Remedial massage therapy is a complementary therapy used to treat muscles that are tense, knotted, or immobile. It achieves this through a number of different techniques, outlined in full in this article.
Deep Tissue Massage
Deep tissue massage targets the deeper layers of muscle and the surrounding connective tissues.
Your therapist will probably start by warming up your muscles using oil and light pressure.
They may then use a technique known as “stripping,” which is applied using their knuckles, thumbs, elbows, or forearms to achieve the appropriate depth, pressure, or direction. Firm and flowing strokes will be used to ease tension, and you may feel a gliding pressure along your muscle fibres. They may also use friction—where pressure is applied across the grain of your muscles—to realign tissue fibres and release any areas of tension, scar tissue or rigid tissue (adhesions) that are causing discomfort.
Some of the benefits of deep tissue massage include:
- Easing chronic muscle pain
- Improving repetitive strain injuries (RSI), like carpal tunnel syndrome
- Assisting with osteoarthritis
- Correcting postural difficulties
- Relieving sciatica
- Improving limited mobility
- Easing lower back pain
- Breaking up scar tissue
- Assisting with injury rehabilitation
- Enhancing athletic recovery
- Easing tennis elbow
Trigger Point Therapy
This type of remedial massage therapy uses manipulation, stretching, and cycles of pressure and release (rest), and revolves around the deactivation of hyper-tense “trigger points” or “muscle knots.”
All muscles have potential trigger points that can become activated by inflammation, infections, nerve pain, muscle overuse, and stress. These are often painful, and restrict motion.
Muscles with trigger points are weaker than healthy muscles because they are unable to move through their full range of motion and perform their normal function. Trigger points can cause pain over affected muscles, and if not treated in the short term, can refer pain to neighbouring areas of the body.
Trigger point therapy is often used in conjunction with deep tissue massage to achieve optimal results.
Some of the benefits of trigger point therapy include:
- Easing neck, shoulder, knee, and lower back pain
- Reducing muscle and joint pain
- Relieving headaches
- Easing sciatica pain
- Improving Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Assisting with dance and sports-related injuries
- Reducing stress and fatigue
- Assisting with Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) disorders
In stretch therapy, therapists help clients to stretch various parts of their body, with a focus on movements that target the muscles and connective tissue that surround the joints. They will move a client’s body into a posture that stretches specific muscle groups, and straps may be used to increase the effectiveness of some stretches.
The goal is for the client to relax, breathe, and let the therapist carry the weight of a client’s limbs while they stretch them. This can enhance flexibility, relieve pain, and improve circulation and range of motion.
This type of stretching differs from regular stretching in that therapists know the ideal way to stretch muscles, and which muscles to focus on to achieve the best results. They are often knowledgeable about physiology and anatomy and can tailor stretching to a client’s individual needs. During some stretches, they may encourage you to completely relax your limbs, in others, to engage and work your muscles.
Some of the benefits of stretch therapy include:
- Easing the pain associated with tension and tightness
- Improving flexibility, strength, mobility and range of motion
- Improving posture, physical appearance and self-esteem
- Increasing athletic performance and overall fitness
- Reducing the risk of injury
- Relieving stress and encouraging relaxation
- Increasing circulation and blood flow to the muscles, joints and surrounding tissues
- Counteracting the effects of ageing
When joints become dysfunctional as a result of disuse, overuse, or trauma, they are unable to perform the movements they were designed to do. Joint stiffness or a locked joint can be associated with any joint, tendon, muscle or ligament injury. Joints can also lock and become stuck in a closed or open position. The three main joint problems are joint pain, joint stiffness, and joint hyper-mobility, with the first two often occurring simultaneously.
Joint mobilisation therapy involves applying slow, passive, back-and-forth oscillations to joints to encourage movement and reduce pain and stiffness.
Some of the benefits of joint mobilisation therapy include:
- Improving range of motion
- Reducing pain
- Improving joint mobility
- Decreasing muscle spasms and tension
- Increasing freedom of movement
- Reducing the discomfort caused by injury
- Increasing the range of motion of joints
- Improving the movement quality of joints
Myofascial Release Techniques
Myofascial tissue is the fibrous interconnective tissue that binds the joints, muscles, and organs of the body. Stiffness, tightness, or less movement in certain areas can pull the body out of alignment or restrict movement, or cause a client to compensate and favour one side of their body.
Therapists typically apply a local, stretch-based massage technique to manipulate the fibres of the fascia to allow for the greater movement of tendons, muscles, and joints. It can also improve the lymphatic and circulatory systems, encourage the stretch reflex, and help relieve pain in the affected area.
Myofascial release techniques are often described as involving “direct” and “indirect” release. The former uses deep pressure tissue work applied by elbows or knuckles to stretch both the superficial and deep fascia. This increases the mobility and length of soft tissue. The latter is a more gentle technique using less pressure, and it encourages the fascia to slowly unwind, which can improve movement.
Some of the benefits of myofascial release techniques include:
- Increasing blood flow around the body
- Reducing muscle soreness
- Maintaining normal functional muscular strength
- Relieving Myofascial Pain Syndrome
- Assisting with venous insufficiencies
- Relieving headaches
When the temperature of the skin and soft tissues increase, blood flow also increases through a process known as vasodilatation. This occurs in the capillaries—the smallest and most numerous blood vessels—which causes the muscles in the walls of the vessels to relax. This allows more blood to travel through vessels, increasing cellular metabolism, and affecting the core temperature of soft tissues and the superficial, intra-articular (joint structures).
Thermotherapy is often referred to as “heat therapy,” and includes hot baths, heat packs, saunas, and infra-red lamps. The treatment is used to treat a range of musculoskeletal injuries and conditions, and decrease pain in tendons, joints, and muscles.
Some of the benefits of thermotherapy include:
- Improving blood circulation
- Assisting with muscle relaxation
- Decreasing joint stiffness
- Relieving lower back, neck and shoulder pain
- Assisting with sciatica
- Relieving tendon, nerve and menstrual pain
When the skin and soft tissue get colder, blood flow slows down through a process called vasoconstriction. Tissue metabolism will also slow, inflammation can reduce, and the activity of cartilage-damaging enzymes is inhibited.
Often referred to as “cold therapy,” cryotherapy uses cooled objects such as ice packs, cold compresses, ice massage, coolant sprays, and ice baths to reduce swelling and pain. The body’s slower metabolic rate can also reduce further damage.
Some of the benefits of cryotherapy include:
- Reducing migraine symptoms
- Numbing nerve irritation
- Easing arthritic pain
- Improving dermatitis and other skin conditions
Deep Transverse Friction Massage (DTFM)
DTFM is a deep tissue massage technique that aims to enhance mobility in the soft tissue structures of tendons, ligaments, and muscles, to reduce the build-up of scar tissue following a tear or strain. Therapists will typically use short back and forth motions with their fingers around a specific affected area, rather than over it.
Friction massage must be administered across the affected fibres, the therapist’s fingers and client’s skin must move as one, and movements must be deep and sweeping.
Some of the benefits of DTFM include:
- Assisting with pain relief
- Stimulating fibre orientation in regenerating connective tissue
- Preventing adhesion formations
- Increasing blood flow to the affected area
- Improving mobility
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