Massage

How To Release Knots In Your Back

Over the years as a Massage Therapist, the primary complaint of most of my clients was knots in their back; those aching, aggravating, tight spots that just never seem to go away. Something many of you can relate to.

Hours of sitting and working at your desk is an invitation for those irritating spots of tension to take up residence in your neck, shoulders and back. Unfortunately, some workouts can do the same.

I encourage my Pilates clients to get massages on a regular basis to help relieve muscle tension and release tight fascia - something everyone can benefit from. In fact, since I am still a Licensed Massage Therapist, I incorporate mini-massages into my private Pilates classes, focusing on tight muscles that need to be released, then stretched.  

I'm also a big supporter of massages for the additional health benefits such as increased circulation, improved lymphatic function, stress relief, injury prevention...this list could go on but that's all for another post.

If you're stuck with an achey knot in your back and don't have time for a massage here's a trick you can try: 

Tennis Ball Massage

I use this trick throughout the week to fight off the bundles of tension that live beneath my shoulder blades (teaching is not always easy on the body).

How To:

1. Lie on the floor and place a tennis ball between your back and the floor, in the area between your spine and shoulder blade. (Be sure to place it under a muscle, not on a bone or your spine).

2. Let your body weight lean into the ball and roll it up and down (laterally) along the tight muscle/knot in your back. Also try shifting your weight from side to side, moving the tennis ball horizontally.

3. When you feel a point of pressure (a knot) hold the ball in place and relax into it until you feel the knot release. Imagine your muscles 'melting' around the tennis ball. Take long, slow breaths as you do (don't hold your breath) because it may feel quite intense!

You can increase or decrease the depth of the massage by how hard you lean into the ball.

For a less intense version, try leaning against a wall instead of lying on your back.

Travel Tip: Throw a tennis ball in the car on long road trips and use it by placing it between you back and the car seat to release knots while on the road. Or if you're traveling by plane, take a tennis ball with you in your suitcase and roll out your back once you arrive at your destination. 

I hope this trick brings you some relief. Remember, knots may not go away over night...the key is to practice releasing your muscles on a regular basis. 

If you're holding tension in your body day-after-day or sitting/standing with poor posture, the knots will keep coming back. Releasing knots is a short-term 'fix'. The key to making sure the knots don't return, is addressing poor postural patterns, and strengthening weak muscles... which is a primary focus of Pilates!

The Endless Web : Fascial Anatomy & Physical Reality

Book Description

Release Date: Nov. 11, 1996

Fascial FitnessThe result of more than two decades of research and practice, The Endless Web presents in clear, readable language a comprehensive guide to understanding and working effectively with the myofascial system, the 'packing material' of the body. Myofascia is a flexible network of tissue that surrounds, cushions, and supports muscles, bones, and organs. It also acts as a riverbed containing the flow of interstitial fluid, and is a critical influence on the immune and hormonal systems. In daily life, this connective tissue is an underlying determinant of movement quality, modd, alertness, and general well-being. The Endless Web is a fully illustrated guide to understanding how myofascia works, it supportive role within the body's anatomy, and how gentle manipulation of the myofascial tissue is central to lasting therapeutic intervention and how it can be integrated into any bodywork practice.

 

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Massage for a Happier, Healthier Life

I frequently encounter the perception that massage exists solely as a pursuit of idle ancient-massageluxury. Often even well-educated clients only “treat” themselves a few times a year, but anyone remotely interested in overall health ought to investigate the beneficial effects of massage first hand.

Many writings from our ancient civilizations describe the healing benefits of intentional touch. In our modern world you can still observe other social mammals, like dogs and cats, pack and cuddle up together. Our children come running to us for healing and a consoling touch after any playground insult or injury. For me, it deepens the impression that perhaps we have been using massage for as long as we’ve had hands with which to touch.

