Thursday, May 20, 2010

Massage and Wellness

One of the complimentary therapies that I have begun incorporating into my wellness regimen is massage. Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer I viewed having a massage as a rare luxury.  Now that I'm looking at my health more holistically I've learned that there are many health benefits of massage. It deserves to be a part of my regular health care.The Mayo Clinic states that studies show massage is helpful for: 
  • Stress relief
  • Managing anxiety and depression
  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Blood pressure control
  • Sports-related injuries
  • Boosting immunity
  • Cancer treatment
After discussing with the massage therapist the areas of concern in my back and neck, I settled onto the massage table. I've had Swedish massages in the past, so I was looking forward to a nice relaxing experience. Let me just say...NOT! Perhaps KNOT would be more accurate.  What the therapist performed was a trigger point massage.  It wasn't relaxing, but it what just what my body needed, or should I say kneaded? Okay, I'll stop with the bad puns.

So, just what is trigger point massage? Where a Swedish massage uses gentle pressure and long stroking motions, a trigger point massage focuses on specific points, or sensitive areas of tight muscle fibers that can form in your muscles after injuries or overuse (Mayo Clinic). My massage therapist explained that to their touch these points can feel like knots. I also learned that the pain I was feeling in my back and neck actually originated from trigger points a distance from the site of my actual pain.  This is called referred pain and is a defining symptom of trigger points.

The drawing below illustrates several muscle fibers within a trigger point. In an example of referring pain, this trigger point would cause a headache over your left eye and sometimes at the top of your head. Research has shown that 75% of the time trigger points are the primary cause of pain.  Letter A shows a normal muscle fiber in a resting state. Note how the lines running crosswise are all uniformly spaced. Letter B depicts a knot in a muscle fiber.  Note the density of the crosswise fibers in the bulging section. This is what is felt as a knot. Letter C is the part of the muscle fiber that extends from the knot to the muscle's point of attachment to the skeleton. Note the variation of the crosswise fibers in this muscle fiber. These are more widely spaced and overstretched because of the tightness of the fibers in the knot. Put very simply the result is tension and pain (The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, Clair Davies).

The good news is that the pain and tension of trigger points can be helped with massage. With the assistance of a knowledgeable and qualified massage therapist, you can even learn to practice self-applied trigger point massage yourself. An excellent resource for learning more about this therapy is called The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self Treatment Guide to Pain Relief by Clair Davies.

If you're in the DFW area and are looking for excellent massage therapists, Richard and Diane Maas of the Lewisville Massage Therapy Clinic are highly trained, experienced and qualified therapists. Check out their website

I no longer view a massage as a self-indulgent luxury. It's definitely a powerful tool that is helping me take charge of my health and wellness. 

illustration from The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, Clair Davies


  1. I'm such a weany, even swedish messages are intense, but I bet this would go a long way to relieving me of my chronic back pain. Geez, it's been so long that I probably forgot what no pain actually feels like.

  2. "Massage is not a luxury." Yes I've come to learn it is a vital contributor to holistic health and you should be doing some self-massage to areas you could reach to top the monthly massage with an experienced therapist. Insightful posts.

  3. Thank you both for your comments. Anonymous I hope you'll consider regular massage therapy as an aid to relieve your back pain.

    Agapelife, I will definitely do some self massage and this is a great idea for another post, perhaps on self myofascial release.