Your nervous system: A key component for massage assessment and strategy

June 12th, 2010

I was delighted to see the March 2010 of Massage Today feature an article titled “Evaluating Neurological Symptoms” by Whitney Lowe, founder of the Orthopedic Massage Education and Research Institute.

In this article, he stresses a point that I often commnicate to my clients:

Massage is not just about relaxing muscles and  massaging where the client feels pain.   Often, the place of the pain is NOT where you want to be massaging.

In addition to direct pain relief, massage is also about helping the nervous system be in a healthy state where it is “plugged into” the muscle fibers and not being “short circuited”.  Sometimes pain can be in one place, one muscle can be weak where the pain is, but it is because another muscle in another place is tight, resulting in weakness of another muscle which then causes pain in the area.

Sound complicated?  It is.  Let’s look at an example:

The same nerve that innervates the serratus anterior in the back (which holds the scapula against the wall of the ribs), runs under the scalenes in the neck.  When the scalenes get tight, they can compress the nerve and cause weakness in the serratus anterior.  The signals are not getting through.

When the serratus anterior is weak, the scapula “wings” (the bottom point sticks out from the ribs), and the movement of raising the arm to the side begins to be impaired.  This can actually go as far as to result in symptoms that look like impingement syndrome.

Impingement is,  technically,  a mechanical issue in the shoulder joint, but the root problem can be neurological compression and muscle weakness.

This can result in frustrating therapy that does not help, MRIs that show nothing is wrong, and you are left with pain that supposedly “shouldn’t be there” but is “bigger than life” real to you.

Another example of the nervous system being involved in pain  is when the gluteal muscles are weak and not firing properly in a person’s gait.  It may be that the gluteals just need strengthening and the nerves need to be innervated to the muscle fibers again, but it also can result from the hamstrings being too tight.  When the hamstrings are tight, the gluteals shut down.

These are just two examples of how an understanding and evaluation of the neurological component is important in a strategy for massage and/or exercise for a client.

For a free postural and gait assessment (and fabulous information, including do at home and work exercises) subscribe (free!) to the Advanced Muscle Care Newsletter:  - http://www.alteredstates.org

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To your health and happy muscles,

Cynthia Mealy

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