Recent events have kept us all much less active than normal. When we are able to get out and be active, however, an unwanted friend seems to follow close behind: muscle spasms. They go by many other names: Charlie horse, cramps, stitch, crick, hot poker stabbing into your back/legs/shoulders, but they all come down to your muscles spasming for a number of reasons. You are not alone and there is an easy solution to the sharp pain that may be stopping you from achieving the level of activity or fitness you are trying to reach. We would like to take time to better understand what a muscle spasm is so that it’s easier to understand how to stop and prevent them with massage therapy.
You’re jogging along your favorite trail and a sharp pain in your calf stops you in your tracks. Looking at the muscle in your calf you can see the muscles contracting and pulling your heel back. If you could zoom into the fibers of your calf you would see that the nerves are causing them to fire involuntarily due to either an imbalance of chemicals or possibly hyper-irritability of motor nerves, causing them to continuously send signals to contract to the muscle. Calcium is necessary for both the contraction and relaxation of a muscle. If there is a lack of it, a muscle will contract but will not be able to release without an outside force working on it. So, what do you do?
The first way to immediately rid yourself of a muscle spasm is to do an active stretch. Sounds too easy right? But when you do an active stretch of the muscle that is in spasm, it disrupts the signal being sent to it. If the back of your calf is spasming, you will need to pull your toes up towards you. By doing this you are causing a contraction in the opposite muscle(s) that are in spasm. This utilizes a reflex loop where when one muscle contracts (or flexes), the opposite has to relax. This interrupts the current spasm, but for the future, how do you stop them from continuing?
As stated before, calcium is necessary for muscular contraction and relaxation. Also needed is magnesium, potassium, and a well hydrated circulatory system that can carry these nutrients to the muscles and away from them. However, even the most seasoned athlete and enthusiastic cyclists still get cramps. So, what else can you do to make sure the nutrients you are intaking are actually making it to the cells of your muscles to prevent cramps? Massage can help in a number of different ways. Let us delve into exactly how and why.
Circulation is major when it comes to keeping our muscles functioning correctly. Blood carries nutrients to your muscles, dowsing them in oxygen and all the other biochemicals they need. You can have the best diet in the world but if it is not getting circulated throughout your body it does you absolutely no good. Massage is an excellent way to improve circulation. How? It all comes down to how our body works. You see the heart pumps blood away from itself but our circulatory system needs muscle contraction to help get blood fully circulated back up to the heart. If you lead a sedentary life, which most of us have recently due to the pandemic, blood and nutrients become stagnant in our tissues at the cellular level. Massage manually squishes and lifts soft tissue, flushing out the stagnant nutrients so that they can go where they are needed. It stimulates the circulatory system like a jump start and gets everything moving.
Another important factor to consider when trying to avoid muscle crams is the health of the muscles themselves. Are they weak and collapsed from hours at the computer or on the couch? Are they hard and stressed from long periods of repetitive activity? If you’re jumping back into working out or just suffering from a cramping muscle form overusing it, massage can help lengthen and stretch the muscle out so that it is in a neutral and pliable state. An easy way to think of why keeping muscles relaxed helps to prevent cramps is this: if you drop a spaghetti noodle on the ground when it is uncooked and stiff it will break, but if you drop it in a cooked, flexible and pliable state, it will remain intact. Our muscles are supposed to be soft and flexible, able to take on whatever job we need them to in our daily lives. When they are hard and immobile, they are much more susceptible to injury. Keeping muscles soft and relaxed is more than just physically pleasing, on a cellular level it is allowing the maximum amount of fibers to be available for contraction. If half of the muscle fibers are already in that contracted state, they are unable to do the work you need them to do. Getting them to relax allows better functioning, and less cramping, of the whole muscle.