Judging from the sheer ubiquity, vintage, and variation of the massage craft now, I’m tempted to argue that there has been a style of massage for any given culture at any given period. Within our society countless forms of massage speak to very specific needs. That being said, the results are remarkably similar when one person touches another for the purpose of support and healing, no matter the external manifestation … the client leaves feeling better.

It is a misconception to think massage is only about your muscles, it addresses your entire body.

The most basic styles, such as Swedish, at the very least “feel good” and “get things moving,” and kind of “squeegee” out the gunk that makes your muscles tight and sore. This is because massage enhances circulation, decreases nervous system activity, promotes digestion, and even aids immunity functions. The traditional Chinese medicine theory asserts it moves our life force energy through sluggish and stopped-up areas, toning the whole of the system. Of course, directly working the muscles also relieves and rebalances the musculoskeletal body, that body you inhabit at work, at home, and at play, so as to safeguard you from overuse and stress. This is the sweet spot of massage: receiving therapy at the most basic, direct, one-sided, and lived-in level possible.

It seems those who receive massage regularly probably live with less pain, anxiety, depression, insomnia and blood pressure. They enjoy a greater sense of well being, greater flexibility and range of motion, and a relaxed state that is simultaneously revitalized. They probably get sick or injured less often. If you do not receive massages, you may not die of touch starvation but you probably will live longer, and might enjoy a higher quality of life, if you incorporate massage into your lifestyle. People have been doing it forever.

Detox Massage for Body Cleansing

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Consider going for detox massage that is not only relaxing but also aids your body in the removal of toxic waste. A detox massage can be of great support to any cleansing program you are in. It can address health conditions including fatigue, headaches, fibromyalgia, and other system dysfunctions that result from the presence of toxins in your body.

A detox massage is helpful because of the rhythmic strokes that your therapist apply to stimulate your body. Your therapist uses a combination of massage movements including irregular and altering applications of pressure that gently compress and stretch your muscle tissues.

There are a number of different massage therapies that also promotes detoxification. One example of a detox massage is the lymphatic massage. The lymphatic system is one of the main elimination systems of the body that is integral in the detoxification process. It is responsible for the absorption of food nutrients and also creates a waste disposal system in your body. Your therapist uses strokes that that help your lymphatic system to clear dietary toxins and other unwanted substances. Your massage therapist can help remove blockages in your blood circulatory system. The toxic waste are actually by-products of stress, dead cells, heavy metals and other excess debris.

A detox massage can also enhance your immune system, strengthen the muscles and toughen your connective tissue. If your muscles are relaxed, then your body is likely to detoxify and cleanse much better. An analogy can be drawn here. Just imagine if you are constipated and your muscles are tense. Did you not have a hard time trying to remove your bowels? When you are less stressed, your organs including your digestive system and gastrointestinal tract, are likely to perform at optimal levels. Under the skilful hands of your therapist, you can end up feeling so relaxed that you may even fall asleep during the session.

A Swedish massage can be likened to a detox massage. It normalizes oxygen levels and improves the function of your colon drainage as well as other organs involved in the detoxification process. Traditional Chinese massages are also excellent for body cleansing. The strokes may differ slightly but the aim of a session is the same.

The next time you schedule a massage, be sure to ask your therapist for a massage that helps detoxify and cleanse your body. You may also want to consider signing up for a few sessions so as to reap maximum benefits from this form of healing.

Don't Try a Detox Without Knowing This

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Isn't "detox" a trendy word? It is a common assumption that we can detoxify our bodies by simply consuming some green vegetable juices and eating raw foods. The truth is, detoxification is not a one step process. It’s just not that simple!

It is important to know that detoxification is an action! Toxins must leave the body in order for a detox to take place.

Detoxification can be summed up in two steps:

1. Awakening Toxins

2. Releasing Toxins

 

Step One : Awakening Toxins

When we consume unnatural foods they leave a sludgy, dense residue in our cells. This residue becomes our excess weight, our body odor, our wrinkles, and our cellulite. This residue in excess is even the culprit behind rapid aging!

