Massage is a simple concept that has lasting health results.
Essentially, massage therapy is nothing more than the manipulation of soft tissues (such as muscle and skin) in order to affect change in those very structures. In other words, when your soft tissues get knotted and tensed due to stress or physical injury, massage is the basic practice of unwinding those knots. Simple in theory, but it can take years to master.
The effects of massage are pretty well documented: along with the typical energizing benefits of a good massage (loose muscles, reduced soreness, removal of toxins from the skin, improved joint flexibility, and the reduction of chronic pain and fatigue symptoms), this type of therapy can also help ameliorate the symptoms of Fibromyalgia and potentially other syndromes such as chronic migraines, IBS, and some sleep disorders. Massage is not a cure for any of these and should never under any circumstances be a substitute for real medical help, but massage is a fantastic supplement for people suffering from these problems.
But what does massage actually do?
To understand how massage therapy works, you first need to understand a little about how muscles get contorted and knotted in the first place.
If our skeletons are the brick building blocks of our bodies, then our muscles are sort of like the mortar. They support our bones and hold them more or less in place. Our muscles allow for our unique bipedal posture by balancing and supporting our bodies in an upright position by tightening and slackening (or “relaxing”) as the situation requires. But this takes a toll on us: the strain of constant tightening and slackening puts excess pressure on the folds of our muscles and it can cause some muscles to over-tighten or over-slacken. This will cause the other muscles to compensate, so you can maintain your balance.
If this is not corrected, your body can acclimate to this strain and give your body semi-permanent imbalance and poor posture. Essentially your body will adjust to compensate for the balance created in your body. It will falsely correct your body, potentially leading to problems down the road in the long run. You might not even notice this is going on – until you find yourself participating in an activity that requires a full range of standard motion.
Massage counteracts this by re-aligning your muscles and molding them back to their proper positions. If muscles are to tense, massage will loosen them; if they are too slack, massage will tighten them up. Like nautical rope on a sailing ship, little adjustments to the balance of your body can be made with a set of deft hands winding or unwinding the right thread.
Massage therapy was used extensively in the U.S. health system up until the 1950s when it was deemed too time consuming for busy one-to-one physicians. Modern day massage therapists, and the high tech massage chairs that are modeled after them, specialize in this dedicated therapeutic art.