Strain-Counterstrain Massage for Joint & Muscle Health
The art of massage is at least 5,000 years old, having been practiced by the ancient Egyptians and Chinese. To most of us, a massage is a friend or relative squeezing our sore neck or shoulders for a few minutes. It feels good, but massage is more than just this momentary feeling.
After physical exertion, waste products of metabolism such as lactic and pyruvic acids build up in muscle tissue. If they remain in a muscle, it feels sore. Massage helps squeeze out these waste products so that muscle soreness disappears and we become ready to use our muscles again more quickly. For this reason, massage is usually assumed to involve pressure and manipulation of muscles.
But effective massage is not just about muscles. Joints can also become painful or tender. Long after physical exertion, joint problems can linger. Why?
A painful muscle may remain contracted or shortened as a defensive response against pain. It doesn’t fully release. This shortened muscle can pull joint components into abnormal positions, causing joint pain. Yes, the joint is sore, but the real cause is the tightened muscle, which may be injured or overused.
Have you ever felt knots in your shoulder or neck muscles? Many people refer to this as where they store tension. Do these tight spots remain, even if you completely relax? Massage may fail to make these muscles relax. They can stay in a semi-permanent defensive position for weeks, even months, causing stiff necks, headaches and other upper-frame problems.
When a muscle stays partially contracted over a long period of time, pulling bones and joints into abnormal positions, normal massage will not cause the muscle to relax. This is where various techniques of strain-counter strain can be employed. This technique can be used to treat everything from weekend warriors to pregnant women. By using very controlled bursts of resistance exercise, first in one direction and then in the opposite direction, it is possible to confuse the muscles around a painful joint. The muscles don’t know which way they should be contracting, so they relax. This releases the abnormal tension on the joint to which the muscles are attached, thus reducing joint pain. Only then can these muscles respond to massage therapy.
The benefit of this approach is that a muscle is less likely to return to its contracted, tense position after the massage therapy. The same muscle without strain-counter strain therapy would still be tight and therefore unresponsive to massage, thus the joint pain would remain. There is a real synergy in first relaxing muscles with strain-counter strain and then employing massage on the muscles: reduced recovery time, accelerated healing and long-term elimination of pain.
- Beck, Mark F., Milady’s Theory and Practice of Therapeutic Massage, 3rd ed. Milady Publishing, Albany.
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