Have you ever had a massage and wondered how it actually works? Massage therapists are great for listing out the many benefits of massage but often find it difficult to explain how massage works. Understanding the reason for recommended follow up treatments, the best timeframe to schedule them and how the massage process works are essential components to any client before adhering to the advice of their therapist. This article aims to fill you in on how massage works by using the antibiotic analogy to help explain the massage process easier.
What have antibiotics and massage got in common?
They both work best as a course of treatment. We all know the vital role that antibiotics have played in keeping the nation healthy by fighting infectious bacteria in the body. You’re probably aware of the importance of finishing a course of antibiotics once you have started it. The reason being that if you stop taking the antibiotics as soon as the symptom eases it may risk a return of illness when done too soon. Similarly, if you are in pain and are receiving massage for remedial reasons, it is important to see the course of treatments through to fully resolve the issue.
When antibiotics don’t work – giving up too soon.
In most cases antibiotics fail to work if the patient gives up as soon as the symptom begins to ease but before the infection has been fully resolved. For clients undergoing massage to help with physical conditions, the temptation is to give up when muscle pain is relieved to the level of dull ache. Living with ache has in many ways become our societal normal – we get used to it, or we numb it with pain killers. However, it’s only when the pain reduces that a massage therapist can get into the deeper fibres to improve joint position, muscle function and resolve the cause of the original pain.
The science behind the cumulative effect of massage
In most massage scenarios involving the treatment of muscular pain, the underlying cause of what we are treating originates in the condition of the muscle tissue and joint before the symptom occurred. High levels of tension, weak muscles or postural dysfunction mean that any small trigger can result in causing a lot of pain. Therefore, we’re treating both the painful symptom and the structural cause at the same time. It’s relatively easy to achieve symptomatic relief using massage. The pressure of touch applied by the massage therapist releases muscle tension, allowing blood to come gushing into the problematic area flushing out the acids that are forming part of the pain cycle. The structural treatment of restoring positional balance is more difficult to predict. It is dependent on muscle memory and how long it takes to reprogram the muscle’s movement and behavioural memory to enable better function.
How long should a course of massage treatments last?
It normally takes at least three massage treatments to break the cycle of dysfunctional muscle memory and begin installing new behavioural patterns of movement, position and function. Each massage builds on the progress of the previous treatment where the outcome goal of each session is to manipulate the soft tissues back into their original anatomical state. Once they begin to stay in this functional state as default position, the muscle memory has shifted to a better state – enabling the remedial phase of treatment to finish and a pro-active preventative stage of treatment begin.
When is it best to schedule a follow up massage appointment?
It is essential to schedule remedial massage sessions at an optimum frequency when aiming to reprogram muscle memory to a healthier state. The theoretical spacing would be to receive your next session 3-4 days after each massage. This is usually the time it takes for the “good hurt” to heal after your previous massage treatment. However, for practical reasons and because people are creatures of habit we advise our clients to schedule appointments one week apart. This way you will have received your third remedial massage two weeks after your first appointment, setting you off on the road to recovery.
What causes a pain cycle relapse?
The best way to achieve a muscle pain relapse is to stop doing what is working for you, or to fail to adapt treatment as your condition modifies. As your body condition changes you may find the need to adapt exercises and stretches. Pain can also shift to a previously pain free body part. This is a normal consequence of remedial massage treatments because your body’s biomechanics are challenged with new work loads and anatomical positions. If we give up too soon down the path of change we can feel worse than if we had never started – the old saying of “opening up a can of worms” comes to mind.