A third way massage improves your chance of not cramping is by riding the body of metabolic wastes. Just as your circulatory system needs muscular contraction to keep blood flowing, your lymphatic system needs it doubly so. Your lymphatic system is in charge of getting rid of the body’s waste, however unlike the circulatory system, it has no pump at all. This means that it needs those muscles constantly contracting to continue to circulate waste to the urinary system. This worked way better when we had to hunt and gather, constantly moving throughout the day. However, in today’s world, even having an active job you will most likely only move in a certain way all day. Whether it’s walking or working on cars, your movements generally stay in one plane of motion. Massage manipulates the soft tissues that are holding on to this waste and pushes it through your body to be disposed of properly. Ever get up from a massage and have to pee right away? This is caused by the increase in activity in your lymphatic system the massage stimulated. Keeping muscles flushed of waste allows for good nutrients to replenish them so that they are able to function properly.
Here at Unlimited Bodywork we strive to do our part to keep our client’s bodies healthy so that you can focus on keeping up with work, kids, and the Colorado lifestyle. Massage keeps your muscles flushed with nutrients, rids them of waste, and keeps them relaxed and pliable to do whatever it is that you need them to do. Call today to schedule your appointment and reap the benefits your body needs.
Justin Compton, Guy Cisternino, Dallas McCarver, Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay, Jon Linden amongst many others all have at least two things in common. They are all IFBB professional bodybuilders, and to gain and maintain their mind boggling mass they receive regular massages. What? No way you may say but in order to understand why it helps all these muscle fanatics gain the size they do, you must first step back and get a better understanding of both massage and muscle development
Firstly, what is massage? The textbook definition is the manipulation of soft tissue including skin, muscles, and fascia, which is the connective tissue that surrounds your muscles, for the improvement of bodily functions and stress and pain relief. Massage is used to break up adhesions in soft tissues, often referred to as “knots”. These adhesions are caused mainly by waste from your muscular cells working and depositing their waste into the tissue around it. Our body’s lymphatic system is in charge of getting rid of this waste, however when overloaded with a high level of activity it can be bogged down and thus take much longer to transport this muscular waste out of your body. Anyone who has put in work at the gym has experienced the soreness from this and it is mainly referred to as D.O.M.S or delayed onset muscle soreness. Think of it like this: a muscle is like a stack of paper, each sheet representing an individual muscle fiber. If you take some sand and sprinkle a bit in-between each sheet, you no longer have a solid stack of paper that moves as one. The movement will be rough and rippled. Massage flushes out the “sand”, restoring mobility and riding the muscle of excess waste.
Which leads me next to understanding how muscles develop and how massage plays a major role. Muscles are just like everything else in our world; they need food to flourish. This is why when trying to get into shape or maintain a healthy weight, we hear the mantra “It’s all in what you eat”. Having a proper diet means feeding your muscles with the nutrients they need to prosper. However, another piece of advice that is not but should be spoken of more is you need to rest and recover.
When a muscle contracts, every single fiber doesn’t contract at once. What actually happens is your mind processes exactly how much effort is needed to work, and it sends the signal through your nervous system that fires the exact number of fibers needed to do the work. Have you ever almost thrown something because you thought it was much heavier at first sight? That’s because your brain made the wrong calculation and too many muscle fibers fired at once. Conversely, holding something in front of you over time will feel heavier and heavier. This is caused by the original fibers that fired have used up all the energy that they had (from all that good food) and can’t fire anymore. So now new fibers must be fired up to continue to hold the weight. Muscular failure is what happens when there are no more fibers to fire. So, what now? Most people will go home sore but happy at giving their all in the gym. You eat well, drink water, stretch (hopefully), and try to get a good night of sleep. But there is much more you can do.
So that muscle that you worked to its full capacity, let’s say it has 1,000 fibers, is swollen and inflamed with all those metabolic byproducts from your session. Your body now must work double time processing out not only your workout, but the other 14 -16 hours of work, stress, and outside toxins that you encountered that day. As we spoke of before, D.O.M.S is the result of an over loaded lymphatic system that just can’t process all of your metabolic byproducts out in only one night. At best, of those 1,000 shortened, inflamed, and tired muscle fibers, 500-600 may be ready to tackle the next workout. And in order to gain the serious mass of a bodybuilder, you must work out 4-6 times a week, constantly pushing your boundaries meaning you need all fibers firing every workout. This is where your neighborhood friendly massage therapist steps in!
