In terms of massage, the term “remedial” refers to specific training in the assessment, analysis, treatment and management of musculoskeletal complaints. Many of today’s remedial massage therapists have formal massage training as well as training in physiology, anatomy and musculoskeletal assessment. Many also believe regular massage is an integral part of a holistic health plan, where the goal is maintaining wellbeing and flexibility rather than waiting for symptoms to develop.
Depending on the technique recommended by your therapist, the benefits of remedial massage range from relieving sore muscles and improving flexibility and posture to preventing and/or managing injury and improving sports performance. However, the benefits received can depend on the treatment provided and in terms of remedial massage techniques, they include:
Deep tissue massage
Deep tissue massage is aimed at the deeper tissue structures of the muscle and connective tissue (known as fascia) and other supportive tissue that comprise the muscles and joints. It is a more focused type of massage that is usually slower and firmer, and therapists typically apply slow strokes and firm pressure.
The primary objective of deep tissue massage is to break up muscle adhesions that cause stiffness and pain in the neck, back, legs and shoulders. Some of the benefits of deep tissue massage include:
- Improving limited mobility
- Correcting postural difficulties
- Breaking up scar tissue
- Easing lower back pain
- Enhancing athletic recovery
- Assisting with injury rehabilitation
- Easing chronic muscle pain
- Improving repetitive strain injuries (RSI) — These are a gradual build-up of damage to tendons, muscles and nerves from repetitive motions.
- Easing carpal tunnel syndrome — This is caused by pressure on the median nerve. The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway surrounded by ligaments and bones on the palm side of the hand. When the median nerve is compressed, symptoms can include tingling, numbness and weakness in the arm and hand.
- Assisting with osteoarthritis — This occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones wear down over time. It most commonly affects joints in our knees, hands, spine and hips.
- Relieving sciatica — Sciatica is a condition that can lead to pain in the legs and back. It occurs when pain travels along the path of the sciatic nerve. The nerve starts in the lower spine and travels through the buttocks and hip and down the back of the leg to the foot.
- Easing tennis elbow — Also known as lateral epicondylitis, this is a painful condition that occurs when the tendons in the elbow are overloaded, usually by repetitive motions of the arm and wrist. The pain occurs primarily where the tendons of the forearm muscles attach to the bony bump on the outside of the elbow. Pain can also spread into the wrist and forearm.
Trigger point therapy
All muscles have potential trigger points that can become activated by infections, inflammation, stress, nerve pain and muscle overuse. Trigger point therapy is a soft tissue technique that works to release painful tension in fascia and muscles that are typically experienced as a “knot” in a muscle. It often involves stretching, manipulation and cycles of pressure and rest. Some of the benefits of trigger point therapy include:
- Easing shoulder, neck, knee and lower back pain
- Relieving headaches
- Reducing joint and muscle pain
- Easing sciatica pain (see above)
- Improving Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (see above)
- Assisting with dance and sports-related injuries
- Reducing stress and fatigue and a massage can also help with anxiety
- Assisting with Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) disorders — The TMJ joint connects your jawbone to your skull. TMJ disorders can cause pain in your jaw joint and in the muscles that control jaw movement.
In stretch therapy, therapists assist clients with stretching various parts of their bodies. It focuses on movements that target the muscles and the connective tissue that surrounds joints.
The goal is for the client to breathe and relax and let the therapist carry the weight of the client’s limbs while they stretch them. They will typically first move a client’s body into a posture that stretches specific muscle groups. Straps are sometimes used to increase the effectiveness of some stretches. Some of the benefits of stretch therapy include:
- Easing the pain associated with tightness and tension
- Improving physical appearance, posture and self-esteem
- Increasing overall fitness and athletic performance
- Reducing the risk of injury
- Improving strength, flexibility, mobility and range of motion
- Counteracting the effects of ageing
- Encouraging relaxation and relieving stress
- Increasing blood flow and circulation to the joints, muscles and surrounding tissues
When joints become dysfunctional as a result of overuse, disuse or trauma, they are unable to perform the movements they were designed to do. A “locked” joint or joint stiffness can be associated with any joint, muscle, tendon or ligament injury. This results in joint stiffness, pain and hypermobility.
