If you want soft-tissue injuries (muscle pulls and strains, sprains, tendonitis, whiplash, etc.) to heal faster, targeted injury massage therapy can help.
The benefits of massage include reduced spasm, pain, and swelling. Massage can also prevent excess scar tissue from forming or reduce already existing excess scar tissue and adhesions (stuck together tissue) that make muscles weaker. Weak muscles set you up for another injury.
According to Ruth Werner, author of A Massage Therapist's Guide to Pathology:
A muscle or other soft-tissue injury consists of small tears in the tissue fibers. Your body immediately begins to form scar tissue at the injured site to heal the tears.
However, this scar tissue doesn't necessarily form parallel to the fibers of the injured tissue, potentially leading to excess scar tissue that is weak and prone to further injury.
Also, because scar tissue isn't elastic, it can restrict movement of surrounding fibers, again setting you up for further injury.
The goal of injury massage is to create tension and stretch that break up excess scar tissue and help the new tissue fibers align with the old ones. Massage also increases blood flow to the injured area, which helps healing by bringing in nutrients and removing waste products.
Massage for injury is a process that requires regular massage, at least once a week. Some people see much faster results with two massages a week at the start. How long will you need massage? It depends on what type of injury you have, how old it is, and your ability to heal. It also depends on your willingness, as needed to ice the injury, exercise or stretch the injured area, or identify and get rid of the cause of ongoing injury.
Injury massage is different from relaxation massage and can leave you feeling sore for a day or two. However, a lot of pain after the massage isn't necessary and can be counterproductive. Always tell your massage therapist how you felt after your last massage.
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My personal experience illustrates how injury treatment massage can work. Two years before I started massage school, I broke my left arm and one of the bones in my left wrist. After my arm healed, I still had wrist pain that became particularly annoying after I started massage school.
When we reached the injury treatment section of the curriculum, I asked one of the instructors to look at my wrist and she showed me which ligament to work on. I spent a few minutes three or four times a week doing cross-fiber friction massage on the ligament and then icing it. At first, I didn’t feel any change. Then about two months later, I realized my wrist no longer hurt, and I haven’t had wrist pain since.
Photo Credit: Ryan Hoyme