This article is part of a series on how to maximize the benefits of massage therapy. Read the rest of the series here.
Six years ago this month, I began rehab from a complicated knee surgery (after three months spent in a boot, on crutches, and hobbling asymmetrically). After less than ideal progression and healing, a friend advised me to “get a good massage”.
At the time, I understood massage as a purely recreational experience- something done for enjoyment and relaxation, like a spa treatment. Skeptical how this would help my knee or the other aches and pains my injury and surgery caused, I asked my friend “why?” He went on to explain that there are certain kinds of massage, such as deep tissue work, that are therapeutic for the body and its soft tissues (like muscles and connective tissue).
“It will help you move better. It might hurt though,” he warned.
Intrigued, and willing to try nearly anything to help my recovery, I found a local massage therapist and booked an appointment for a deep tissue massage. I went in ready to “bring on the pain.”
To my surprise, it wasn’t all that painful, mostly just somewhat uncomfortable, but also relaxing in a way I hadn’t felt before. It wasn’t relaxing mentally or energetically as much as it was relaxing for my tight and achy muscles. For the first time in as long as I could remember (probably since I began playing competitive sports), my constantly tense legs, back, and shoulders felt more at ease.
Unfortunately, this relief didn’t last all that long. After a few weeks of crutching around and slouching at my desk, my tension returned. I wanted another massage, but couldn’t afford it, and unaware of any “at-home massage”, I went untreated. Later, I would learn how important is it to maintain the healthy, supple condition of muscles and connective tissue that massage can promote before it becomes a serious problem by staying ahead of the pain.
Fast forward 6 years, and I now treat myself to at-home massages with Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls nearly every day, in addition to a professional massage every few weeks or months (depending on my budget and how my body has been feeling). As a former athlete with a history of chronic and acute injuries, I have developed repetitive pain, “tight” muscles, myofascial adhesions, achy joints, and limitations to the range of motion in many of my joints.
Without a well-defined plan for how to incorporate massage into my rehabilitation (unfortunately, my doctors and physical therapists never mentioned massage or bodywork), my journey to where I am today has involved self-experimentation and a lot of trial and error.
I’ve experimented with different types of self-massage (foam rollers, lacrosse balls, YTU Therapy balls, etc) and different types of professional bodywork and massage therapy treatments (“deep tissue” massage, Shiatsu and Thai massage, Active Release Therapy (ART), and a Rolfing Structural Integration 10-series), all with the intention of increasing my functional mobility and reducing pain.
Years later, I have come to deeply appreciate the synergy between massaging myself on a regular basis and investing in a professional massage for the times I need some outside help. This allows me to do over 90% of my soft-tissue care on my own, which means it’s on my time, at my convenience, and not on my dime.
After much exploration, I have found a few effective strategies for how to best combine self-massage with professional massages in order to ease my nagging pains, increase mobility, and restore suppleness to my muscles, without spending a fortune. Come back later this week to read my insights and suggestions on how to do it!