Do massages work?

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After a long day’s work or an intense workout at the gym, you may feel sore and aching. Whether in your lower back, neck, or shoulders, this soreness can be uncomfortable and if chronic, it can make daily tasks difficult. Throughout the ages, mankind developed many techniques to help manage this pain. One of the oldest forms is massage. The practice of massaging can be seen in the ancient civilizations of the Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese, and Indians, and has been used to treat a variety of ailments. It is a rudimentary and archaic practice, but is it an effective treatment for a problem that burdens many?اضافة اعلان

Types of muscle aches

One of the most common issues with fitness is delayed onset muscle soreness. DOMS is believed to be caused by temporary muscle damage and inflammation as a result of an unfamiliar or unaccustomed intense exercise.

DOMS is unique, in that the initial 12 to 24 hours after exercise are pain free, but between 24 and 72 hours, muscle soreness peaks. Generally, the soreness resolves itself within a few days to a week and is typically not a cause for concern. In fact, it serves as a positive sign that the muscle is healing and the exercise was effective. Nevertheless, the soreness may be debilitating and extremely discomforting, so any technique that can reduce the duration safely is beneficial.

Another common form of muscle soreness is repetitive strain injury. RSI regularly occurs in manual labor, office work, and from the use of modern technological devices. There are many causes for RSI, but generally, work that requires repetitive tasks, forceful exertions, vibrations, mechanical compression, and sustained or awkward positions tend to be the most common. The pain is described as tenderness of the affected muscles and may feel throbbing, pulsating or tingling. Depending on the severity of RSI, the issue may be the result of muscle inflammation and swelling, similar to DOMS, or it may be the result of nerve damage.

Lastly, a common source of muscle pain are muscle knots. Although the name implies a twisting of the muscle, muscle knots are actually a type of spasm caused by the tensing of a small portion of a muscle. Similar to RSI, muscle knots are typically the product of stress placed on muscles, such as when sitting in awkward positions. Muscle knots tend to be more painful than they are sore and can last for days or even weeks.

How do massages work?

There are many different forms of massage, and each has its own claims and benefits. The general principle of massage involves pressing, rubbing, and manipulating various tissues such as the skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Of all the various types, the three most common and widely used are the Swedish massage, the deep tissue massage, and the trigger point massage.

Swedish massage is the most common type of massage and is the form most people are familiar with. This form typically uses oils or lotions to reduce friction and involves motions such as tapping, kneading, vibration, and rolling. A Swedish massage comprises five different techniques, each with its own purpose. The first is known as effleurage and is used at the beginning and end of the massage to warm up and soothe the muscles. Effleurage involves gentle circular or gliding strokes and, depending on the level on tension, is divided into three different classes. The least amount of pressure applied is known as feather stroking, second is superficial effleurage, and the most amount of pressure is known as deeper effleurage. 

The second technique is petrissage which involves a deeper, rhythmic kneading movement. Petrissage helps stretch and loosen the muscle and takes the most amount of time to perform. The third technique is tapotement which means tapping or drumming. This is achieved by hammering, slapping, and tapping in order to produce endorphins (the body’s natural pain killer), relax tightened muscles, and stimulate blood flow. The fourth technique is friction, and as the name implies, it involves rubbing of skin using the thumbs or fingers. Pressure is applied in a linear or circular motion and works to soften and realign sore muscles, but it also works well on joints. The final technique is vibration, which involves rhythmic shaking. The palm can be used for larger areas and fingers on smaller areas, like the face. The purpose of this technique is to loosen and relax the muscles. 

Deep tissue massage has many similarities to the Swedish massage, but there are some distinct differences. Deep tissue massage tends to focus on chronic pain as well as muscle and sports-related injuries. Swedish massage, on the other hand, is primarily used to promote relaxation and reduce muscle tension that is caused by everyday activities. Both forms of massage use the palms and fingers to knead and manipulate tissue, but deep tissue massages may also use the elbows and forearms to exert more pressure into the deeper layers of tissue. 

Finally, the areas on which these massages are focused are also different. Deep tissue massage focuses on the deeper layers of tissue in order to treat muscle and tendon injuries, as well as pain and stiffness of major muscle groups or tendons. In contrast, the Swedish massage primarily focuses on superficial layers of muscle, especially those that hold the most amount of tension such as the neck, shoulders, and back.

Trigger point massage is simple massage that can be done at home by yourself. A trigger point is another name for muscle knots, which typically form at the base of the neck, but can be found anywhere on the body that undergoes repeated activity. 

The method of massaging is extremely simple. First locate a knotted muscle, which may feel like a firm area of muscle or potentially like a ball. Once located, use your fingers to pressure firmly on the spot. Repeat for 3-5 minutes and do it as much as five to six times a day. 

Trigger point massages are generally safe, and it is unlikely that you can apply enough pressure to cause damage. The process is uncomfortable, and even painful, but if the pain becomes intense, sharp, or tingling, the injury is likely beyond muscle tension. For those who have difficulty reaching certain places on the body, or are unable to generate enough pressure, tools like foam rollers and massage balls can help.

Health benefits of massage

In general, massages are a great way to relax; they have many benefits in terms of wellness. Swedish massages in particular may help reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress. 

More practically, massages also help relieve symptoms of muscle or tendon injury. Although it works as a great complementary treatment, it cannot completely replace regular medical treatment in case of certain injuries or diseases. 

Massages also help improve blood flow and circulation, which can reduce inflammation of affected areas. Similarly, they have been associated with boosting immunity and have been considered in managing symptoms of certain conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and even certain cancers.

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