I'm always doing research because the human body is still quite the mystery despite the plethora of knowledge that we have acquired. The other day, I came across this video that explains a common question we have: why will my body go back to being tight after massage releases its tight muscles?
Sam Visnic is a good massage therapist to follow because he knows the truth: good massage therapists aren't treating the muscles as much as they're treating the nervous system that controls muscle tension. It's the nervous system that's coordinating which muscles have to tighten in order to counterbalance a dysfunction elsewhere in the body.
This is why I don't like to do massages that concentrate on just one area of the body. A problem with your shoulder, for instance, will require your neck, arms, chest, ribs, back, and even hips to take on more work than they were designed to do. So a whole bunch of muscles will get overworked and send out a distress signal in the form of pain. Releasing a painful muscle may feel good for a few hours or even days, but not treating the other dysfunctions in the body means that the shoulder will be encouraged by other parts of the body to return to its distortion in order to keep the tentative balance that keeps us moving through the world at all. This is why I can work on your neck and you'll suddenly feel your sacrum loosen up. It's all connected, and you need to be treated as a systemic whole, not an assemblage of parts.
Because it's the nervous system that's coordinating various muscles' functions in order to keep us up and moving about (or not!), this is also why relaxation is important, too. Your body needs to feel safe in order for your nervous system to relax enough for the muscles to release. We have enough medical personnel quickly poking and prodding us, expecting our bodies to produce health. The truth is, with the exception of sudden injuries, our dis-ease in the world happened incrementally over time, and healing usually does, too. Massage is a way we stop to take stock of our bodies in order to better position ourselves for the restoration it grants under normal circumstances.
But let's be honest: it takes a long time to regain our body's balance and heal. For some of us, it'll take the rest of our lives. The younger we are when we start addressing these imbalances, the more likely we are to live out our days without as much pain. And this is my wish for us all.
Massage is about lengthening tight fascia and muscles. But how we stand and move also determines how our muscles lengthen or shorten into set patterns over time. This is why massage is only one part of healing and wholeness.
Believe it or not, how we walk is an important piece of the healing puzzle. It’s why I spend time really opening your feet and calves so that you can walk correctly, which is something most of us have never learned. We just stood up and started walking, and everyone cheered. But if you really want the full benefit of a massage, you’ll also want to practice good posture and walking patterns so that your body can release its old painful patterns and create new healthy ones.
Teresa Eisenlohr is a licensed massage therapist who's also an ordained Presbyterian pastor with a Ph.D. in Christian theology. Needless to say, it's been a weird and interesting healing journey.