What Makes a Great Massage?

cheerful older women


    For many people, the type of massage therapy they receive is irrelevant because they are usually so tired, the client is basically paying to sleep on the massage table for an hour. Due to living a hectic and stressful life, anytime we can lay down and have someone rub our body, especially our back or feet, our body will relax and we will more than likely fall asleep. Remember how your mom used to do that and it felt so good! Many people believe that this is a great massage. In reality, how would know if the therapist was great at massage because you were not there consciously to feel what they were doing. If the therapist has to wake you up when you turnover and you go back to sleep, then the therapist could have just stood there and rubbed your body, regardless of any technique they ay have mastered. This is a flaw in our thought process about determining a great massage from a simple rub down. There are 226 different types of massage and every massage therapist is a little different. Every therapist has a different educational background therefore their style can vary. Massage is about trust which means, you need to talk to them. I am not talking about a lengthy conversation, but talk about the technique and how it can help you. The therapist needs to know what medications you are taking, what treatments you are currently having, and how you feel overall. These questions are important because the therapist will be  moving fluids and affecting tissues which can negatively affect your health. 

Massage therapy requires communication between the therapist and the client. As the therapist is finding areas of your body that are tight or sore, they can coach you to breathe and release using your brain to let go. Muscles are just as emotional as they are physical. Physically, your muscles can feel tight and sore, however emotionally they can feel atttacked if the pressure is too much. If the therapist can communicate with the client when to breathe, then as a team you can release your muscles, blood will flow better, and your body will feel more at ease. When a client goes to sleep, the brain has been turned off, so even if the therapist pushes really hard, all your body will remember is soreness after you wake up. The next time someone touches you, your body may flinch, feel pain, or you may feel a tickle. This is because your body doesn’t remember why, but it knows something is not correct and it reacts.

What of level of undress should you do? That should be up to you based on how comfortable you feel at that level of undress. I have done massages with clients that are totally nude to totally dressed. It doesn’t matter, as long as the client feels comfortable. Sometimes, the client may be allergic to the oils or just doens’t want to be oily when going back to work, then doing a massage fully dressed,or lightly dressed, can be done.

 I have found that with certain clients suffering with fibromyalgia or polymyalgia, combining massage with light stretching works best. In this situation,it is best to have the client fully clothed with clothes they can move around in. This reduces the soreness brought by the disease and allows better freedom of movement.

Bottomline is get to know your therapist and feel comfortable in their surroundings. Few people are allowed to get that close to you and you should make sure of your trust of the therapist and the surroundings. Ask for their credentials and understand what they will be doing to you. Research the technique to better understand if that particular technique will actually help you. A good therapist will recommend another therapist that does a different modality that could help you.


Are Stretching Boutiques worth it?

Every day I see articles about the affordability of stretching boutiques as well as the effectiveness. Magazines like Men’s Health and Shape magazine to name a few. One article said it was a waste of money and I totally agree. I disagree on the article’s suggestion for what is best as well. This one article spoke of doing limited stretching and how stretching could negatively affect elite athletes. The biggest problem with stretching is most people that teach stretching doesn’t understand the difference in stretching and strengthening. The stretching we were taught in school and fitness centers is not stretching and unfortunately, the same is true for most physical therapy clinics.

Too many times prospective clients arrive in my clinic frustrated with stretching after months of trying the stretching techniques they were taught, which,unfortunately, had little to no positive effects. There are clear reasons why the stretching we are taught over and over rarely works. Though it may feel good for the moment, the problem will continue long term.

