So what should runners book instead? Anna Gammal, a massage therapist who works with elite runners at the Boston Marathon each year and also massaged athletes at the 2004 and 2012 Olympics, recommends either a sports massage (i.e. targeted therapeutic treatment for the unique physical and biomechanical needs of athletes) or a myofascial release massage (i.e. the application of gentle, sustained pressure on soft tissue restrictions). Both specifically target muscle release and will help improve flexibility, reduce pain and increase range of motion.
Well, all living creatures have what’s known as fight or flight responses. Fight or flight can be triggered when you’re forced to respond to environmental stressors and your default biophysical reactions kick in to get you out of harm’s way (or what you perceive as harm’s way). Interestingly, your epithelial and endothelial cells – that’s right, even your tiny cells – enact fight or flight when they’re up against environmental stressors.1
A traditional Swedish massage involves the whole body. You will begin on either your back or your stomach and flip over at the halfway point. If you have an area of particular concern, such as a tight neck, you can ask your therapist to spend more time in this area. Depending on your preferences, you can ask your massage therapist to use light, medium, or firm pressure.
Aspects of sports massage therapy are gaining popularity as useful components in a balanced training regimen. Sports massage therapy can be used as a means to enhance pre-event preparation and reduce recovery time for maximum performance during training or after an event. Athletes have discovered that specially designed sports massage promotes flexibility, reduces fatigue, improves endurance, helps prevent injuries and prepares their body and mind for optimal performance.
Middle-Ages: Medical knowledge, including that of massage, made its way from Rome to Persia in the Middle Ages. Many of Galen's manuscripts, for instance, were collected and translated by Hunayn ibn Ishaq in the 9th century. Later in the 11th century copies were translated back into Latin, and again in the 15th and 16th centuries, when they helped enlighten European scholars as to the achievements of the Ancient Greeks. This renewal of the Galenic tradition during the Renaissance played a very important part in the rise of modern science.
This seems like a fairly straightforward bit of good-news science about stretching. It’s not a surprising idea that movement would have some systemic regulatory effects (motion is lotion, use it or lose it), but it’s nice to see some corroboration of that common sensical notion, and it’s also nice to know that perhaps just stretching did this (to the extent we can learn anything from a single study). If true, it makes for nice evidence to support a general stretching habit, yoga, mobilizations, really any kind of “massaging with movement,” and probably even massage itself.
When we face stressors in life, we can carry physical and psychological tension, and these tensions can feed off of one another. Feeling physically tense can increase your psychological and emotional tension and vice versa. Conversely, relaxing your body physically can help relieve psychological stress, and relaxing your mind can help you to physically relax and release tension in your body. When your stress response is no longer triggered, it becomes far easier to approach challenges in a proactive, peaceful way.
Deep tissue massages are usually “cross-grain,” moving against the muscles to relieve aches or pains rather than moving with them. This can sometimes feel a bit more painful as a result compared to standard “relaxation massages.” However, the pressure involved in deep massages is actually a good thing. It provides many of the benefits that this type of therapeutic massage has to offer. Deep tissue massages also tend to be slower-paced and longer than many other massages, ideally about 1.5 hours long, which gives bodily tissue enough time to warm up and then relax.
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Sports massage can play an important part in the life of any sportsman or woman whether they are injured or not. Massage has a number of benefits both physical, physiological and psychological. It can help maintain the body in generally better condition, prevent injuries and loss of mobility, cure and restore mobility to injured muscle tissue, boost performance and extend the overall life of your sporting career.
Sheets and wrappings of connective tissue called fascia are considered an exciting frontier in massage therapy. Supposedly fascia can get tight and needs to be “released.” However, key examples of research either fail to support fascial therapy or actually undermine it — for instance, fascia is too tough to actually change. Fascia enthusiasm seems to be a fad. For more information, see Does Fascia Matter? A detailed critical analysis of the clinical relevance of fascia science and fascia properties. BACK TO TEXT
To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit organization that focuses on providing hope to people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and thoughts of suicide. It also invests directly into treatment and recovery. TWLOHA connects people to treatment centers and resources such as websites, books and support groups. It also helps people share their experiences and have honest conversations with each other. It’s a community that can help each other in so many ways.
Manipulative approaches to naturally treating pain and other health problems have been utilized for over 3,000 years, dating back to Ancient Egyptian and Chinese civilizations. Pressure massages were used to improve “Qi” (life force or energy), detox the body and promote better liver function — which today can be explained through the process of activating the lymphatic system.
