Vail health: The mechanics of massage
VAIL CO, Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY – Most people consider massage a relaxing splurge, or confine its uses to posh spas and luxury vacations, but Avon resident Marcy Woodrow will tell you differently.
Woodrow has seen the health benefits of several different kinds of massage, both as an endurance athlete, and later when recovering from multiple surgeries.
Woodrow was a triathlete in her 30s and used to get a massage once a week when she was competing. The therapy helped her recover faster and eased the discomfort from tight muscles, she said.
Later, when she underwent knee and hip replacements, she found that massage helped speed up the recovery process and reduced the pain from the operations.
Massage therapists and physical therapists will back up Woodrow’s experience – massage can be used for everything from injury rehabilitation to help improve sports performance to relieving headaches, experts said.
“We regularly utilize massage therapy as part of patients’ rehab process at our clinic,” said Sara Manwiller, physical therapist and owner of JointWorx Physical Therapy and Massage in Edwards. “Almost any type of patient can benefit from massage therapy, but people with neck, back and hip pain are probably the most common types of patients who get massage at JointWorx.”
The idea, she explained, is that when someone has a painful injury, the muscles around the injured area tighten up to protect it. This in turn causes more pain, and the muscles tighten even more, creating a painful cycle. Massage can be used to break down that cycle, getting muscles to loosen and “reset”.
Injuries also cause the body to compensate by depending more heavily on another part of the body, said Edwards massage therapist Linda Wells.
“For example, if you injure your left shoulder, you’ll be compensating on the right side of your body,” she said. “Massage can help work out the part of the body that’s doing more work.”
Massage can be used fresh out of surgery as well – post-surgery massage helps bring blood and nutrients to the areas that need to be healed and can keep scar tissue from forming deep into the body, which can lead to movement problems much later, Wells said.
Athletes and active people can also benefit from regular massage to aid in sports recovery and to work out any sore muscles. Wells said that post-sport massage often includes deep-tissue massage to target the specific muscles the sport requires, and “flushing”, a technique that aims to move liquids like blood, nutrients and oxygen through the muscles more quickly.
Runners often feel pain in their lower back and hips. Cyclists tend to have tight quads, IT bands, necks and backs. Golfers often have lower back and hip pain and problems in their opposite swinging shoulder. Kayakers and tennis players may have upper body soreness. However, she points out, athletes who regularly have massages are less likely to experience chronic pain in those areas.
Manwiller of JointWorx said research showing that massage can actually prevent injuries is minimal and more anecdotal. However, there is no doubt that the therapy helps active people stay active, she said.
“Many active people in our community know the value of massage therapy for keeping over-worked muscles loose to allow them to continue their recreational activities,” she said. “We often recommend a couple of massages a month if you are extremely active. Yes, it’s an expense, but as we age, our bodies need a bit more maintenance.”
Thai massage, a method done on a mat that includes stretching, can benefit athletes as well, said Christy Samuelson, a massage therapist at the Allegria Spa.
The method can increase flexibility and decrease soreness and can be done before or after sport.
“With Thai massage your body typically feels lighter and more energetic afterward compared to a typical table massage,” she said. “The blood is flowing, and chi is moving.”
Massage can help treat a variety of other ailments beyond sore muscles.
After spraining a joint, massage can ease out fluids and help people regain motion more quickly, Manwiller said. Also, nerve pain in the upper body can sometimes be helped by massaging muscles in the neck or armpit, or in the lower body, by massaging the low back or hip muscles.
Massage is also incredibly effective in treating headaches, such as migraines or those resulting from concussions and sinus problems.
Wells, who practices a form of massage called Craniosacral therapy, said the method has even helped clients who have suffered from dizzy spells and chronic headaches for years. The method, which targets the membranes, connective tissue and muscles surrounding brain and spinal cord, involves gentle touch, pressing certain tight and sensitive areas, and helps restore the proper flow of cerebral spinal fluid.
As Wells explained, Craniosacral therapy works with the soft tissues through subtle touch to return the body’s structures to their proper place and restore balance within the system.
Woodrow said a massage therapist tried the technique on her years ago and she was amazed at the result.
“It had such an amazing effect on me. It balances you and releases something in your spine and in your head,” she said. “It’s subtle, like a wave that goes down your body. Afterward I’m always so relaxed – I think one time I walked out without my shoes.”
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