Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians

Why You Should Get a Massage This Year

I'm sorry to say that I didn't get my first massage until I was in my masters' degree, and I wish I had started earlier!  Between prohibitive cost and hypersensitivity about my physical appearance, I was afraid to get any sort of bodywork.  I was simply not aware of how important it can be for tissue circulation, as well as nervous system down regulation, stress, and adhesions. 

These are some of the most common skeletal trigger points, exacerbated by cell phone usage!

These are some of the most common skeletal trigger points, exacerbated by cell phone usage!

There are many different types of manual therapy, from structural integration to very light touch techniques to everything in between.  Some forms of manual therapy aim to affect the nervous system more and some are directed more towards fascial health.  Without delving into all of the specific forms of manual therapy and bodywork, here are some of the big benefits to getting a massage.

  (I will use the words manual therapy and bodywork interchangeably here, though different people have different perspectives on that).

1.  Bodywork can be a wonderful way to de-stress and calm your fight and flight response in the nervous system.  Kind and sympathetic human touch is a very powerful thing.  It can reduce your levels of cortisol (stress hormone) and can boost serotonin and dopamine.

2.  Bodywork can address areas of tissue dehydration, misuse, abuse, and overuse.  Our body is much more aquatic than you realize, thanks to a gelatinous connective tissue called fascia.  Fascia can be dehydrated and unhealthy, just like other tissues in the body, and fascia has an abundance of nerve endings.  Restoring fascial health means improving fluid movement, nutrient circulation, and decreasing pain. 

3.  Bodywork can open a door to changing how you move.  Manual therapy can bring awareness to misused/overused/abused parts of the body and also make you aware of ways that you move that aren't helpful.  If you combine manual therapy with movement reeducation (a fancy word for movement classes like Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, therapeutic yoga and pilates, bodymapping and more), you can often recover from injury and change your entire relationship to playing your instrument, imptove athletic endeavors, and even affect simple things like walking, standing, and sitting.  One massage won't likely change the way you move, but a combination of different sessions can help change things over time.

4.  Bodywork can decrease pain and therefore bring more awareness to your body.  When parts of your body are in pain, your kinesthetic awareness of the area in pain often decreases and is instead replaced by an all-encompassing "this hurts" signal.  (This is a highly simplified explanation of nociception).  Bodywork can increase proprioception which trumps pains signals in the nervous system, which means that you can be aware of your body while also being in less pain.  (Yes, please!) 

5.  Bodywork can address muscle trigger points, often thought of as adhesions. 

“A skeletal muscle tissue trigger point is a hyperirritable focal area of muscle hypertonicity (tightness) located within a taut band of skeletal muscle tissue. “- Joseph Muscolino
Some forms of manual therapy aim to change structural imbalances, asymmetry, etc.  This is an image often used in different rolfing and structural integration practices.

Some forms of manual therapy aim to change structural imbalances, asymmetry, etc.  This is an image often used in different rolfing and structural integration practices.

As musicians, we all know about the knots at the top of our shoulders/trapezius.  When soft tissues (and muscles) lack nutrients and circulation, they often don't work as well.  Think of trigger points in your neck, back, shoulders, forearms, etc- those areas of tissue tightness aren't working as well and often can't be stretched (by you, say in a yoga class).  This can eventually lead to decreased range in a joint, and sometimes affect our musical performance abilities.  A combination of self-massage and bodywork can help with adhesions, bring more awareness to the body, decrease pain, decrease stress, and improve overall well being. Sound good?

Side note: I do realize that many manual therapies can be expensive.  I would say that manual therapy is incredibly valuable, especially when recovering from an injury, and many facilities offer discounts for students, artists, teachers, etc.  Some facilities offer passes with discounts, (buy 3 get a certain percentage off), some LMT's will offer trades for lessons or tickets, and so on.  If receiving bodywork is out of your price range but you are in pain, I would recommend looking for alternative options.  Look for sliding scale payment options, student/teacher discounts, and just email the bodyworker.  There are often special arrangements that can be made!