Massage therapy is an excellent alternative to invasive procedures like surgery when it comes to treatment of postural dysfunctions and body asymmetries. While the bones in our body are considered the building blocks it is what is connecting them to each other that we rely to have a proper function and posture. Symmetry of muscles which allows fascial tension and joint mobility are all necessary to achieve appropriate posture and function. Most of us are born with our spine in flexion. Routinely, barring any negative medical issues, our spines form their cervical and lumbar curves as we learn to hold our heads up and sit up and walk respectively. It is not until we develop habits and behaviors as we progress through life that we normally begin to deviate from proper function and posture.
How many of you lean to one side when you are in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles? It may be a short wait, not likely at the DMV, but even a short time in such asymmetric posture can cause a fascial or muscle imbalance. Such imbalances if not rectified with exercise (or massage therapy) can, over time, lead to changes so profound they affect the bones in the body. A lifetime of imbalance can lead to pain and dysfunction and if severe may require surgery to alleviate. You don’t want to get to this place.
I joke with my wife sometimes when we are watching Doors videos (both big fans) that if Jim Morrison were alive today, his body would be a wreck. Taking the illicit drugs out of the equation, all the posturing (for lack of a better word), and the rock star poses surely would have led him down the road to a lifetime of pain and dysfunction. Using the Lizard King as an example: He had the innate ability to cock his head to the right side, elevate the left shoulder, throw the right hips out while putting the legs and left ankle in a “knock-kneed” position with pronation. One could argue that he looked good doing it, but one could also make conjecture after an entire lifetime of such poses that his later years would be full of pain and misery.
That is not to say that postural dysfunctions have to always affect the bones. Some imbalances are what we term functional dysfunction and can be altered because they do not involve the boney structures but instead the muscles, fascia and ligaments. Massage therapy and other CAM therapies are excellent for treating such functional imbalances. The basic principle for treating postural dysfunctions like scoliosis, hyper-kyphosis and hyperlordosis is to first assess and then stretch any short muscles and strengthen weak muscles. That is to say the therapist stretches and mobilizes short tight muscles and their joints with fascial spreading techniques and trigger point therapy as well as post-isometric relaxation techniques to increase the length of muscles combined with joint play. While massage therapy does not increase strength, quicker more upbeat techniques can increase muscle tone. The strengthening of weak and over stretched muscles is done after and between therapy sessions as part of a resistance based self-care regimen. It should also be noted that not all asymmetries are the same or cause profound functional changes. No one is born perfect and some body asymmetry exists in all of us. Simply put, if the asymmetry does not include an imbalance that causes pain, then it does not require fixing. However, if you are suffering pain from an existing muscle imbalance, it does not have to be The End. Legitimate licensed massage therapy may just be what helps you Break On Through.
Kip Yates, LMT was trained at the Swedish Institute in New York City and is New York State and Texas State licensed. He is owner and operator of Massage Refresh in New York City where he provides Swedish wellness and recuperative Deep Tissue massage that encompasses myofascial release and trigger point therapy. Kip lives in Brooklyn with his wife and three children and also practices at Physiofitness Physical Therapy in Soho.