I am a science writer, former massage therapist, and I was the assistant editor at ScienceBasedMedicine.org for several years. I have had my share of injuries and pain challenges as a runner and ultimate player. My wife and I live in downtown Vancouver, Canada. See my full bio and qualifications, or my blog, Writerly. You might run into me on Facebook or Twitter.
Some procedural notes: swelling was measured all fancy-like, “using bioimpedance spectroscopy and volume.” All patients “followed the standard rehabilitation program of the department,” including ice, passive motion, strengthening, and getting walking. And the MLD treatments were done by therapists we have every reason to have confidence in: “five physiotherapists with experience in MLD who completed two training sessions for standardization. The same therapist performed all of the study treatments for a given patient. The treatment was standardized according to the recommendations of Földi and Kubik.”
Spend time with yourself. Stay away from electronics for a bit, play a soft music and lay down, forget all the troubles and think of good and beautiful things. For example: imagine a cozy beautiful fall forest in your mind. Also you may cook your favorite treat or make a cup of tea and read a book or write in your journal things that you love about yourself, your goals, what makes you happy, etc.
Disconnect. Put the phone back down, shut the email folder, walk away. Whenever you feel like making an instantaneous reply in anger to someone who has raised your ire, don't act on it. When we feel angry and stressed, we are more likely to read sinister interpretations into our interactions and if we act on them, our self-righteous anger can be self-fulfilling when the person responds negatively. Sleep on your angry missive and practice the relaxation techniques outlined here.
Pre-event. Pre-event sports massage is given within the four hours preceding an event to improve performance and help decrease injuries. It is used as a supplement to an athlete's warm-up to enhance circulation and reduce excess muscle and mental tension prior to competition. It is normally shorter (10-15 minutes) than a regular conditioning massage, and focuses on warming-up the major muscles to be used, and getting the athlete in a good mental state for competition. It also improves tissue pliability, readying the athlete for top performance. Certain massage techniques can help calm a nervous athlete, and others can be stimulating. Pre-event. Pre-event sports massage is given within the four hours preceding an event to improve performance and help decrease injuries. It is used as a supplement to an athlete's warm-up to enhance circulation and reduce excess muscle and mental tension prior to competition. It is normally shorter (10-15 minutes) than a regular conditioning massage, and focuses on warming-up the major muscles to be used, and getting the athlete in a good mental state for competition. It also improves tissue pliability, readying the athlete for top performance. Certain massage techniques can help calm a nervous athlete, and others can be stimulating.
Again, deep and controlled slow breathing can be an effective way to maximize heart rate and blood pressure fluctuation and maintain autonomic function (the control system that regulates body functions like heart rate, digestion, urination, and even arousal). And believe it or not, slow breathing has been associated with increased longevity among the general population.4
Sports Massage is a no-nonsense massage that helps stretch tight muscles, stimulates inactive muscles and improves soft tissue condition. Sports Massage will help you move your body more freely with more flexibility and in time can improve your posture. As the name suggests it is popular with athletes, as it enhances performance, assists recovery and prevents injury – benefits we can all enjoy.
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We all have different goals and challenges in life; therefore it’s highly important that we create our own life motto to keep us on track. This mantra will focus your mind and stop you from being anxious and overwhelmed when life throws you yet another curve ball. Identify your challenges, weaknesses and goals so you can craft your own personal mantra.
Massage is to work and act on the body with pressure. Massage techniques are commonly applied with hands, fingers, elbows, knees, forearms, feet, or a device. The purpose of massage is generally for the treatment of body stress or pain. A person who was professionally trained to give massages was traditionally known as a masseur (male) or a masseuse (female), but those titles are outmoded, and carry some negative connotations. In the United States, the title massage therapist has been recognized as a business norm for those who have been professionally trained to give massages.
It is important to recognise the difference between good stress and bad stress, life-changing events like getting married, becoming a parent, moving house, starting a new job or starting school can all be stressful events; but these are ultimately good for you – the stress is usually short-lived. Bad and more dangerous stress is long-term background stress which can be caused by any number of factors including: frustration, overwork, failure or perceived failure as well as more specific life circumstances and illnesses.
In the summer of 2009, I attended the Science-Based Medicine conference and The Amazing Meeting 7 in Las Vegas: a huge gathering of skeptics, scientists, and critical thinkers. I was the only alternative health care professional at the conference that I know of. I introduced myself publicly to a couple hundred doctors and scientists as a “skeptical massage therapist.” They were delighted, and for the next four days, skeptics approached me regularly to say, “Hey, that was brave! But massage isn’t quackery, is it?”
“I rearrange all of the art and furniture and items in my apartment and usually do some sort of cleaning out of something (books, clothes, kitchen cabinets) in the process. My brain enters this hyper-relaxed state where I’m actively considering space and meaning and emotion but in a non-literal language that makes my mind kind of…hum? Does that make sense? And then I blink and it’s been four hours and I have a few missed calls and emails but I don’t care because I feel wonderful.”
