Hello, everyone! This is Dr. Bob Salamon with Lowcountry Chiropractic. As always, I hope you’re doing well and staying healthy! The past few weeks have brought freezing rain and consistent cold fronts to the Lowcountry. Winter can affect our bodies in a myriad of ways. Spending more time indoors and exercising less can contribute to stiff muscles and achiness, both of which make performing our daily activities a downright chore. The reason cold weather affects our bodies in this manner is due to a phenomenon known as heat transference. When surrounded by cold air, our muscles lose heat and contract, resulting in tension. As our muscles tighten, our joints become limited in their range of motion and our nerves can become pinched. Overall, this is a recipe for aches and pains. You should be practicing a much longer warm-up routine before exercising to reduce your likelihood of injury. (A good rule-of-thumb is to warm up for at least ten minutes. For every ten degrees the temperature drops below 35°F, you should add another five minutes to your warm-up.) You should also be investing in regular massages. While massages may seem like an extraordinary luxury, they should be viewed as a fundamental wellness tool, alongside diet and exercise. In today’s article, I’d like to discuss the benefits of massage therapy, as well as how different kinds of massage techniques target specific ailments.
Massage therapy and chiropractic care go hand-in-hand. Spinal manipulation–or any manual adjustment–relies upon the soft tissues of the body, chiefly the muscles. When our muscles are tight and unyielding, the efficacy of a chiropractic adjustment might be capped far below its full potential. Massage therapy is the antidote. Practiced in ancient India as far back as 3000 BC, massage therapy has always sought to promote relaxation and pain relief through the application of concerted pressure on the muscles. In ancient China, massage therapy was one of three medicinal practices (i.e. acupuncture, acupressure, and herbal remedies). The ancient Egyptians added in reflexology–applying pressure to specific points across the body–while the ancient Japanese developed a technique designed to rebalance energy levels–known as Shiatsu. Around the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, massage therapy was elevated to the peak of medicine and made a staple of daily life, in the same way diet and exercise are today. In short, massage therapy has always held a special place in pain management and the cultivation of personal wellness.
The long history of massage therapy is, in and of itself, a testament to the efficacy of massage therapy. However, these scientific studies serve to peel back the curtain of how massage therapy is so effective. According to a set of randomized, controlled trials on pain populations, a 2016 study revealed: “massage therapy, compared to no treatment, should be strongly recommended as a pain management option.” Further, the study indicated massage therapy had a beneficial impact on treating anxiety and health-related quality of life. A research review published in the Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice journal, states “massage therapy has been shown to have beneficial effects on varying conditions including prenatal depression, preterm infants, full-term infants, autism, skin conditions, pain syndromes including arthritis and fibromyalgia, hypertension, autoimmune conditions including asthma and multiple sclerosis, immune conditions including HIV and breast cancer and aging problems including Parkinson's and dementia. Although many of the studies have involved comparisons between massage therapy and standard treatment control groups, several have compared different forms of massage (e.g. Swedish versus Thai massage), and different active therapies such as massage versus exercise. Typically, the massage therapy groups have experienced more positive effects than the control or comparison groups. This may relate to the massage therapy providing more stimulation of pressure receptors, in turn enhancing vagal activity and reducing Cortisol levels.”
Think about when you feel a slight twinge in your neck or an ache in your shoulder. What’s the first thing you do? You rub the area, don’t you? This rubbing–combined with the application of consistent pressure–causes blood to flow to the affected area. This blood is warm and full of oxygen. Remember how our muscles tighten when confronted with cold air? Well, they do the opposite when confronted with warmth. They relax. (There’s a reason we take warm baths when our muscles are sore.) As our muscles relax, they gain elasticity, allowing us greater freedom of movement. Massages focus on muscle groups that are tight, restricted, and full of fascia. Fascia is “a thin casing of connective tissue that surrounds and holds every organ, blood vessel, bone, nerve fiber, and muscle in place. The tissue does more than provide internal structure; fascia has nerves that make it almost as sensitive as skin. When stressed, it tightens up.” Fascia is composed of a liquid called hyaluronan and this liquid can dry out, resulting in fascia which is thick and unyielding. When we develop “knots,” these are actually bits of fascia clinging to our muscles. Increased blood flow can soften this fascia, reduce myofascial pain, resolve adhesions and restore muscular elasticity.
Not all massages target fascia. Not all massages are for pain relief, either. For example, a hot stone massage might promote blood flow and ease muscle tension, but it's primarily used to relieve stress. Likewise, an aromatherapy massage focuses on the use of essential oils to cultivate a relaxing experience. Swedish massages and deep tissue massages are better suited for those living with chronic pain conditions or who have restricted mobility due to fascia lesions. They achieve results in two distinct ways.
The Swedish massage was introduced by a Swedish doctor named Per Henrik Ling. Ling was a professional gymnast, as well, and his method of relieving pain was adapted into the style we recognize today as the Swedish massage by Johan George Mezger. The Swedish massage is broken down into four key movements, each of which serves to elicit a specific response from the body. Effleurage consists of gliding the hands along the body, from the extremities inward, towards the heart. Petrissage includes the rhythmic kneading of tissue. Tapotement involves striking with the sides of the hands (as seen on many television shows). Finally, friction delves into the deep tissue and uses sustained pressure to target lesions. A Swedish massage can be used to relieve knots and to relax. It’s a perfect option for those who are new to massages or are sensitive to the touch.
Massages, though utilized for pain relief, can have the opposite effect when used without discretion. As blood flows to areas which have been deprived, you’re likely to feel these areas more keenly. An intense, hour-long deep tissue massage may not be right for someone who is beginning their massage journey. Either the experience will be painful or the aftermath will ward you off of going back and we don’t want that. It’s important to speak to your massage therapist beforehand, to give them a sense of your massage experiences in the past. If it’s your first time, ask them to start off light. When they apply pressure, if anything begins to hurt, ask them to be lighter. The benefits of massage therapy can take several sessions to manifest fully. It’s okay to take your time.
A deep tissue massage, as you might’ve guessed, targets the deepest layers of muscle and connective tissue possible. If you deal with chronic pain, flare-up from old injuries, or even anxiety, this type of massage may be able to help you along your healing journey. Your therapist will employ many of the same techniques used in a Swedish massage, but they will apply considerably more pressure. Be prepared to drink plenty of water afterward and to experience a bit of soreness (especially after your first time). Deep tissue massages can be used to stimulate lymphatic drainage, but only a specialized massage therapist should perform a deep tissue massage on those with lymphedema (as improper massage techniques could trigger swelling).
The wonderful thing about massages is their immediate efficacy. Many patients walk out of a massage feeling like a brand-new person! Increased mobility, improved blood flow, and pain relief will do that! At Lowcountry Chiropractic we offer both Swedish and deep tissue massages, performed by experienced massage therapists. There’s no reason to live with lower back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, or headaches. Regular massage therapy is a proven method for helping the body to heal and self-regulate. Send us an email or give us a call to schedule your massage appointment today! When used in conjunction with chiropractic adjustments, massage therapy can hasten your journey to a pain-free life. As always, this is Dr. Bob and I have your back covered!
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