JUDD JONES: Revisiting an old friend, deep tissue massage

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A few years ago, I wrote about the virtues of deep tissue massage and why active people should incorporate it into their monthly fitness regimen. I pointed out that there are many types of massage methods, but the one that delivers the most profound impact on the body is deep tissue massage.

Here’s the rub with massage therapy in general. Most massage is purely a feel-good moment in time that promotes healthy circulation and loosens tight muscles. If you search hard enough for solid research on massage as a medical practice, you will find a mixed bag of studies with most lacking any real clinical data supporting massage as a medical treatment for a broad array of ailments.

With the above statement made, and since I do not want to offend the many beloved massage therapists out there, let’s look at deep tissue massage from a different angle. Deep tissue massage from the view of an active person is a method to release and break down adhesions which helps the body realign muscle layers, connective tissues, posture and fluid body movement.

Adhesions form by commingling your muscular system with your neural system and fascia systems. When you are active and break down your muscular system, the fibrous tissue that surrounds and separates muscle fibers can form these adhesions or knots. Deep tissue massage will break these knots apart and also release cramping and tension which in turn stops the pain and inflammation. By any measure, deep tissue massage does treat the medical problems caused by severe muscle adhesions. There certainly needs to be more clinical research done to validate deep tissue massage as a more prescribed treatment method for things like back pain and chronic pain caused by the effects of adhesions to posture and body movements.

By applying firm yet gentle force to these adhesions, the muscle fibers are broken down from a knotted or bundled position into the proper direction and alignment of the overall muscle group. Many people are not aware that deep tissue massage can be a useful treatment for patellar tendonitis, IT or iliotibial band problems and, when caught, early plantar fasciitis.

Deep tissue massage therapy techniques have become so compelling that elite athletes and fitness professionals incorporate a steady regimen of massage as part of their training and recovery programs. This point is demonstrated by the army of massage therapists that accompany the Olympic games, all of them in attendance to keep the athletes finely tuned.

Why is deep tissue massage an effective treatment for sports and fitness-related soreness, pain, and injury? First and foremost, deep tissue massage increases vasodilation of your blood vessels, allowing more oxygen to enter your blood. Increased oxygen in the blood can stimulate cell growth, repair and promote quicker recovery time for muscles that were broken down during exercise.

Massage also increases and improves circulation for your lymphatic system. Your lymphatic system is key to helping your body remove bacterial and viral pathogens. A robust, well-circulating lymphatic system will keep these nasty bacterial and viral bugs in check, so your body performs at peak levels during exercise.

In recent years, it is common to hear medical professionals talk about treating myofascial trigger points that cause pain and tenderness. The term “trigger point” has become a widely used term within fitness circles over the last ten years. Trigger points are muscle knots, nodules or spindles within the bands of muscle fibers. These treatments are more focused and can involve only treating an area the size of a 50 cent piece.

Foam rollers are another way to self-care your myofascial release and are commonly found in gyms and are available for home treatment to break down those painful adhesions while promoting the body to remove the toxic buildup of lactic acid in those muscle fibers.

As a massage therapist works with you, they will identify trouble areas in your body that you may not even be aware of with their deep-tissue massage techniques. Once these trouble areas are located, they can open both ligature and muscle groups to loosen, relax and stimulate your musculoskeletal system into a healthy, happy state.

Here are a few other areas deep tissue massage can be of benefit:

* Improves your flexibility - stiffness and tight muscles affect all of us, making a range of motion more restricted. Massage helps keep your muscles loose and joints more fluid, making you more flexible and less likely to be injured when active.

* Relieves stress - a single massage session will lower your heart rate, help drop cortisol and insulin levels leaving you in a very relaxed and euphoric state.

* Improves posture - good posture is key to a healthy body. Massage helps keep your body movements flexible. With flexibility, you are more likely to hold your posture correctly.

* Improves circulation - since deep tissue massage creates vasodilatation of your blood vessels, it helps the body move blood through congested areas more efficiently. This improved blood flow throughout your body will also improve how your body functions during exercise and living an active lifestyle.

* Promotes deep, fluid breathing - often one of the first parts of your body to be affected by stress and injury is your breathing. Deep tissue massage is an efficient way to relax your breath and bring it back to a deep regular rhythm.

Proper breathing affects heart rate, blood flow, and mental alertness, which are all essential performance factors with being active.

Every year, approximately 23 million Americans are injured while exercising or performing a sports-related activity. Of those injuries, 95 percent are soft-tissue related and will be helped with deep tissue massage. Whether you’re an elite athlete or just a weekend hiker, it may be time to have those sore muscles and minor injuries worked out with a great deep tissue massage.


Judd Jones is a director for The Hagadone Corporation and Certified Health Coach.


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