Why Massage Therapy? Part 1

Recently I was invited to teach a workshop at UVU that included a small lecture and demonstration of massage techniques for the participants.  Part of the lecture included information on the reasons massage is helpful and I wanted to also post it here. Here’s a brief overview:

Muscle Tension

When I work on somebody, I always search for spots on the person that I can work out.  I have found two classifications of tension I find in people.

The first is what I call knots.   A knot in a muscle is a small portion of the muscle that is tight.  This can be from injury to the muscle itself, or from a localized buildup of toxins in the muscle, usually lactic acid.  With this type, you can imagine the muscle as a ribbon, and the knot as a, well…knot in the ribbon.

The second type is what I call muscle tension.  This is when the entire muscle is tightened.  This is by far the most common of the two types.  This can be caused by all three sources I list below, and usually causes more pain in the body than a muscle knot.

Muscle Pain

Muscle tension causes pain in the body by pinching nerves, creating pressure on surrounding tissue, and even pulling on surrounding bones and joints.  There are three main causes for a muscle to become tight: injury, physical repetition, and emotional stress.

Injury is something I ask a client about first when developing a treatment plan.  Injuries to muscles don’t have to be the result of something big that happened, like a car accident or something that needs surgery, but all of them can cause muscle tension.  Anything that can tear muscle fibers is considered an injury as it impedes function, such as a workout.  Have you ever done a set of push-ups and felt soreness in your chest and arms afterward?  Well, you experienced a minor muscle injury and felt the pain and restriction afterward.  Sometimes a bigger, more traumatic injury can have effects in the body years later.  I have seen this be the case with some clients as well, where an accident has changed they way they move a certain muscle, which alters its normal pattern and causes pain.

Physical repetition is usually caused by a job.  Everyone who works can have this happen, but especially those that do the same activity over and over again.  For example, a job where one sits at a computer and types and uses a mouse could have repetitive movement that can tighten muscles.  When a muscle is flexed over and over again, it tends to stay at a state of contraction and limits its functionality and causes pain.

I have heard this phrase a lot: “This is where I hold my stress”, as they usually point to their neck or shoulders.  I used to figuratively roll my eyes when I heard that, thinking that the person just has a lot of tension due to repetitive movement.  I have changed my mind over the last few years, as I have come to find that emotional stress also has an impact on the muscles of the body.  When I say emotional stress, I don’t mean anything dramatic, like something that would cause one to burst into tears.  Everyone goes through emotional stress (or just “stress”) every day.  Anything that can cause worry, anger, annoyance, etc., even if it is fleeting, is in this category.  But just like physical repetition, it can cause tension that can cause pain in the body.


I hope that this is informative to all who read it. Find out more about how massage helps these muscles in my next blog post. Until next time!