Now that we understand how muscles work and what massage really is, not just cucumbers on your eyes and soft soothing strokes, you can start to see how it can help muscle growth. Pushing metabolic byproducts out of your tissues, it speeds up the lymphatic system’s process of eliminating those byproducts, thus creating space for growth. It encourages blood flow in and out of muscles, helping to bring the nutrients, oxygen, and any supplements you might be taking into your cells, giving them what they need to recover. It keeps joints moving fluidly by preventing adhesions where muscles and tendons attach into the joints. Flexibility plays a big role in muscle development, being able to get the full range of motion during an exercise will give your muscles the full and complete look you need to compete. Massage stretches muscles out more efficiently than any static stretch can, giving you more flexibility and in the end more power. Stretching out muscle fibers releases them from their tight, shortened state so that they have the ability to flex again, having the optimal amount of fibers being able to fire to increase growth. If you struggle to get sleep which is vital to recovery and health, studies have shown 1 hour of massage gives your body and mind the same rest as 7-8 hours of sleep.
The list on ways massage benefits you is endless. How it can increase muscle growth comes down to these main ways: improving range of motion to ensure muscles can fully extend and contract without injury, increasing circulation which removes byproducts and brings in nutrients, releasing muscles from their shortened state so they are able to be contracted normally, and giving your body the rest that it needs to fully recover and get back in the gym to continue your growth.
At Unlimited Bodywork we strive to provide you with massage that best fits your needs. As an athlete of any caliber, massage is an essential part of maintaining healthy muscles and range of motion in your joints. Call today and schedule to progress your health and fitness.
Did you know that massage can boost your immune system? Lymphatic drainage massage is a technique that uses light touch yet is still very effective at, among other things, boosting your immune system.
The lymphatic system lies just beneath the skin. The delicate network of lymph nodes and vessels clean the blood. Lymph nodes also contain clusters of immune cells which deal with the viruses, bacteria and broken cells that would otherwise clog up the system. Lymphatic drainage massage speeds up the rate of filtration. It’s like an oil change for the body. I recommend coming in once or twice a year for a full body lymphatic massage. If you’re currently sick, feverish or contagious, please stay home. The best time to receive a lymphatic massage is before you’re even feeling sick.
If you would like to reap the benefits of a Lymphatic drainage massage, contact Unlimited Bodywork to schedule yours today.
One day a client came in to see me who had pain in their ankles and legs so swollen that their pants didn’t fit anymore. They asked if I could help. I said that the best technique for them was lymphatic drainage. Lymphatic drainage massage is a light yet highly effective technique that helps the body redistribute excess fluid. After several treatments their pain went away and their pants fit again.
At their next session they mentioned an upcoming trip to India. They had always dreamed of seeing the Taj Mahal in person. The trip had the potential to trigger the swelling in their legs. Other triggers can include extreme heat, dehydration, salty foods and alcohol. They came in for regular weekly sessions leading up to their trip. The treatments were effective. Not only were they able to see the Taj Mahal in person, they were able to tour the extensive palace and gardens too.
Is pain stopping you from achieving your dreams? Let the skilled massage therapists at Unlimited Bodywork help. Call today to schedule your appointment.
Been involved in a recent car accident? Is your neck or back feeling sore? Have you considered a medical massage to reduce your pain? The best part is that most auto insurance in Colorado also provides coverage for your medical expenses. It’s called med pay and it means that you don’t have to pay up front to get the help you need.
Experienced medical massage therapists know how to treat the complex array of symptoms that arise from whiplash injuries after a car accident. We can help stop painful muscle spasms. We can also help restore the full range of motion to your neck so you don’t have to turn your whole body just to check the passing lane.
