper form. All exercise also requires stretches to keep the body mobile, muscles healthy, and to safeguard the joints from deterioration. Nothing is a be all end all, but when it comes to massage Thai Massage and Tui Na are your best bet in resolving structural problems and muscular pain, because it uses everything available. This totality and hollistic view is usually missing in most all other modalities.
If you’re a massage therapist reading this, before you go getting bent out of shape that I didn’t include your specific favorite technique, let me elaborate. Everything has some use, to have the greatest benefit, all uses must be balanced. This is where most modalities fall short. Here’s an example… Trigger Point work is great on opening the muscles via relieving the trigger point/ adhesions in the musculature, however, when used by its self the benefits don’t last in the long term. Balancing this work requires stretches and postural training put into place to keep the adhesion and bad habit from forming again.
Why doesn't Thai Massage and Tui Na fall into this trap?
Because they are well rounded modalities. Well rounded because in any session all forms of therapy are used: Pressure, friction, stripping, passive and active range of motion, stretches, traction, joint manipulation and mobilization. As well as the various ranges of technique are used warming, deep, and stimulating are measured and utilized to the correct amount for the person’s specific problem. This method of working grants drastic immediate benefits as well as stable long term changes. In short the muscles and joints are opened and the body is moved so that it remains open for a longer period of time.
This is a simple reason why massage can help so much more than most people know that it can.
So again, what issues specifically can massage help with?
The obvious benefit of massage is that it is highly beneficial for anything having to do with relaxing muscles and relieving tension. The real question is then how much of an effect does relaxing muscles and relieving tension help specific joint, nerve, circulatory, or breathing problems? Before we answer that lets dive into specific problems massage may help with, this is not an all inclusive list, however, I'm putting the most common things on there.
For the sake of simplicity, we'll start from the head and work down the body illustrating the various ailments or problems massage could help with. Since I am a massage therapist I will explain after the list reasons for possible muscular causes, as well as touch on some of the other causes. Many of these problems can stem from various other causes. It is imperative that you contact your primary care doctor, chiropractor, osteopath, or associated specialist if you have any of these problems and to rule out other more major complications. If they can't find anything on the X-ray, MRI, etc. muscular tension maybe to blame, even if they do find something, working with the muscular skeletal system may help alleviate symptoms and promote healing as well. Contact your physician with questions. =)
Massage can help all that and much more, with an open mind. Returning to our original question, How much of an effect does relaxing muscles and relieving tension help specific joint, nerve, circulatory, or breathing, problems?
We’ll answer these questions one by one, for our joint health the answer is quite simple, our joints are cushioned by bursa (sponge like sacks surrounding some of our major joints) to allow the tendons and ligaments to move properly. Their proper movement is reliant on correctly working and stretching them to maintain balanced freedom of movement. When the muscles are not stretched and lengthened throughout day to day activities they have a hard time relaxing when you lie down to sleep. This poses a major problem for the bursa, since they are sponge like, they require movement and release in order to refill and replenish the fluid lost while moving the particular joint all day. This is where massage comes in, by relaxing the muscles, stretching, moving, breaking adhesions etc. we allow the joints to relax and the bursa to refill hence rejuvenating the joint and prolonging the health of the joint.
Nerve and circulatory problems can have a variety of causes such as bone misalignment, and various illnesses etc. however, lets dive into how muscles play their part in effective nerve and circulatory function. Major nerves and blood vessels travel in neurovascular bundles, these bundles must travel from deep in the body through muscles to get to where they need to go. The tension of musculature around these areas effects proper nerve and vascular function. As an example let’s say headaches or radicular arm pain, and tingling down the finger tips. All these things could be caused by tension in the neck muscles through which the brachial plexus (a bundle of nerves and arteries) travels. It is in this way open and relaxed muscles aid in proper nerve and circulatory function.
Breathing is also a simple one because it’s very function is done by the muscles. Our lungs fill with air by negative pressure, our diaphragm contracts bringing more space into our ribcage that must be filled up by our lungs, so we can breathe in. There are other muscles that effect this process as well since the rib cage itself moves in various ways. Ultimately it boils down to how well we can contract and relax these muscles properly in order to breath without bringing undue tension in the respective muscles or the rest of the body for that matter. So much is effected with the breath it's important to keep it functioning top knotch.
So relaxing muscles and relieving unnecessary tension brings great health because correct movement prolongs life, and incorrect movement destroys it. As they say You don’t want to be stiff as a board, lest you become your own coffin.
Breathe deep, relax well, if you need help come get a massage.
Daniel R. Hyde
Licensed Massage Therapist
OIF, OEF Veteran
U.S. Marine Corps
Kwan Ying Do Kung Fu
Tai Chi Chuan
Tui Na, Chinese Massage
Shiatsu, Japanese Massage