First, stretching is not about the pressure, but about letting go from the brain. Most people stretch with the idea that if we apply enough pressure the muscle, it will give up and release. The human brain was designed to protect you. Remember the, “fight or flight syndrome” we learned in biology. Our ancestors needed that to escape from the Saber Tooth tiger. In our world today, we are not running from a wild animal, but when we feel pain, the endorphins kick in to stop the pain. The same is true when we stretch our muscles with pressure. The brain knows its you pulling, but the endorphins overrides the desire to pull which will force you to let go. At that moment is when people believe they are not flexible. The best way  to use the brain  in stretching is feel the whole stretch as you slowly and gently apply pressure, breathe out, hold no more than 3-4 seconds, and then repeat it 8-10 times. By stretching this way, your are teaching your brain that you can move in the desired direction. The reason for holding 3-4 seconds is that every muscle has a stretch reflex. Think about the last time someone pull your arm and you retracted your arm for fear they could break it. That is the stretch reflex. Breathing out helps relax the body and the repeating 8-10 times allows you to slowly extend the muscle a little farther each time. Your brain will learn that the muscle can extend to full extension without damage. Currently your brain thinks that if you extend to full extension, you will tear the muscle. As long as your brain feels that, your body will fight.

Why is stretching important anyway? Strength training improves the density of your bones and strength of your muscle. This activity also shortens the muscle causing your joints to lose spacing, which reduces lubrication in the joint. This will lead to injuries. While the strengthening makes you stronger, stretching allows you to improve your range of motion to generate more power, but more importantly, stretching will prevent injuries.

Many pro athletes endure injuries  that seem to take a long time for a world class athlete to heal. I have clients, age 50+, doing the same sports, getting the same injuries, and we are able to get them back in days or at most 1-2 weeks. It’s frustrating to try to understand how we cannot figure this out. There are hundreds of studies on strength training, and almost nothing on stretching.  I was told by a physician once that muscles were similar to nutrition, there is far more money in teaching how to lose 10 pounds than how to maintain the weight loss. Fixing injuries are more profitable than keeping people from them.


What is a Concrete Body?

I chose the term Concrete Body for my blog because I see people whose body is nearly in a frozen state. We all have our excuses for why we cannot do things like we used to do, but the bottom line is we are just frozen in a place. The most common excuse is arthritis, which is not a disease according to the medical dictionaries, age is very common, and others may say they are just not flexible. Each of these can appear like valid excuses, but they are just excuses.

I like to think of arthritis like rust.

rusted car

The less we move, the tighter our muscles get, which reduces the spacing we have in our joints. Think about the door on this car. If we try to open it, the door will probably squeak. If we spray a little WD40 on it, the squeaking will stop. Our joints are very similar in that as our muscles tighten the joint which  squeezes out the synovial fluid, our WD40. This can damage the bones in the long term. Doctors will inject cortizone or Platelet Rich Plasma in the joint to stop the pain, which it does for a short period of time, but the pain will come back and continue to do damage. At some point, the doctor may suggest surgery or joint replacement. By learning how to stretch the muscles correctly, can prevent the joints from becoming painful or relieve the pain if the damage is not too bad.

Age is another excuse many people like to use. A member of my last audience commented that his doctor suggested that the problem with his left knee was due to his age. He though for a moment and said to the doctor that his right knee was the same age and wasn’t hurting, WHY? The doctor had no answer. All age tells you is how long you have been alive. Age is not a factor if you have eaten badly your whole life, lived a sedentary lifestyle, and have not taken good care of your body. Think about the car above. If the owner had kept that car in the garage, made the necessary repairs on the engine, and touched up any scratches on the body, I doubt it would look or drive the same. The car would be the same age as the pictured car, yet it is still usable and shiny. Your body will react the same. It is amazing and frustrating!

man person face portrait
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I am just not a flexible person! That is true at the moment, but at birth you were very flexible. Over the years you have told your brain you were flexible and your brain believed it. Plus you were not interested in flexibility enough to practice. Even people that did yoga as a younger person, if they stop, will lose flexibility. If you start practicing flexibility today, regardless of your age, your flexibility will improve. You may not get back to the flexibility you had as a child, but you certainly can free up your body to reduce your pain.

We are told so many different things about our muscles by people with limiting beliefs. It is unfortunate because too many people suffer every day with pain and many have endure unnecessary surgeries and are taking too many pain killers. We hear in the news about the opiod addiction that is rampant in America.  Understanding how your body works and more importantly how your muscles work can slow the need for opiods. This will save lives and tons of money.