Connective tissue stimulation. A lot of therapists are keen on stretching connective tissues — tendons, ligaments, and layers of Saran wrap-like tissue called “fascia.” I’m not a huge fan of this style, but certainly it’s a way of generating many potent and novel sensations, which may be inherently valuable to us — another form of touch. Although “improving” the fascia itself is implausible and unproven, perhaps fascial manipulations affect bodies indirectly, just as a sailboat is affected by pulling on its rigging. People have written whole books full of speculation along these lines. So, as long as the sensations are not like skin tearing (that’s an ugly pain for sure), you might choose to tolerate this kind of massage if it seems to be helping you.
Training and certification standards for massage therapists are all over the map, and most practitioners have barely scratched the surface of musculoskeletal medicine. The profession is rife with pseudoscience like crank theories about the causes of pain, the myth that massage detoxifies, or that painfully “deep tissue” massage is needed to “release” tissues (which is stressful or even harmful for many patients).
Thai Massage is a popular massage therapy that is used for management of conditions such as musculoskeletal pain and fatigue. Thai Massage involves a number of stretching movements that improve body flexibility, joint movement and also improve blood circulation throughout the body. In one study scientists found that Thai Massage showed comparable efficacy as the painkiller ibuprofen in reduction of joint pain caused by osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee.
For instance, the average therapist is probably not even able to reliably find trigger points,81 and it is tricky to treat what you can’t find. Even when you have found them, we have no idea if they can actually be treated by any well-known method, none of which has ever been clearly shown to be effective. There are many kinds of treatments for trigger points, and not one of them is much more than an educated guess. And every patient seems to respond differently (for instance, some patients have clear cravings for brutal intensities of treatment that would cripple another patient).
One theory is that muscle knots may be caused by something that goes wrong at the “motor end plate” — where a nerve ending attaches to a muscle cell.9 We don’t know why this happens, or what exactly goes wrong, but there is circumstantial evidence that motor end plates are the “point” in trigger point. That evidence is too complex and controversial to review properly here. It is explored in detail in my book. Some research has suggested that it may actually be possible to physically destroy the motor end plate with strong massage, thereby inactivating the trigger point.10 When it regrows — these are microscopic structures, it doesn’t take them long to heal — the trigger point may be gone.
I’m on a padded floor mat wearing loose pants and a T-shirt (standard Thai-massage garb) while Pailin Winotaka uses her fingers, palms, elbows, knees, feet, indeed her whole body as ballast, slowly getting me into such familiar yoga positions as “bridge” (a backward arch) and “bow” (on my stomach, reaching back to grab her wrists rather than my own ankles for a deeper stretch). I actually feel taller when she’s done.
So the imperfect evidence shows that massage can maybe help low back pain, and yet the world has certainly not been saved from back pain. What’s wrong? Why isn’t massage immediately, completely, and permanently fixing lots of back pain clients? Because there are many kinds of both massage and back pain. Results of therapy vary widely with the skills of therapists, and with the specific kinds of back pain brought to them. And so, on average:
The best we can say is that there is some reason to believe that painful pressures on muscles might be therapeutic for some people some of the time. Pretty decisive, eh? This is why it drives me nutters that so many therapists insist that strong pressures are “essential” to achieve “a complete release.” It really isn’t possible to know! It really does depend! Why would anyone pretend to “know”?
This review of 35 tests of treatments for delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is strongly consistent with my own past interpretations of the research: basically, nothing works. Massage is “slightly effective” but “its mean effect was too small to be of clinical relevance.” The evidence for cryotherapy, stretching, and low-intensity exercise is not promising, but technically still inconclusive: more study needed.
Low back pain is a huge health problem, and massage therapists claim to get good results when treating low-back pain. Indeed, low back treatments are the bread and butter of the profession. I’d guess that about 70% of massage purchases are for back pain. The amount of money that patients around the world spend on massage for back pain must be simply huge, at least in the tens of millions annually, and probably much more. As with chiropractic care, massage therapists might not have much of a business model if people didn’t have low back pain.
Everyone I know, including myself, is busy and distracted on an infinite loop. It’s a curious conundrum, considering we’re all armed with more than enough information on how to de-stress. But the “surprising benefits” of exercise, meditation and work-life balance, documented ad nauseam, are beginning to feel like drawn-out humblebrags. Sometimes, they just seem insurmountable. And try as we might to convince ourselves that binge-watching TV helps, I don’t know anyone who feels refreshed after two+ episodes.