Stress is just part of living. Some stress is good. This type of stress is called “eustress” and results in things like motivation, feelings of excitement and improving performance. The other, more common type of stress is “distress” which can initially cause the same response but over time plays havoc on our bodies. (To learn more about this type of stress read, The Effects of Stress.)
In this prolonged situation of distress, we tend to hold our bodies in a tight or contracted state. Our breath shortens and our muscles start to ‘hold’ onto that tightness. Often we carry our stress in certain parts of our bodies. The more common areas are shoulders/neck, low back and the abdominal area.
At first we don’t really pay much attention to the fact that we are tightening that area. It is at an unconscious level. However over time those muscles that are continually contracted start to cause us pain or discomfort. Hopefully this wakes us up!
The cycle looks something like this:
- We become stressed out about something.
- We then hold tension unconsciously in certain muscles.
- Those muscles are contracting for an extended period of time.
- The more they contract, the more waste products they produce.
- Meanwhile, when they contract, they limit the amount of blood that flows to them. This is known as vasoconstriction.
- Since there is a lack of blood flowing to the muscle, the waste products cannot be flushed out but rather accumulate in the tissues.
- This causes an irritation to the nerve endings and the result is PAIN.
- Along with pain comes more tension.
- Then the cycle continues to move beyond the original tight muscles into the surrounding muscles. This is the body’s way of protecting itself.
- Those muscles start to stay contracted and the pattern starts all over again in those outlying muscles.
As you can see, this cycle can go on and on. In addition to pain, often we end up with other symptoms like headaches, numbness, fatigue, weakness, stomach aches, or shortness of breath; just to name a few. Over an even longer period of time, say months or years, we start to develop symptoms that lead us to believe something bigger is wrong with us. At this point it can be incredibly difficult to reverse this process and yet not impossible by any means.
This is where therapeutic massage comes in.
Massage that works on a level deep enough to affect the tightness (without going too deep) can be very beneficial. It assists in bringing fresh blood to the tissues thus allowing the waste products to move out while at the same time bringing nutrients to the muscles to help them heal. It also works on a neurological level to affect the proprioceptors.
Proprioceptors are found throughout our entire body. The ones located in the muscles act as messengers to the brain to tell it to either shut off the contraction or to turn it on; depending on which proprioceptors we are talking about. Those found in the tendons, near the insertion of the muscle into the bone, are called Golgi Tendon Organs or GTO’s. Their work is specifically to help the muscles relax by sending messages to the brain to stop the contraction within the muscle. This is just one simple example in a very complex situation.
In addition to the physical therapeutic benefits of massage there is the emotional. Often along with stress comes a hurried life with little to no time to stop and take care of ourselves. The more we push to avoid the situation, the more we create the havoc. Therefore by allowing oneself time to rest and receive nurturing touch from a professional becomes a necessity rather than a luxury.
If you have never experienced this type of massage I encourage you to do so. If you have and yet do not make the time in your hurried life, I also encourage you to do so. I have been a Certified Massage Therapist for almost 20 years. To this day I am still amazed at the change is someone’s face, how they carry themselves (shoulders no longer up to their ears, for example), and the type energy they have after receiving a deep tissue massage. I see them breathe more deeply and take a moment to sit and relax. Often they seem like an entirely different person than the one that arrived! Clearly we are not talking about luxury but something very important for our overall health.
I live in Boulder, Colorado where we are fortunate enough to have a great number of skilled professionals. If you live in an area where your resources are limited, you might consult one of the following associations to find someone in your area.
- National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodyworkers
- American Massage Therapy Association
- Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals
This is a gift to give to yourself or to those whom you love!
For more questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will try to answer your questions.