We all know how great a massage can be, but why do our bodies like them so much? Patients are asking these kinds of questions and it’s up to us as massage therapists to provide the answers.
My father launched The Pressure Positive Company back when there wasn’t a whole lot of science out there supporting massage as a treatment. Like most of us, he just knew that if he rubbed on a muscle, it tended to feel better. That was his personal experience, and from that, he started looking for the science to support and explain why.
We’re incredibly fortunate that today the science has caught up. We don’t have to make claims about some kind of mysterious power at work—instead we can show clinical evidence about the efficacy of compression as a noninvasive, nonpharmaceutical option for reducing pain (and isn’t that what we’re all about?).
Today we can feel confident about using soft tissue techniques on clients because they’ve been proven to provide good outcomes in managing pain due to myofascial trigger points and fascial tension. These techniques can not only be used in clinic by health professionals, but the same techniques and soft tissue tools can be used at home to get the same effect.
So, what exactly happens when we use soft tissue tools and compression to help rid clients of pain? It turns out that the science shows that trigger points might be what we’ve said they are all along. When we target taut bands with trigger points through compression and apply massage to the body overall, it releases muscle tension, targets patients’ fight or flight response by helping the body release chemicals to help us relax, helps with circulation and encourages our body to do what it needs to do to reach normality or homeostasis.
What the science also demonstrates is that for this effect to continue, it’s important that clients with chronic pain receive massage therapy on a fairly frequent basis. What we like to say is: The more massage the better, but some is better than none!
My concern is that massage therapists are taken seriously for their ability to treat pain in a viable way and in a way that can be easily explained to the client. The science is evolving enough so we can tell clients what we are attempting to do when we are applying trigger point pressure release, for example, and explain what's happening from a scientific viewpoint.
So many of our customers are in pain and are looking for a noninvasive, nonpharmaceutical way of dealing with it that is not going to give them side effects or change them permanently through surgery. While some may need surgery at some point, massage therapy certainly offers the most conservative approach to treating pain due to myofascial trigger points and fascial tension—and taking a conservative approach is more desirable, at least initially, instead of a situation where the treatment is worse than the disease.
Scientific Resources for Massage Therapists
Here are a few suggested resources that provide valuable clinical evidence about specific tools and techniques related to soft tissue tools and compression.
Researcher Dawn Gulick, PhD, PT, ATC, CSCS, has published several studies related to soft tissue tools:
- Effect of ischemic pressure using a Backnobber II device on discomfort associated with myofascial trigger points. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21665108
- Influence of instrument assisted soft tissue treatment techniques on myofascial trigger points. www.bodyworkmovementtherapies.com/article/S1360-8592(14)00011-4/abstract
You can also find an excellent wellspring of references on my friend Paul Ingraham's website: www.painscience.com/articles.php.
Here are several recent articles confirming conservative compression techniques for treatment of myofascial trigger points for pain:
A couple of names to Google for excellent and valid research on trigger points and fascia are Dr. Jay Shah of the National Institutes of Health and Dr. Robert Schleip.