Getting a massage is a pretty amazing way to treat yo’self after wrapping up a major work project or sticking to your workout routine for a few months. But massages can actually be much more beneficial than you think. We talked to massage therapists and physical therapists to get the skinny on why, for a lot of people, massages are a great way to maintain overall well-being. Bonus: They gave us some DIY options if you can’t splurge for one on the regular.
5 REASONS TO CONSIDER GETTING MONTHLY MASSAGES
1. Those knots in your shoulders aren’t going away on their own. Knots, or adhesions, are incredibly common. You’ve probably felt them in your neck or shoulders after a long, stressful day at work. Knots feel crunchy, or you might even feel a snap as you run over a super tight area. “In a healthy body, muscles glide past each other nicely,” explains Rachel Beider, a licensed massage therapist (LMT). When you overwork a muscle, never use it, get injured, or are stressed out, your muscle fibers can tense up and start to stick together. That ball is not only painful or achy, but can cause chronic pain later, which “can create limited movement (stiffness) and pain when the adhesion compresses a nerve.”
While a healthy diet, exercise, and stretching can help prevent knots in the first place, once you have a major one, it’s not going away on its own. But a massage (make sure you’re going to an LMT) can help. “You shouldn’t wait until your small nagging pain becomes a much bigger issue to get it checked out. A good deep tissue massage is effective at breaking down knots, will restore your range of motion, and will help you prevent bigger issues and injuries.” Though you’ll also have to do your stretching and strengthening exercises in-between as homework, she notes.
2. You’re in pain, whether it’s chronic or from an injury or surgery. Get rid of the idea that massages just feel good in the moment. They actually have the potential to relieve intense pain and help you heal from an injury or surgery faster. Massage therapy, often combined with physical therapy, helps the tissue around the injured area heal better and faster, according to physical therapist Jessica Risk. Risk specializes in manual therapy, focusing on getting rid of knots and using trigger point therapy around the injured area (for example, if someone has knee surgery, she’ll massage the knee and the leg).
Risk also recommends that her patients get a full body massage within two days of their physical therapy appointment. “A massage can help the waste products, produced by the cells during their inflammatory healing process, drain better into their lymph system, to then be eliminated. This can help decrease swelling and also promote total body circulation, which brings fresh blood and oxygen into the area, promoting healing,” she explains.
3. You work on a computer. You’ve already read a thousand articles about how sitting at a desk is going to kill you. Well, we’re going to keep writing them until you stop hunching over. “We live very sedentary lifestyles, sitting for long periods at work in front of a computer. This causes a whole host of muscle pains and imbalances that can be fixed with regular massage therapy,” physical therapist Liam Champion explains. It’s not only poor posture and sitting too long at work that can cause pain in your shoulders, neck, and lower back, but stress.
Muscle tension is a very common symptom of stress, and deep relaxation, which many people find during massage sessions, can help treat the emotional root of your pain and relax your tight muscles at the same time. A review of more than 30 studies shows that massage therapy reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 31 percent, on average, while boosting serotonin (28 percent) and dopamine (31 percent). Those are pretty convincing numbers.
4. You work out more than three times a week. If you’re a serious fitness fanatic, regular massages are necessary for many of the same reasons they’re critical for athletes who need to stay in tip-top shape, according to Nomi Greenman, LMT and the official therapist for Precision Sports Performance, a training facility for amateur and professional student athletes, as well as adults. Regular massages can help your muscles recover up to 50 percent faster and prevent injury. Most importantly for most of us casual workout aficionados, whose main issue is serious soreness after leg day, massages can help by reducing muscle soreness and fatigue.
5. You’re pregnant. Prenatal massage is one of the main alternative therapies recommended for pregnant women, and for some super compelling reasons. According to Greenman, massage alleviates some common discomforts of pregnancy, such as swelling in the hands, feet, and ankles, and sciatic pain. Studies also show that prenatal massages help with insomnia and fatigue by reducing anxiety and depression, which is also good for the baby. Incredibly, “women who received massage therapy experienced significantly less pain, and their labors were on average three hours shorter” than women who didn’t, according to a review of research. Look for an LMT that’s certified in prenatal massage, and ask about their qualifications before you book.
3 SUPER EFFECTIVE AT-HOME OPTIONS IF YOU CAN’T GET REGULAR MASSAGES
1. Foam Roller: “Foam rollers are a cheap alternative for an expensive deep sports massage,” Champion says. “Investing in decent foam roller may be the best thing you’ve ever done to improve your performance and prevent injuries.” Even if your problem areas aren’t due to a tough workout, Champion says, “Foam rolling is a must if you want to take your health and fitness seriously.”
2. Tennis Ball: Since bringing your foam roller on vacation isn’t exactly practical (we would if we could), Risk recommends packing a ‘trigger point ball.’ “There are a few that are made and marketed specifically for ‘trigger point release’ that I use, but if someone needs something quick, a regular tennis ball will do the trick. It’s cheap and very easy to travel with,” she says.
3. Movement Therapy: While breaking down scar tissue and rolling out knots is helpful, “gentle and slow movements can actually be more effective, as the body doesn’t fight back and the nervous system begins to understand what you are asking for,” according to Tracey Silber, LMT. “Learning gentle movements can help relieve both physical and mental pain with very little effort,” she says. Check out local yoga studios and keep an eye out for MELT Method classes or teachers trained in somatic therapy.
How do you deal with tense muscles from strength training or sitting at a desk? Tweet us your tricks @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)