Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Massage and Posture

Recently a new client asked me if massage could help with posture. Wow, what great question! And you can tell she was new because otherwise she would know that's my favorite bodywork topic.

I'll answer this starting with some background describing what poor posture is, then go from the most direct effects of receiving hands-on massage to more indirect and self-guided benefits.

The bones, muscles, and connective tissue have a natural shape and arrangement. Deviations from this tend to cause chronic pain and limited range of motion. Consciously or unconsciously, we tend to notice and appreciate when others have good posture and so it is safe to assume ours is noticed as well.

The original causes of posture problems include injury, emotional issues, physical activity such as weight lifting or yoga, and anatomical. These all tend to reinforce each other, so it takes a deliberate effort to overcome them.

For example, a person's leg is injured playing sports. While the leg is healing the other leg has to work harder, so it grows stronger. The injured leg hurts, so it is used less(antalgia) and grows weaker and less mobile. Years later, a habit of standing with the weight on the uninjured leg is unconsciously continued and now feels 'normal.'

Here's another example. As a teenager a shy person develops the habit of protectively wrapping the arms around the chest and holding the head down. The front(anterior) torso muscles shorten and the posterior muscles overstretch. This person may take up yoga and do stretches(asanas) that stretch the upper back because it feels good, but these muscles are already overstretched. Asanas such as backbends are avoided because they are harder. Another person with the same problem may take up weight lifting, and without realizing it, overdevelop the chest and abs compared to the back. Since the chest is already stronger, and the closing in motion more familiar, exactly the wrong exercises are done. All this is made worse by sitting and reaching forward to a computer keyboard, or a steering wheel(sound familiar?)

Okay, back to massage now. The muscles which are held chronically short need to relax and be trained to let go. After progress begins with that, the fascia(connective tissue throughout the muscle) needs to be gently stretched, and adhesions within the muscle sticking it together need to be worked out(deep tissue.)

The kinesthetic sense of these things happening, combined with verbal communication with the therapist, brings awareness to where holding occurs. This is part is critical, because otherwise the patterns of poor posture are maintained unconsciously all the time you're not on the massage table.

Finally, self care exercises and stretches are taught. The shortened areas need to be stretched frequently and the opposite(antagonistic) muscles need strengthened.

To recap, massage, from Positive Massage Therapy at least, helps with posture by bringing awareness to the issue, helping release the tissues pulling your body out of alignment, education about the anatomy involved, and how to stretch and strengthen to care for the problem yourself.

At this point, you may be saying "That's great, but what about cookies?" It's been too hot to bake for a few days, but anyone with an appointment Friday or Saturday should get a fresh peanut butter cookie to eat.

1 comment: