Unravelling the Knots

Heather Langley Aerodynamic Yoga, Massage, Mental Guru, Target Health Group

I dread needlework; I get the thread tangled up just sewing on a button! But I can unravel the knots in muscles and I rather enjoy the process (although it might not be so enjoyable for the client!)

The most common question that I am asked during a massage is: Why do the muscles get this tight? There is no simple answer to this although I endeavour to explain as I rub, prod, press, stroke, push and pull! I hope that this post will go some way to helping to unravel the mystery of your muscles.

All You Can Eat

Your muscles do not work alone. They are part of the ‘front of house’ alongside the skeleton but behind the scenes your brain/mind is monitoring your situation; multi tasking innumerable thought processes alongside physiological processes and, in addition, you have a long list of things to do and ideas; lots of ideas! So posture and movement are the priority of your muscles. Posture and movement occur as a result of your muscles resisting gravity which is a force. Force is fodder for your muscles. Your body weight is a force and all posture and movement generate and direct this force through bones and joints. The muscles ‘job’ is to take this force and use it to complete the task that you are engaged in, which involves a combination of postures and movement as you are constantly transitioning from one posture to another. But, in the same way that you get a stomach ache if you overeat, your muscles get tight when they are overloaded with force. Bam Bam…constant pressure. No let up. So how does massage actually help?

We encourage the muscles so self solve; actually it’s the brain that is solving the problem. Massage pushes yet more force into the muscles. The brain detects a problem (pain) and will look for a way to resolve this.

Common resolutions:

  • Your breath may change as pain is a threat to the body but this is not helpful.
  • The muscles may become more tense as a defence mechanism but this is not helpful.

In both of these instances your therapist should be adjusting the techniques accordingly, to help reduce the threat level (as interpreted by the brain) and encourage a feeling of safety in this environment. If they don’t tell them! Massage should NEVER feel like an attack!

Fast (& Slow) Fibres

Muscles are made up of fibres. Muscle fibres have a purpose. They either need to provide regular movement for competency in repeated tasks (like writing or operating a computer) or they need to provide strength with endurance for tasks that require a more stable  and fixed posture (carrying heavy bags/tools). For example, when you fix a shelf to a wall, one arm/hand will be engaged in holding the shelf steady and the other hand will be occupied with operating the screwdriver. Quick twitch muscle fibres provide dexterity (operating a screwdriver) and slow twitch muscle fibres provide endurance (holding the shelf). When you book your massage you may already feel soreness in a muscle or an area, on one side of your body. Yet you may be surprised when the therapist begins the treatment and finds tension on the other side of your body which you weren’t aware of. We find that the muscles that have more quick twitch muscle fibres fatigue quicker than muscles that have more slow twitch fibres so you will notice the tension in the fatigued muscles first.

Emotional Rescue

Force is energy and I have talked about force as a tangible weight. However, thoughts, emotions are also energy and create force which is taken up by the muscles. It is not so easy to let it go when our perception of experiences relates to our ‘Self’. How we react to events in our lives  is very personal and so, therefore, is your tension, which is why all that pushing, prodding, pinching and pulling can set off alarm bells during your massage. Don’t be surprised by this bubbling up of emotion; it is a perfectly normal and natural part of the process. However, if you need a break from the intensity let your therapist know.

The best way of coping with discomfort during your massage is to breathe. Your breath reflects the nature of energy and as energy is being released from the muscles you want to encourage it to behave as it should! Energy expands in its dynamic phase (the inhalation resources energy), so you can use this part of the breath to help stretch the muscles out from within. Energy is then released and distributed in the passive phase (the diaphragm muscle offers no resistance to the organs of digestion) so you can use this part of the breath to promote softening or letting go; a yielding to the pressure of the massage. Lastly there is an inert phase of energy; a pause where the dust settles. This is where you allow for acceptance of the situation. No blaming and shaming. which is unhelpful and creates drag. Focus on the fact that you want to resolve this and that you are doing what is right for your body and mind right now.

I may not be much with a needle and thread but massage…massage is my thing!