We awaken these toxins when we rehydrate this sludgy toxic residue in the cells by consuming alkaline substances:  fresh vegetable juice, raw vegetables and fruits. The negative ionic charge of vegetables, fruit, and their juices are opposite of the positive ionic charge of toxins that were consumed throughout our lives and remain lodged in the cells.

During this step of detoxification the juices, vegetables, and fruits attract the toxins that would otherwise remain in the cells. The alkalinity of raw plant foods and juices lift toxins up and out of our cells and tissues. However, the detox has not occurred yet. The detox occurs during step two.

Step Two : Releasing the Toxins

After the toxins have been awakened they enter the bloodstream and the body filters them to the elimination organs so that they can be released. At this point in the game, you have great potential to detox, but you haven’t quite detoxed yet!

There are two main elimination organs that we focus on with detoxification: the colon and the skin. If you are following a detoxification regimen and you are not eliminating waste matter through the colon and the skin you are not detoxing!

Listed below are classic signs that toxins are being awakened, but not released: 

  • You become constipated.
  • You break out.
  • You have headaches.
  • You develop rashes.
  • Youjust feel really awful, overall.

The best way to ensure that you are detoxing effectively is to make sure that you have access to gravity method colon hydrotherapy from a trained professional, have access to a sauna so that you can sweat deeply and get massage treatments to aid in the detoxification process. Always remember that waste must leave the body for detoxification to take place, and waste leaves the body through the colon and the skin.

Saunas are particularly useful for detoxification because in order to experience a deep sweat you would have to do an intense workout that is not always advisable during a detox. Sometimes we have soaring levels of energy when detoxing, but sometimes we will be more tired than usual. Both of these experiences are typical reactions and nothing to be alarmed about.

A detox massage can enhance your immune system, strengthen the muscles and toughen your connective tissue. If your muscles are relaxed, then your body is likely to detoxify and cleanse much better. An analogy can be drawn here. Just imagine if you are constipated and your muscles are tense. Did you not have a hard time trying to remove your bowels? When you are less stressed, your organs including your digestive system and gastrointestinal tract, are likely to perform at optimal levels.

Colon hydrotherapy is also helpful because it removes old waste matter that would otherwise be too difficult for the body to eliminate on it’s own. If you become constipated while attempting a detox and would like to continue your detox, you must get to a skilled colon therapist, or else you will begin to experience symptoms, and feel awful!

When you awaken and release effectively you will feel an overall lightness physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This is how wonderful we can feel when we release toxins that have been weighing us down for days, weeks, months, years, and even decades!

While the awaken and release approach is very easy to understand intellectually, it is not always so easy to implement effectively. Detoxification can be tricky to understand and monitor, which is why seeking out a nutritionist or coach to guide you can be very helpful, even imperative, to progressing on your journey.

When cleansing, always remember the importance of awaken and release, and you’ll be set up for successful detoxification!

Read more at MindBodyGreen.

Communicating with Your Massage Therapist

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Let's Talk

Sharron Leonard

People get massages for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you're seeking stress relief from the weekly work commute or your wanting to cleanse your body of toxins. Or maybe massage is helping you recover from a sports injury or surgery. Whatever your reasons, it's absolutely important that you explicitly communicate to your therapist the reason you made the appointment. Otherwise you run the risk of not getting what you want.

In addition to explaining any wellness requirement, you also need to clarify your comfort needs during the session so that you feel completely at ease. Most practitioners work to create an appropriate environment with elements such as the temperature, music, aromatherapy, and table setting. But if anything makes you uncomfortable, feel free -- or rather, feel responsible -- to say as much. Your therapist is as interested as you are in making sure you get what you want from the massage, and building a communicative partnership is key. Remember, communication is a two-way street.

