I’m not exactly the spa-going type. (I’m more of a clip-my-nails-in-the-car and wash-my-face-whenever-I-shower kind of girl.) So the first time I lay on the table for a deep-tissue massage, I expected a fluffy, pampering experience that would leave me ready for a nap. What I quickly discovered, via the loud broadcast of pain pulses down my back and a disconcerting crunch in the muscle in my shoulder, was that this kind of massage is about as relaxing as being run over by a car. Or a bus, yes, most definitely a bus.
I made the appointment after my physical therapist suggested it would help my back pain from hobbling around on crutches after I tore my Achilles tendon. (In case you’re wondering, I did that while walking to yoga. Which, I’m pretty sure, is exactly what happened to the person who first uttered the phrase, “adding insult to injury.”)
Immediately, my therapist, Jessica Rose, who owns Motion Massage in Denver, Colo., found a “problem spot,” evidenced both by the stinging of the nerve in my back, which I now knew ran all the way to my foot, and by my suspicion that I might need therapy to recover from this therapy. How, I wondered, can this good for me? And what, pray tell, is that awful clicking sound?
According to Rose, the goal of a deep-tissue massage is to smooth out adhesions, or knots, in the muscle fiber so that blood can flow freely through the muscle. The knots are actually little adhesions in the muscle fiber—and the culprit for that sound. “I can feel a ‘snap-crackle-pop,’” she said, pulling my arm behind my back so she could dig into the crevice of my scapula. “I want to loosen up that knot with my fingers so the blood, which fixes the body, can flow through and heal that area.”
Blood flow is important because that’s what brings oxygen to all the parts of the body and helps carry away inflammation. Deep-tissue massage can also decrease scar tissue and increase range of motion, too. To heighten these benefits, Rose also uses a massage lotion with CBD in it. “I really do think it helps loosen up the muscle tissue and reduce inflammation,” she said.
Then she moved onto my hip flexor. Suffice it to say that was another problem area, one which brought the unpleasant sensation of being drawn and quartered. How does she know where all of my pockets of pain are hidden?
“I’ve been practicing 14 years, and I can touch a tissue and know its story. The tissue texture tells a story about what’s wrong. Sometimes it’s squishy from edema or swelling, sticky and needs to get the blood flow in, or so hard I can’t even get through the top layer,” she says, pushing very hard on my top layer.
“Can I fix the knots by stretching on my own?” I ask, trying to be diplomatic.
“If you could, you wouldn’t be here, would you?” she replies not-so diplomatically.
Generally speaking, Rose sees people who are suffering from some kind of acute issue, whether it’s headaches or back pain or joint pain. (Headaches are usually caused from the muscles at base of skull that get shortened, she says.) Her clients often come to her as a last resort, when nothing they’ve done previously has worked, and the results can be miraculous. “I have people who tell me it’s the first relief they’ve felt in years,” she says.
However, deep-tissue massage is also valuable even if you’re not suffering from anything acute, she says. Whether your job involves standing or sitting all day, or doing repetitive movements or no movement at all, everyone’s muscles get adhesions over time. “A lot of it is hydration or general health or what you’re putting in your body, too,” she says.
“So how often should I come in?” I ask, a little afraid of the answer.
“For most people, once every four weeks is probably ideal,” she says. And then, pinpointing another sticky bundle in my lower back with what feels like the tip of her elbow, she says, “But for you, probably every other week.”
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