I know from personal and professional experience the amazing benefits of massage therapy. I injured my neck during a motor vehicle collision with a deer. My neck swelled up and it hurt to turn my head. Injury massage and Kinesiotaping (KT) eliminated my pain and swelling. The kinesio tape color I chose was blue, which may have looked like I had bright blue racing stripes on the side of my neck, but it was well worth it as it gave me tremendous pain relief.
Don’t just take my word for it, try a medical massage for yourself. Contact Unlimited Bodywork today to schedule your first appointment.
We've been in-network with most of the major health insurance companies for many years, including Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, United, and Aetna to name a few. Beginning Sept. 1st, 2018, we are not only in-network with Kaiser Permanente (KP), but are the ONLY Medical Massage Therapy provider for KP in southern and western Colorado Springs!
Just as with any health insurance, not all plans cover massage. For those with Kaiser Permanente, the HMO, PPO and POS plans could have Medical Massage coverage. The Senior Healthy Choice (Medicare) plan does not cover Medical Massage at this time. If you have KP for health insurance, give us a call. We will check for coverage for you, let you know and get you scheduled for your covered treatments!
Myth 1: Massage is just for relaxation.
Truth: There are a just few massage techniques specifically applied for relaxation, such as Swedish massage. However, there are many massages specifically geared for clinical benefits, such as to relieve pain and tension, treat injuries, reduce symptoms from medical conditions, prevent injuries, and improve overall quality of life. A few examples of these are injury massage, medical massage, sports massage, and deep tissue massage.
If you would like both therapeutic and relaxation benefits, your Massage Therapist can always include techniques to reduce stress hormones and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, making you feel relaxed, while still performing clinical techniques to achieve your therapeutic goals. So you can get treatment for an injury, for example, and still get the relaxation benefits of feeling like you just went on vacation.
Myth 2: Massage should hurt.
Truth: Out of a pain scale of 1-10, 1 being barely noticeable pain and 10 being the worst pain imaginable, the most a massage should feel is a 7, where it is uncomfortable, but never to the point of “ouch!” When a massage reaches beyond a 7, your body goes into fight or flight and tries to protect the area by tightening, making the problem worse! For massage, the saying, “no pain, no gain” should never be followed!
If you ever feel pain during a massage at any point and the therapist is not in tune with you enough to know they should lighten up, say something! Take the responsibility to inform the therapist, so they do not continue hurting you or others!
Myth 3: Massage is sexual or a form of prostitution.
Truth: In the late 1800’s, many massage schools undereducated and overproduced massage students, saturating the industry and leading to false advertisement and prostitution under the guise of massage. This led to the social distinction between a “Massage Therapist,” who performs therapeutic massage and bodywork, and a “Masseuse,” who is performing sexual favors under the guise of massage therapy.
The study found evidence at the cellular level that massage therapy may affect inflammation in a way similar to anti-inflammatory medications.
Research through the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario indicates that massage therapy reduces inflammation of skeletal muscle acutely damaged through exercise. The study provides evidence for the benefits of massage therapy for those with musculoskeletal injuries and potentially for those with inflammatory disease, according to the lead author of the research.
The study found evidence at the cellular level that massage therapy may affect inflammation in a way similar to anti-inflammatory medications.
The researchers "found that massage activated the mechanotransduction signaling pathways focal adhesion kinase (FAK) and extracellular signal–regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2), potentiated mitochondrial biogenesis signaling [nuclear peroxisome proliferator–activated receptor γ coactivator 1α (PGC-1α)], and mitigated the rise in nuclear factor κB (NFκB) (p65) nuclear accumulation caused by exercise-induced muscle trauma."
J. D. Crane, D. I. Ogborn, C. Cupido, S. Melov, A. Hubbard, J. M. Bourgeois, M. A. Tarnopolsky, Massage Therapy Attenuates Inflammatory Signaling After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage. Sci. Transl. Med. 4, 119ra13 (2012).
Photos by Keit Trysh, Mar Bocatcat, Audi Nissen, and Clique Images on Unsplash.