The BodySandy Anderson, owner of Relaxing Moments Massage in Reno, Nevada, asks at the beginning of each appointment, "What is the focus of our session today?" -- whether it's the client's first or 21st appointment with her. The therapist needs to know your wellness context. Even if she has your health history, circumstances -- and bodies -- are always changing. Perhaps you were traveling for the last two months spending significant time in cramped seats on airplanes. Maybe you're training for a marathon race, logging numerous miles each week. Or, a more likely scenario, you're stressed and feeling emotionally tapped.

Furthermore, it's important she or he knows about your massage preferences that just make your massage more pleasurable, such as getting extra work on your feet or ending the session with a face massage. Perhaps it's important to you to have the therapist "stay connected" by keeping her hands on you rather than, for example, going from your feet to your shoulders. By simply letting her or him know of any such information can vastly improve your session.

The Setting

"I have designed my treatment room to offer a basic comfort level based on my professional experience," Anderson says. "But I need the client to tell me if something is not to her liking. For example, I have provided a small fountain that I thought provided soothing background sounds, but two of my clients have requested that it be turned off because it made them feel as though they needed to run to the restroom."

One important amenity issue that should be discussed by the client and the therapist is massage-table comfort. "I use a heated table covered with a sheet and a blanket because as the active therapist I need the room temperature lower than what is comfortable for the client," Anderson says. "Then I ask the client what adjustments she might want me to make." Even if your therapist doesn't specifically ask about the temperature, background sounds, aromas or whatever other subtle amenities in the room, if there's something that's making your massage less than great, be sure to discuss it with your practitioner.

The Conversation

Conversation can sometimes be a point of contention. Because some clients like to talk during a session while others prefer silence, Anderson believes it's up to the client to dictate this aspect. She does not inhibit talking nor does she initiate conversation if the client is silent. If you want to tactfully make certain your therapist is not overly conversational, it is appropriate to say something like, "You will find that I am not very talkative. I just like to totally relax during this time." While your practitioner may communicate aspects of the massage, don't necessarily take this for her trying to make conversation.

Angie Parris-Raney, owner of Good Health Massage Therapy in Littleton, CO, believes it's very important for the therapist to explain her actions so the client is not surprised. "Whether I'm easing a first-time massage client's apprehension by explaining I will only be uncovering one part of the body at a time or I'm doing a rehabilitation treatment for injury, illness or surgery, I have learned from experience the client wants detailed information on what is going to happen," Parris-Raney says. "It is also helpful if she tells me how she feels about what I am doing. Is the stroke too deep or too light? Does she want me to use a slower or faster pace?" If you are unclear about an expectation or a procedure, even if it is something as simple as, "Where is the safest place to put my jewelry?" feel free to ask.

Massage client Andrea Scott explains her frustration with one massage session where she wishes she'd been more vocal. "I like deep tissue massage, and the practitioner was giving me a very light Swedish massage," she says. "I just didn't feel like I was getting anything out of it and found myself looking forward to the session just being over. For some reason, I thought it would be rude to say anything, but in retrospect, I'm sure she would've appreciated it." Instead, notes Scott, she left disappointed and the massage therapist never had a chance to address the issue.

Your goal as the client is to get what you are specifically seeking in each session. Your practitioner wants the experience to meet your expectations and will appreciate you verbalizing your wellness requirements and personal comfort needs. Your massage therapist is your partner for healthy living, but you need to speak up.

Weight Loss and Bodywork

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By: Genevieve Charet

Massage--anything this good must be fattening, right? Wrong! Scientists now confirm what massage therapists have always known: massage can be a powerful and effective weight-loss tool. By improving your body's resilience, aiding muscle nutrition and flexibility, and supporting your mental and emotional well-being, massage can take your weight-loss plan to a whole new level.

The relationship between massage and weight loss is the result of many subtle improvements working together, including better injury prevention and healing. Jeff Wooten, founder of YourBodyMechanic.com, explains: "Massage helps to heal existing injuries by breaking down scar tissue and other adhesions. This creates a more functional muscle and improves joint integrity." Massage therapists also work to improve your flexibility and range of motion. This makes you less likely to hurt yourself, meaning more productive and pain-free hours in the gym. But the benefits don't end there.

When you receive a massage, you're directly impacting the circulatory system. By constantly moving blood to body tissues, your massage therapist increases the amount of oxygen and nutrients your muscles receive. This soothing cycle eases you into much-needed rest and relaxation time.

Deneen Rhode, a massage therapy instructor who teaches fitness classes, says, "The qualitative style of Swedish massage relaxes the nervous system and takes the body into what is known as the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic state is very restorative to the body--it is where the body needs to go to heal itself." When you accomplish this through massage, it means you'll need less recovery time between workouts and that you can move your fitness routine full speed ahead.

Jeff Mann, the regional manager for Cortiva Institute Schools of Massage Therapy, knows this firsthand. With experience as both a massage therapist and personal trainer, he has seen the way massage can help clients drop pounds and keep them off. "Massage to weight loss is like the padding on a steering wheel--you can do without it, but it makes it a lot easier and more comfortable to hang on to."

Make It Work For You

Losing weight isn't easy. Thankfully, it's simple to incorporate massage into the healthy lifestyle you're building. It's a good idea to have a special consultation with your massage therapist about your new goals and fitness plan so that treatments can be customized to your body's specific needs.

Meredith Nathan, director of massage at Pulling Down the Moon in Chicago, says there are some specific questions you should be prepared to answer. For example, "If you're following an exercise routine, how has it affected your body? Are there any particular areas of tension or discomfort? Where do you tend to gain weight first? How is your digestive health? Is your lifestyle relaxed or stressful?" The more information you can provide your therapist, the better your results will be--and this extends to your medical history. During your intake process, inform your massage therapist about any health problems, surgeries, medications, and even recent minor illnesses you've had. Anything your doctor needs to know, your massage therapist needs to know as well.

 "Generally, massage on a healthy [client] should be no more that 90 minutes; 60 minutes is the most common," Rhode says. Weekly massages are ideal, but you can reap plenty of benefits from monthly visits, too. Your massage therapist will work with you to set a specific schedule of appointments that fits with your workout routine, as well as your finances. Don't be concerned if your MT wants to see you more often at the beginning of your plan--this is normal, and helps him or her to get to know your body's way of handling stress and exertion.

Don't Be Shy

While it's natural for anyone to feel a little self-conscious at first about undressing for a massage, overweight clients often have major anxieties about disrobing. If you've put off massage therapy because you're embarrassed about your body shape, take heart: massage therapists are sensitive to your concerns and don't want you to feel ashamed. Thom Lobe, MD, founder and director of Beneveda Medical Group in Beverly Hills, says, "Massage therapists are just that--therapists. They are used to seeing all shapes, sizes, and conditions of the body. A well-trained massage therapist has an entirely clinical perspective, no different than any other health-care worker. The fact is, when I give a massage...what the body looks like isn't even in my conscious thoughts."

Throughout the course of a massage, clients are discretely draped under a sheet, with the therapist only uncovering the body part being worked on. Of course, you can always wear swim attire or undergarments during your massage, although they can hamper the full therapeutic effects your therapist offers. Remember, rest easy in the knowledge that your massage therapist has been trained to nurture and help you without passing judgment. Nathan adds that massage therapists "do not expect to work on bodies that are already in perfect health; rather, we get excited about supporting our client's journey toward better health."

The Power of Touch

While it's easy to overlook your emotional health when planning a new diet and exercise regimen, it's the primary factor determining your weight-loss success. Along the path to fitness, the role of massage in supporting your mental and emotional health may be a critical component. Massage is a calorie-free reward; a way to treat yourself without guilt. Your massage therapist also acts as a cheerleader who celebrates your victories with you and helps keep you positive and committed.

"The more professionals you have on the team, the better," Wooten says. "The worst thing to do, in most cases, is attempt to get into shape on your own." Adding a massage therapist to your weight-loss plan is a great way to tell yourself just how serious you are about taking this step. 

