Few people have ever made it through adulthood without experiencing muscle knots. From stress to injuries to poor posture, only the luckiest among us can escape them.
Remedial massage is the key to untying muscle knots and finding relief. Unlike Swedish massage or other types of whole body work, it combines the use of multiple therapies to solve the underlying issues with back pain while also offering relaxation therapies that soothe tired, stressed bodies.
How does remedial massage work and why is it so good for healing muscle knots and other injuries? Keep reading to learn the benefits of massage therapy and why it might be right for you.
What is Remedial Massage?
Remedial massage diagnoses and treats myofascial trigger points or knots and other musculoskeletal conditions.
A remedial massage therapist works on your major muscle groups as well as your connective tissue, tendons, and ligaments to promote healing and total body wellness.
The practice treats conditions like:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Chronic low back pain
- Frozen shoulder
- Myofascial pain syndrome
- Muscle cramps
- Muscle spasms
- Plantar Fascitis
- Tennis elbow
- Tension headaches
But it can also be used to treat general pain and discomfort caused by one or more myofascial trigger points (muscle knots).
Why We Get Muscle Knots
The medical community knows muscle knots as myofascial trigger points, a term coined back in the 1950s. There's a name for them, but they're also a source of confusion.
Myofascial trigger points can exist without hurting you even if they might restrict movement. Those latent trigger points, however, can become active trigger points, and those are a source of discomfort and even chronic pain in the form of myofascial pain syndrome (MPS).
Human anatomy and physiology provide some insight into muscle knots that helps us understand why they occur and why massage is such an asset.
Your muscles aren't one long piece of tissue. They're made up of fibers, which in turn feature many more myofibrils. Myofibrils are made up of protein cylinders known as sarcomeres.
How do they knot up?
No one has a certain answer. We rely on basic physiology: muscles contract when actin and myosin pull past one another to shorten (and contract) the muscle. Somewhere along the way, those muscles can become "knotted."
Some evidence suggests that acute trauma or chronic microtrauma contribute to muscle knots. The result of the trauma features a small thick area on the muscle while the rest of it gets stretched thin.
Muscle knots aren't "knots"; they just feel a lot like it. Instead, they are several contracted fibers raised enough to feel like a knot.
How Remedial Massage Therapy Works
You begin the process with an assessment.
Before your first treatment, you'll sit down with your therapist and discuss your major pain points. Rather than relying on gut feelings or "if/then" ideas of anatomy, the therapist uses tests to identify and confirm issues.
You might undergo assessments like:
- Postural exams
- Bio-mechanical exams
- Range of motion physical exams
- Neural tests
These tests tease out the target problem area and illuminate the underlying cause.
Finding the underlying cause of muscle pain is the key to solving it.
Many people live in pain for months or years because they try therapies that tackle the symptoms. For example, a person with back and shoulder pain might try a basic massage or physical therapy. However, if their pain is the result of the misalignment of several ribs in their rib cage, the therapeutic massage won't offer more than temporary relief.
Only addressing the issue of the out-of-place ribs will offer any kind of meaningful, long-term relief.
Why Remedial Massage Is the Best Choice for Muscle Knots
With a diagnosis in hand and trigger points noted, your remedial massage therapist creates a treatment plan for relief and healing. Your treatment plan may include several components depending on the type and severity of your pain and injury. It may include one or more of the trigger point therapies noted above as well as a series of therapeutic massages and passive stretching.
The ultimate goal isn't to massage the source of your pain to within an inch of its life. Instead, massage improves blood flow to the area to encourage a rapid rate of healing.
Got muscle knots? We can relieve that.
Muscle Knots and Blood Flow
We can all think of a time when we had a muscle knot that caused us pain. The knot itself is painful, but it also has several knock-on effects that leave people in agony.
Muscle knots and trigger points suffer from a build-up of lactic acid not dissimilar to what happens after a tough workout.
Your brain and central nervous system also get involved and try to help. When you have a muscle knot, your brains knows that something isn't quite right. Although that muscle needs help to relax, your brain sends your nervous system into overdrive trying to guard the area and prevent damage.
Muscle knots cause the brain to leave the muscles 'switched on' without relief. Without a chance to relax, the muscles around the knot grow tighter, and you get sore as if you went through a tough exercise class. Your muscle then produces lactic acid as it would after strenuous activity.
The difference is that the build-up that occurs after a long hike gets relief eventually. After a long day on the trail, you go home, put on your slippers, and relax.
Muscles sent into overdrive by your brain don't have the opportunity to open a bottle of wine and watch Netflix. They sit and stew in lactic acid. Those muscles quickly become their own worst enemy.
Those same tight muscles producing more lactic acid that you need are also so tight that your capillaries become constricted. Your body tries that, but your circulatory system doesn't have the capability.
