Guest Post: Recovery & Massage Therapy
The human body possesses the unique ability to adapt to a gambit of environmental, emotional, and social stressors that occur throughout our everyday lives. A sneeze alone causes stress to the internal thoracic diaphragm in our bodies. YES, the jolt of a simple sneeze can agitate and therefore cause “stress” to our inner core muscles (the ones that divide the lungs from our intestines and hold them in place), not to mention it may also lead to whiplash, aggravating already tight neck muscles. Poor thing! Despite these conditions, the body is well equipped to adapt to anything and everything in order to do its ultimate task, which is to survive; perhaps not thrive in all of its glory, but simply plow through whatever ailment it may possess at any given time. Until, of course, it reaches a point where you know it is time to seek outside assistance.
Prescriptions, over the counter medications, Epsom salt baths, steam rooms/saunas, and Jacuzzis might produce little to no real significant long-term changes in releasing some of your body’s tension/muscle ailments and fatigue. Especially when we are setting ourselves up in repetitive environments such as the gym.
This is the ultimate arena where the body is put under pressure, GOOD pressure, to continually build muscles and fortify bones under copious amounts of STRESS, good stress. Over time, however, it’s inevitable that wear and tear will settle into the muscles, leading to fatigue, irritability, and in some extreme cases, injury. The ultimate no-no in anyone that trains on a consistent basis.
In my 15 plus years in the field of massage therapy, I have had the great pleasure of coming across a variety of bodies. From the very young to the very old, athletes of all ages and backgrounds, weekend warriors, and artists of all genres have one binding thread in common – the need to improve their performance. That’s right; improvement in quality of performance is top priority for everyone. Recovery, for many, is probably the furthest thing that comes to mind. That’s when an outside eye is typically hired to assist. As a massage therapist, my job is to educate the clients on the benefits of recovery. I can write down a list of the benefits massage provides but I can also explain to you why having massages on a continuous basis will improve your performance and overall health in and outside of the gym.
Think of it this way; our body is meant to grow as we age. We eat, work, exercise, sleep, and repeat all of these now routines to the best of our abilities. Staying repetitive for the most part is our schtick, so adding layers of outer and inner stressors accumulating over the years seems logical. Meanwhile, in other aspects of our lives, things such as a car, clothing, shoes, and many more things can be discarded when worn out. Our bodies go through similar wear and tear. Luckily for us, it has a self-regenerating system that keeps us producing new blood cells through mitosis dividing and splitting, creating new cells, which forms scar tissue to replace any adhesions the body may have. What other THING can do that? Absolutely no material thing can do what we do.
Though we tend forget or discredit it at the first sign of “wear and tear” and with the discreditation comes the crippling fear that there is something wrong, when in reality it may just need a “Hand” or two (literally) to take a well-deserved break.
Over my years of practice, three groups of people stand out when it comes to massage therapy for recovery. Mothers-to-be, performers, and professional athletes. These populations, by far, are very attuned, self-aware, and understand their threshold for pain. They’ve been able to make the most of this marvelous tool we call our body. Therefore, recovery is and should be a part of their routines. While in training for events, massage therapy should be performed once a week. In off-season, once to twice a month.
I strive to develop a mutual understanding that the sole purpose of my work is to be an integral part of my clients’ lifestyles. As an active participant in their physical recovery needs, I no longer need to increase or heighten their sense of awareness; but instead I turn inward and increase the effectiveness of my clients’ parasympathetic nervous systems. This is the nervous system that stimulates digestion, slows the heart rate, and dilates blood vessels; all those quiet systems in the body that are crucial to our restorative survival. The goal is to help nourish the body’s already in place self-regulatory system. This is achieved by working their muscles, kneading, stretching, pulling, and using sweeping long strokes to help this nervous system calm down further and increase blood flow throughout, maximizing healthy future cell maturation and turn over. When flooded with blood, muscles and intestines have the capacity to respond quicker. After a massage, a full day of rest is much needed for the body to stay in this parasympathetic state of rest and relaxation, because the following day or perhaps the rest of the week, it might be in a fight or flight mode (Sympathetic). It is extremely important to help the body recover. I have found in my years of practice, just as my clients are consistent in their lifestyles in and outside of the gym, recovery therapies such as massage, performed on a consistent basis, are the key to increased soft tissue (muscle) health. A weekly massage is highly recommended for those looking to leverage their body to its fullest potential.
Over the past two years I’ve had the pleasure of working with Tawna Eubanks McCoy in and out of bikini prep season. For this Bikini Pro, I wanted to catch her not post workout but right before her bedtime, in the evening, when the mind and body would be most susceptible to massage. The body’s natural response is to get ready to rest, so I wanted to interject every Tuesday evening with massage to give her a direct path to reach a deeper level of (REM) sleep. The quicker I get an athlete to relax, the more efficient I can be, the better sleep she gets, and the better recovery on her rest day. By the third day, Thursday, she has to be ready to do her best work at the gym. All systems go, fired up to get the most out of her workouts for the remainder of her training days. Over the course of weeks spent together, she has been a great person to work with. The progress we’ve made is outstanding; no soft tissue (muscle) injuries and rarely any inflammation. We’ve maintained the integrity of the muscles, never tight but with great tension. We’ve had some great laughs, some tears also, but I take it not as work but as growing friendship being in the moment as part of the human experience. Massage therapist or not, being sensitive to others’ needs is my top priority.
So next time you feel as if your body isn’t working to its highest potential, whether it be tired, achy, or moody, don’t immediately discredit it. Take a moment, a deep breath, and honor your best asset -your body- by treating it to a massage. It will be well deserved and well received. No medications will come close to the healing touch of massage.
Mariuxi Barcco, L.M.T
Licensed Massage Therapist since 2003