What I’m about to tell you about massage can be applied more broadly to life, because we live and experience our lives through our bodies.
They are our physical mechanism of life here on planet earth.
How we live those lives impacts on that meat suit in ways far more profound than most people realise.
But that’s just because most people don’t really live in their bodies, they live in their heads, which is what causes most of our problems….
Massage should not hurt
I’m a strong believer that massage should not be painful.
It shouldn’t ‘hurt’ you.
You shouldn’t be left with bruises, or feeling like you’ve gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson. (Tell me you’re an 80’s kid without telling me you’re an 80’s kid!).
Time’s up for ‘No pain, No Gain’!
The mantra of ‘no pain no gain’ that pervades our society and underpins the always-on, hustle culture that’s doing so much damage to our physical and mental health, I believe needs to be ousted once and for all.
I’d argue this mantra has no value at all to add to our lives, and certainly has no place in massage.
The point of pain
Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong.
So why on earth would we decide to ignore that message, which, let’s be honest is telling us to ‘STOP!’ and investigate what’s wrong, and instead decide to push on for greater glory?!
Greater injury more like!
Insanity be like – give me more pain!
People often come for a massage because they’re in pain.
So why, oh why, do so many people assume that to get out of pain they need to experience MORE of it in a massage?!
Einstein said that the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different outcome.
Continuing to seek out experiences that cause ever more pain, in the hope that more pain will cause the pain to stop is, quite frankly, insane!
The danger in ignoring the pain message
Ignoring the pain and carrying on has at best caused no improvement.
But most likely, has caused further damage, meaning it’ll take LONGER to address the root cause.
If we want pain free lives, we need to start acknowledging the pain response for what it is – vital communication and information.
And then we need to stop what we’re doing and address the root cause.
And this is true whether the pain you’re experiencing is physical, mental or spiritual.
Only when the root cause is addressed and treated will the pain stop!
So what IS the root cause of pain?
For almost all physical pain, the root cause will be to do with a tightening of the fascia.
This tightening causes a reduction in range of motion and movement.
And this tightening means that nerves might be pressed or squeezed as space is reduced – and that’s definitely painful!
Physical pain can also be caused by specific things; like a broken bone, or a torn ligament, or a massive gash in the skin, or a burn, or an infection, say of an ear or tooth.
But, no matter what the acute cause of the physical pain, you can be sure fascia is involved somewhere, somehow!
Most physical issues with the body, like a broken bone, will be resolved within 6 weeks to 3 months of injury.
Pain that remains after this time is most likely due to the fascia.
What is fascia?
Fascia is this amazing substance that exists all over your body. It’s the stuff that allows tissues to glide over each other AND the stuff that supports posture.
It has a more fluid state, when it has lots of elastin in it. This is when it acts as a lubricant, allowing ease of movement.
And it has a more solid state, when it has lots of collogen in it. This is when it supports and protects the body, for instance in maintaining a posture, or after physical trauma and injury.
The really amazing thing about fascia is that it can move between these states.
An example to illustrate
Let’s take for example the physical trauma of a broken bone.
At the site of impact and injury, the fascia will respond immediately to the force of the injury by laying down collogen.
This allows it to protect the body at the site of injury by providing strength and structure.
In doing so however, ease of movement and range of motion are compromised.
And for a live broken bone injury, this is exactly what we want and need!
However, as the bone heals, the fascia would, ideally, start to take up the collogen, and instead put down elastin, allowing the tissues to regain their ease of movement and increase range of motion.
The problem is, this often doesn’t happen.
One reason is because as we’re healing, we’re often scared to move the healing part, keeping it very still.
This is why gentle movement, BUT NEVER TO THE POINT OF PAIN, is so important in rehabilitation of injury.
It’s through movement that the body ‘learns’ it’s healing, and the fascia can stand down on protection duty, and resume ease of movement duty.
Fascia doesn’t just respond to injury
But fascia doesn’t just respond to injury in this way.
It will also look to support habitual postures by laying down collogen and acting almost like a bone, providing support to maintain that posture.
Which is great if your posture’s good, and not so great if you’ve a habit of rounding your shoulders forward, or jutting your head out, or crossing your legs…..
How fascia is indicated in longer term pain
When pain lasts beyond the 6 week-3 month window needed for most injury to be healed, in other words, in a chronic pain situation, it’s often the fascia that we need to look to as the root cause.
When the fascia is dehydrated and tight or in it’s collogen ‘protect and support’ state, then range of motion and ease of movement are restricted.
Nerves can become ‘trapped’ in this tighter, denser tissue, causing pain.
And we can become accustomed to not moving certain areas of the body, compensating for the pain, and in the process only exacerbating the situation.
Fascia is significantly more densely innervated than muscles.
Depending on the body part, 6-10 times more so.
This means that most pain is being felt from the fascia, NOT the muscles.
It stands to reason therefore that the tighter the fascia, the MORE pain is likely to be felt, as the greater the scope for nerves to be stimulated, or ‘trapped’, by the fascia.
The answer appears pretty simple – release the fascia to reduce the pain!
So, how do I release the fascia?
When we talk about ‘releasing’ the fascia, we’re really talking about encouraging it back into it’s more fluid state.
This in turn will result in greater ease of movement and increased range of motion of all the tissues and joints.
In effect, we’re creating space!
The easiest way to do this is to stretch.
There’s a reason a baby, a cat, a dog, all stretch when they wake up.
This is the easiest way to indicate to the body that you want ‘ease of movement’, not ‘protection’ mode for your fascia.
When we’re asleep, fascia lays down collogen, supporting the non-moving sleeping posture.
So, if we stretch when we wake up, we break down that collogen fascia and get our free moving elastin fascia back – result!
Want to avoid neck pain when working at your desk?
Stretch – often!
Want to avoid injury in training?
Stretch BEFORE you get going, and that way everything will be free flowing, and so less likely to restrict movement resulting in a further injury.
It makes sense right?
Movement, BUT NEVER TO THE POINT OF PAIN, is good for you! 😊
What’s this got to do with massage?
Well, massage, specifically Myofascial Release (MFR), can help to release the fascia too.
This is really helpful in cases where so much collogen fascia has been laid down that a simple stretch isn’t going to budge it!
If you’ve never had MFR before, it’ll probably feel really strange.
MFR is done without oil, so that there is direct skin contact between practitioner and recipient.
And because of the tensile properties of fascia (as discussed above), it has to be done very slowly!
Slow, sustained movement is what it’s all about.
You may feel stretching. You may notice sensation in areas other than those being touched. You may suddenly realise you can breathe deeper or easier.
And when you stand up at the end, you may well notice that you’ve greater range of motion and ease of movement in joints. You may notice you can move in ways you’ve not been able to for a while.
You may even notice that the areas that are moving more freely weren’t even those that were painful before. They might not even have been the areas that were worked on in your massage.
This is because fascia is a single body system, so working on one area affects the whole, to some degree.
What you will never experience however, is pain!
Massage can do an awful lot for you.
It can address underlying and long term pain issues.
And it can do so without causing you any further pain.
You just need to know what kind of massage to ask for.
And now you do!
If you’d like to learn more about fascia, check out this YouTube video (Content warning, it shows fascia in a cadaver).
If you’ like to see how restriction in the fascia in one part of your body can effect another area, check out this video here.