Restricted blood flow leads to ischaemia or a lack of oxygen. Now, your muscles are drowning in lactic acid, squeezing out your blood supply, and your tissues can't get the oxygen they crave. Your brain notices all this happening, but instead of easing up, it tightens even more for more protection.
Why Remedial Massage Provides So Much Relief
Once you reach the point where your brain doubles down on your tight muscles, even a bad massage feels good.
The reason massage works so well on these muscles is the because therapists' hands put enough pressure on the knot to manually pump out some of the lactic acid. Flushing lactic acid provides some tension relief, which in turn allows the blood to flow more freely in your capillaries.
It's why even those massage chairs in the mall make a difference.
There's only one problem. Relaxing massages and stretching don't provide lasting results when you're dealing with muscle knots and trigger points.
A relaxing massage gives you muscles a moment of clarity. Shortly after its over, your brain remembers that there's still a knot, and it still has a job to do in protecting your body.
Even after that blissful massage, you are already back at square one.
Remedial massage goes directly after those knots and trigger points to loosen and relieve them. It also includes relaxing massage and stretching treatments for overall health. But if you struggle with muscle knots, then you need trigger point treatments that:
- Put direct pressure on the knot
- Flush the lactic acid
- Increase the circulation
- Relieve the knot completely
Without those four steps, you'll find yourself back in your masseuse's office far sooner than you'd prefer and in just as much pain as when you arrived the first time.
Types of Remedial Massage Treatment
Remedial massage therapists rely on three common techniques to treat the majority of issues that they come across:
- Myofascial Release
- Trigger Point Therapy
- Muscle Energy Technique (MET)
- Deep Tissue and Relaxation Massage
Each serves a different purpose within the wider practice, and they're combined according to the treatment plan you developed at diagnosis.
Myofascial release is a hands-on therapy that relieves chronic pain by using trigger points on your fascia or myofascia.
Your myofascia is the tough tissue or webbing that covers your bones and muscles. It separates and contains every muscle found in your body
The therapist finds trigger points, or muscle knots, on your body that create the tension and tightness you feel. Those trigger points may be in the area where you feel pain, or they may be related but nowhere near it.
Trigger points require experimentation and manipulation, so therapists work with a broad area of muscle rather than honing in on only one or two points. They gently massage the myofascia to identify problem areas.
Normally, it feels elastic and pliable, but it can turn rigid, which then causes pain. As the therapist works across an area, they're able to find trigger points and manipulate them to release the tension.
Trigger Point Therapy
Trigger point therapy complements myofascial release.
Myofascial release gives the massage therapist the range to discover the trigger points and relieve tension. Trigger point therapy goes one step further: it applies direct pressure.
Remedial massage may use different techniques in trigger point therapy depending on where the muscle is and the pain it causes.
Sometimes, the therapist uses their thumb or fingers to apply direct, sustained pressure to the trigger point. Just doing that helps the muscle knot relax and release thereby helping muscle pain.
Acupuncture and dry needling are two other common trigger point therapy methods.
Pressure applied helps the knots ease off, which in turn reduces muscle pain
Muscle Energy Technique (MET)
Muscle Energy Technique (MET) uses your muscle's existing energy to help relax and lengthen chronically contracted muscles (or muscle knots).
MET is a type of stretching that uses isometric contractions to encourage relaxation. It differs from static stretching because static forms require the therapist to do the work for your muscles.
In active stretching exercises like MET, you'll participate in a number of exercises targeted at the problem areas. Those stretches vary because there is no standard definition of the technique.
Generally, you'll sit or lie in a position where you are comfortable. The therapist then takes the muscle and begins to stretch. You'll then contract your muscle using only around 25 percent of your total force. The two of you each hold: you hold the contraction, and the therapist holds the stretch.
After ten seconds, you can relax. Then, you both pick it back up and try to ease further into the stretch, each time stopping when you feel an increase in resistance.
Deep Tissue Massage
Deep tissue massage may not contribute directly to healing or the resolution of an injury. Yet, it's still an important part of the therapy.
A deep tissue massage dives deep into the fascia and the muscles. It's also used to reduce muscle knots and tension, but it can be used across the body. Therapists also use deep tissue massage to help get rid of scar tissue left behind by injuries, which can lead to poor circulation and a lack of oxygen.
Try Remedial Massage for Yourself
If you deal with knots and chronic pain, you may find that Swedish or deep tissue massage on its own doesn't provide long-term relief. They tackle tight muscles and break down knots, but chronic issues need targeted attention.
Remedial massage therapy offers just that. By using diagnostics and a therapy plan with multiple options, you'll target the root of the problem. When you get rid of the knots, it allows the rest of your body to relax and allow you to live pain-free.
Don't live with the tension for another day.