Massage is a powerful way to love, respect, and nurture yourself. When you love yourself, you won't engage in unhealthy lifestyle choices. Rhode calls this "the power of touch"--the unique ability that touch has to make us feel safe, comfortable, and at peace. "Very often, those who are obese or overweight become less social and isolate themselves. They become disconnected from others. They may experience less touch in their lives in general," Rhode says. This disconnect continues a downward spiral of low self-worth and unhealthy living. Massage is a great way to fill in that gap and rebuild a healthy life from the ground up. "I've learned that there are no perfect bodies," Nathan says. "All bodies are unique and have unique needs. All bodies deserve to be nurtured."

Regular massage is all about reconnecting with your body and getting back into yourself. As you continue to take time out to relax and care for your body through regular appointments, you'll naturally become more aware of your body's needs and more motivated to meet them. It's all part of a greater picture of health and fitness, one that Wooten says, "is a journey, and not a destination."

Your massage therapist wants to help you build a bridge between mind and body that will last a lifetime. So update your massage from guilty pleasure status to indispensable health habit, and reap the benefits in the form of a fitter, happier you. You've earned it.

Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Spring/Summer 2010.

The Benefits of Massage

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Bodywork Goes Beyond Relaxation
As you lie on the table under crisp, fresh sheets, hushed music draws you into the moment. The smell of sage fills the air and you hear the gentle sound of massage oil being warmed in your therapist's hands. Once the session gets underway, the daily stressors and aching muscles fade into an oblivious 60 minutes of relief, and all you can comprehend right now is not wanting it to end.

But what if that hour of massage did more for you than just take the pressures of the day away? What if that gentle, Swedish massage helped you combat cancer? What if bodywork helped you recover from a strained hamstring in half the time? What if your sleep, digestion, and mood all improved with massage and bodywork? What if these weren't just "what if's"? 

Evidence is showing that the more massage you can allow yourself, the better you'll feel. Here's why:
Massage as a healing tool has been around for thousands of years in many cultures. Touching is a natural human reaction to pain and stress, and for conveying compassion and support. When you bump your head or have a sore calf, the natural response is to rub it to feel better. The same was true of our earliest ancestors.

Healers throughout time and throughout the world have instinctually and independently developed a wide range of therapeutic techniques using touch. Many are still in use today, and with good reason. We now have scientific proof of the benefits of massage -- benefits ranging from treating chronic diseases and injuries to alleviating the growing tensions of our modern lifestyles. Having a massage does more than just relax your body and mind -- there are specific physiological and psychological changes that occur, and even more so when massage is utilized as a preventative, frequent therapy and not simply mere luxury. Massage not only feels good, but it can cure what ails you.

The Fallout of Stress
Experts estimate that 80 percent to 90 percent of disease is stress-related. Massage and bodywork is there to combat that frightening number by helping us remember what it means to relax. The physical changes massage brings to your body can have a positive effect in many areas of your life. Besides increasing relaxation and decreasing anxiety, massage lowers blood pressure, increases circulation, improves injury recovery, encourages deep sleep, and increases concentration. It reduces fatigue and gives you more energy to handle stressful situations.

Massage is a perfect elixir for good health, but it can also provide an integration of body and mind. By producing a meditative state or heightened awareness of the present moment, massage can provide emotional and spiritual balance, bringing with it true relaxation and peace.

The incredible benefits of massage are doubly powerful if taken in regular "doses." Researchers from the Touch Research Institute (TRI) at the University of Miami, found that recipients of massage can benefit even in small doses (15 minutes of chair massage or a half-hour table session). They also note that receiving bodywork two to three times a week is even more beneficial. While this may not be feasible, it's nice to know that this "medicine" only gets better with frequency.

