Massage therapy has many health benefits, from general relaxation to injury recovery.
While some may think a massage is only something a person would receive at a spa, local massage therapist Rose Smarr said that is only one style.
“In a very broad sense, there’s two basic worlds of massage,” she said.
The traditional spa massage typically focuses on the whole body and bodily systems. Smarr said it helps reduce stress, improve sleeping and boost the immune system.
In contrast to the more overall approach, Smarr said she trained in a different technique called specific injury treatment, a type of deep-tissue work.
She said the therapeutic technique treats specific problems by working to balance the tension of muscles in the body, “side to side and front to back,” to ensure blood flow is not inhibited, nerves are not obstructed and joints move correctly.
The technique is used for injury prevention and recovery, athletics and pain management.
“It can be applied to pretty much any injury,” she said.
Smarr commonly treats low back pain and headaches, but the technique improves many other ailments because it affects blood flow and nerves.
“A huge goal is bringing blood flow in,” Smarr said.
When muscles are too tight, she said, it constricts the capillaries — the smallest blood vessels that exchange oxygen, nutrients and waste between blood and tissue.
Loosening the muscles through massage improves the blood flow and helps the area heal, she said.
The process works similarly on nerves, which run from the spine throughout the body.
“Almost everything runs between muscle,” she said. “Nerves hate to have pinchy pressure.”
The technique can also remove pressure from bones, allowing them to slide into place, she said, especially in the back. Removing tension from one side of the body allows muscles to lie more naturally and connected bone systems to align better, she said.
Sports injuries can be treated with therapeutic massage, but there are other benefits for athletes as well.
Smarr said athletes use massage as a monitoring system to notify them of potential issues before major problems arise. If an issue is lurking in the muscles, she said she usually finds it before the athlete.
People also use massage to maximize physical performance and decrease recovery time.
Smarr said massage works as a way to flush the muscles because it increases blood flow. Doing so allows athletes to recover quicker after strenuous activities.
When a muscle has a knot, it also becomes less efficient. Smarr said muscles work through the contraction and expansion of the tissue, but when it is knotted, only a portion of the muscles can contract and expand.
Massage therapy loosens the knot, she said, allowing an athlete to fully use the muscle again.
Smarr recommends anyone dealing with ongoing pain who has decided to live with it to consider massage therapy.
“I’d just challenge them to look at life a little different and see if they need to live in pain,” she said.
Old injuries that are untreated can often lead to new injuries, which become more difficult to treat, she said.
Sometimes, she can advise a patient over the phone whether she believes massage therapy will be effective to treat a certain condition.
Whether dealing with a sprain or whiplash, carpal tunnel syndrome, plantar fasciitis, a traumatic injury or any other type of pain, Smarr said massage may provide relief.
“If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but you’d find out,” she said.
Rose Smarr is a licensed massage therapist in Oregon, practicing in John Day. She can be contacted at 541-620-4496.
Have questions about massage therapy?
People who have never tried massage therapy may have many questions, and Smarr encourages people to ask them.
“They’re in control of this,” she said. “They usually don’t feel like they are, but they are. It’s definitely their session because it’s their body.”
Smarr said many people may not realize that only about half of the therapeutic massage techniques require skin-to-skin contact so people can often leave their clothes on.
She said it is important for a patient to feel comfortable with their massage therapist and recommends knowing their expertise. Patients should interview their therapist, she said:
• What type of training did they complete?
• How much experience do they have?
• How often did they treat this condition?
• How often is this successful?
• How many treatments are expected?
“Be an active part of the process,” Smarr said. “You’ll get a lot more out of it.”