Joint mobilisation massage involves applying passive, slow, back-and-forth oscillations to joints to reduce stiffness and pain and encourage movement. Some of the benefits of joint mobilisation therapy include:
- Improving range of motion
- Improving joint mobility
- Reducing pain
- Increasing freedom of movement
- Increasing the range of motion of joints
- Improving the movement quality of joints
- Reducing the discomfort caused by injury
- Decreasing muscles tension and spasms
Myofascial release techniques
This is a manual therapy technique used in massage that focuses on pain arising from myofascial tissues — the tough membranes that wrap, connect and support your muscles. Theoretically, myofascial pain differs from other types of pain because it originates in "trigger points," which are related to stiff, anchored areas within the myofascial tissue.
During myofascial release therapy, the therapist locates myofascial areas that feel stiff and fixed instead of elastic and movable, under light, manual pressure. Some of the benefits of myofascial release techniques include:
- Reducing muscle soreness
- Increasing blood flow around the body
- Maintaining functional muscular strength
- Reducing muscle soreness
- Relieving headaches
- Assisting with venous insufficiencies
- Relieving Myofascial Pain Syndrome — This is a chronic pain disorder, and in this condition, pressure on sensitive points in your muscles (trigger points) causes pain in the muscle. It can also cause referred pain, which is pain in seemingly unrelated parts of the body.
Often referred to as “heat therapy”, thermotherapy is used to treat a range of musculoskeletal conditions and injuries and decrease pain in joints, tendons and muscles.
Heat can cause blood flow to increase through a process called vasodilatation, which causes the muscles in the walls of the blood vessels to relax. It allows more blood to travel through the vessels, which increases cellular metabolism. The most common methods of applying heat to soft tissues are heat packs, infrared lamps, baths and saunas. Some of the benefits of thermotherapy include:
- Decreasing joint stiffness
- Improving blood circulation
- Assisting with sciatica (see above)
- Assisting with muscle relaxation
- Relieving tendon, nerve and menstrual pain
- Relieving lower back, neck and shoulder pain
Often referred to as “cold therapy,” cryotherapy uses cooled objects to reduce swelling and pain. When the skin and soft tissues get colder, blood flow slows down through a process called vasoconstriction. The body’s slower metabolic rate can reduce further damage.
Cooled objects can include cold compresses, ice massage, ice packs, ice baths and coolant sprays. Some of the benefits of cryotherapy include:
- Numbing nerve irritation
- Easing arthritis pain
- Reducing migraine symptoms
- Easing skin conditions including dermatitis — Dermatitis is a general term for skin inflammation where skin typically looks swollen, dry and discoloured.
Deep transverse friction massage (DTFM)
DTFM is a deep tissue massage technique that aims to enhance mobility in the soft tissue structures of ligaments, tendons and muscles to reduce the build-up of scar tissue following a sprain or strain. Therapists will typically use deep, sweeping, short, back-and-forth motions with their fingers around a specific affected area. Some of the benefits of DTFM include:
- Improving mobility
- Assisting with pain relief
- Preventing adhesion formations
- Increasing blood flow to the affected area
- Stimulating fibre orientation in regenerating connective tissue
Cupping and dry needling
Cupping therapy involves placing “cups” on areas of tightness such as the shoulders, upper back or lower back. A pump is used to create a vacuum inside the cups, which pulls the tight muscle into the cup and stretches it. Some of the benefits of cupping therapy include:
- Lengthening and releasing tight muscles
- Increasing circulation and the skin’s blood flow
- Increasing pain thresholds
- Reducing inflammation
- Releasing a tight Iliotibial band — Iliotibial band syndrome (ITB) occurs when the connective tissue (ligament) extending from the pelvic bone to the shin bone becomes so tight that it rubs against the thigh bone. It is particularly common among cyclists and sporting enthusiasts.
Dry needling involves placing fine acupuncture needles into the trigger point of a muscle. The aim is to elicit a twitch response which causes the muscle to contract slightly and then release. This can help relieve the pain the trigger point was causing. Some of the benefits of dry needling therapy include:
- Easing muscular tension
- Reducing pain in your wrists, hands, arms, neck, shoulders, lower back, upper back, hips, buttocks, quads, hamstrings, feet or calves
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