What It Does
In an age of technical and, at times, impersonal medicine, massage offers a drug-free, non-invasive, and humanistic approach based on the body's natural ability to heal itself. Following is a brief list of the many known, research-based benefits of massage and bodywork:

  • Increases circulation, allowing the body to pump more oxygen and nutrients into tissues and vital organs,
  • Stimulates the flow of lymph, the body's natural defense system, against toxic invaders. For example, in breast cancer patients, massage has been shown to increase the cells that fight cancer. Furthermore, increased circulation of blood and lymph systems improves the condition of the body's largest organ -- the skin,
  • Relaxes and softens injured and overused muscles,
  • Reduces spasms and cramping,
  • Increases joint flexibility,
  • Reduces recovery time and helps prepare the body for strenuous workouts, reducing subsequent muscle pain of athletes at any level,
  • Releases endorphins -- the body's natural painkiller -- and is proving very beneficial in patients with chronic illness, injury, and post-op pain,
  • Reduces post-surgery adhesions and edema and can be used to reduce and realign scar tissue after healing has occurred,
  • Improves range-of-motion and decreases discomfort for patients with low back pain,
  • Relieves pain for migraine sufferers and decreases the need for medication,
  • Provides exercise and stretching for atrophied muscles and reduces shortening of the muscles for those with restricted range of motion,
  • Assists with shorter labor for expectant mothers, as well as reduces the need for medication, eases postpartum depression and anxiety, and contributes to a shorter hospital stay.

The benefits of massage are diverse. No matter how great it feels, massage isn't just a luxury, it's a health necessity.

 

The 'F' Word You Need To Know : Fascia

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Just beneath your skin lies a complex network of connective tissue called fascia. It helps you move well, stand straight and play hard. Keeping it healthy might be one of the fastest – and most overlooked – ways to improve your health and fitness.

As a Massage Therapist, I find it fascinating that fascia is not something that is talked about or taught in most fitness arenas. Fascia is a stretchy, mesh-like substance that interweaves through and around your musculature, surrounds and supports your organs, and shrink-wraps your entire internal structure like a second skin. It's a key player in the way your body moves, functions and feels. It's a dynamic substance that can change and respond - both in good and bad ways.

Fascia adapts to every move you make — good, bad or indifferent. Over time, a competitive rower, for example, might develop thicker fascia in her back and shoulders to support the repetitive movement of pulling oars. The fascia in the front of the rib cage of your typical desk jockey, on the other hand, may become thick and short to reinforce a habitually caved-in posture. And injuries, even minor ones, often result in fascial “patches” in the muscles that can cause restricted motion, leading to compensations in gait and movement. These might remain long after the injury itself has healed. 

Injured or poorly adapted fascia can start to act like glue, binding to muscles, other fascia, even your ligaments. In a sense, your entire individual life history — exercise habits, injuries, common sitting and sleeping positions — is written in your fascia. Depending on these and other behavioral factors, fascial adhesions can subtly accrue over years and decades, leading to movement inhibition and sometimes chronic pain.

So, think you might have a few kinks in your fascia? In a sense, if you’re already exercising and stretching regularly, you’re ahead of the game. Muscles and fascia are so interwoven that you can’t affect one without affecting the other. 

Nevertheless, standard, static stretching and muscle-isolating exercises, while beneficial in some ways, often have little effect on deeply ingrained fascial tension, especially if, like most people, you spend a large portion of your day sitting down.

If we spend months, years, even decades sitting at a desk and think that a few hours in the gym per week are going to undo all that, we’re probably fooling ourselves. Stretching a muscle with bound-up or poorly adapted fascia is a bit like trying to stretch a knotted bungee cord: You’ll get much better results if you get the knots out first. 

Some of the best methods for untying these knots take a therapeutic approach, like massage, in which a licensed practitioner works with an athlete or client. Other methods have the client participate more actively, moving and stretching him- or herself in fascia-friendly patterns. Massage can be a powerful tool when it comes to increasing the function of your fascia by increasing it's elasticity and restoring balance throughout the entire body. Exercising with proper form and precision cares for the body as a whole - something we now know is imperative to health and well being. Learning how to tap into the power of your fascia could drastically change the way you train, move and most importantly feel.

