It’s perfectly natural to rub or press on sore muscles. Instinctive even. I encourage folks to actively participate in caring for their bodies and think self-massage is a beautiful addition to a wellness routine. As many parents know, simple human contact can be incredibly soothing. As massage recipients know, treating aching and stiff muscles can provide incredible relief.
There are lots of tools that can help us reach spots that are difficult to touch, and I use my Backnobber, foam roller, and a tennis ball frequently. However, I’ve all but stopped recommending self-massage to clients. Many of them got too aggressive and showed up the following week with bruises!
So, yes, these tools can be helpful, but even more helpful is understanding the reasons what makes massage beneficial. I can’t stress enough that a compassionate, gentle approach is going to be most effective. Let go of any idea of punishing muscles for misbehaving or trying to beat them into submission.
It’s also important to examine the cause of the pain. It’s often an imbalance in the structure of the body. Muscles that are habitually shortened due to posture and repetitive movement tug on the opposing muscles, eliciting a complaint from a location that is not the cause. Neck and shoulder pain from hunching over a keyboard all day is the perfect example. Treating the symptom might provide pleasant sensations, maybe even temporary relief in the form of distraction, but won’t create any lasting change.
I have a few basic guidelines I’d like to share to promote safe and productive self-massage.
- Massage promotes relaxation. My specialty is connecting with the nervous system, and allowing chronic tension to fade by reducing the internal alarm bells signaling danger. Pain, even self-induced pain produced in an attempt to treat chronic pain, triggers the symapathetic nervous system and activates muscular contraction. It’s totally counterproductive!
- Massage promotes circulation, bringing oxygenated blood to muscles and removing cellular wastes. This is easily achieved with a light to medium pressure. Intense pressure that produces pain, over even the expectation of pain, causes the breath to become shallow or even held. Counterproductive!
- Massage ideally addresses musculoskeletal imbalances. A basic knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and body mechanics is helpful. For example, in the 15,000 + sessions I’ve given, never once have the rhomboids (the muscles between the shoulder blades) been the cause of pain in that area. Sure, they’re tight on almost everyone, but that’s because chest muscles are habitually contracted, overstretching the rhomboids. Applying a lot of pressure to an overstretched muscle is beyond counterproductive.
I am in full support of anyone who wishes to improve wellness with a DIY approach. Please do keep in mind these simple guidelines so that you can take action without creating harm. When in doubt, check in with your body- it doesn’t lie! But our minds have been conditioned to do more, go deeper, suck it up, and push through. Counterproductive!