As a Massage Therapist I am just scratching the surface on how fascia works and why it matters to you, but I encourage you to check out the additional sources listed below to expand your knowledge on this topic.

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Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists By: Thomas Myers

Fascial Fitness: Training in the Neuromyofascial Web

A New Health-Care Regimen

The benefits of professional massage cannot accurately be put into words, and to experience it, one obviously has to purchase the service. Too often we choose not to invest in our bodies, instead investing in what we think are necessities.  To some people, it seems like there are always other, more important things to do.

Massage is not the self-indulgent activity that spas often advertise.  While there is a degree of physical pleasure with massage, the euphoria that follows for weeks makes a person more diligent and aware of his/her surroundings, that's why I hope more people will make it part of their health-care strategy.  Taking the time to step away from everything isn't self-indulgence or a luxury; rather it is more like a tool of peace, which allows people to focus on their vision of the world they live in and their place within it.

How Massage Heals Sore Muscles

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A massage after vigorous exercise unquestionably feels good, and it seems to reduce pain and help muscles recover. Many people — both athletes and health professionals – have long contended it eases inflammation, improves blood flow and reduces muscle tightness. But until now no one has understood why massage has this apparently beneficial effect.

Now researchers have found what happens to muscles when a masseur goes to work on them.

 Their experiment required having people exercise to exhaustion and undergo five incisions in their legs in order to obtain muscle tissue for analysis. Despite the hurdles, the scientists still managed to find 11 brave young male volunteers. The study was published in the Feb. 1 issue of Science Translational Medicine.

On a first visit, they biopsied one leg of each subject at rest. At a second session, they had them vigorously exercise on a stationary bicycle for more than an hour until they could go no further. Then they massaged one thigh of each subject for 10 minutes, leaving the other to recover on its own. Immediately after the massage, they biopsied the thigh muscle in each leg again. After allowing another two-and-a-half hours of rest, they did a third biopsy to track the process of muscle injury and repair.

Vigorous exercise causes tiny tears in muscle fibers, leading to an immune reaction — inflammation — as the body gets to work repairing the injured cells. So the researchers screened the tissue from the massaged and unmassaged legs to compare their repair processes, and find out what difference massage would make.

They found that massage reduced the production of compounds called cytokines, which play a critical role in inflammation. Massage also stimulated mitochondria, the tiny powerhouses inside cells that convert glucose into the energy essential for cell function and repair. “The bottom line is that there appears to be a suppression of pathways in inflammation and an increase in mitochondrial biogenesis,” helping the muscle adapt to the demands of increased exercise, said the senior author, Dr. Mark A. Tarnopolsky.

Dr. Tarnopolsky, a professor of pediatrics and medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, said that massage works quite differently from Nsaids and other anti-inflammatory drugs, which reduce inflammation and pain but may actually retard healing. Many people, for instance, pop an aspirin or Aleve at the first sign of muscle soreness. “There’s some theoretical concern that there is a maladaptive response in the long run if you’re constantly suppressing inflammation with drugs,” he said. “With massage, you can have your cake and eat it too—massage can suppress inflammation and actually enhance cell recovery.” 

“This is important research, because it is the first to show that massage can reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines which may be involved in pain,” said Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School. She was not involved in the study. “We have known from many studies that pain can be reduced by massage based on self-report, but this is the first demonstration that the pain-related pro-inflammatory cytokines can be reduced.” she said.

Getting a massage from a professional masseur is obviously more expensive than taking an aspirin. But, as Dr. Field points out, massage techniques can be taught. “People within families can learn to massage each other,” she said. “If you can teach parents to massage kids, couples to massage each other. This can be cost effective.”

Dr. Tarnopolsky suggests that, in the long run, a professional massage may even be a better bargain than a pill. “If someone says “This is free and it might make you feel better, but it may slow down your recovery, do you still want it?” he asked. “Or would you rather spend the 50 bucks for a post-exercise massage that also might enhance your recovery?”