Not many feelings can beat those you feel just after a massage. A good quality massage leaves you feeling warm and relaxed, while at the same time rejuvenated and full of life. You may even experience one of the best nights of sleep you have ever had. On the following morning, however it can be a different story. The muscle aches and soreness you feel as you get ready for you day are reminiscent of a full body workout rather than a full body massage. At this point, it is all too easy to begin panicking and assume something is wrong. It is more likely, however, that the massage has done exactly what your massage therapist intended.
More than just a back rub
Before you have your first massage, you may have a very idealized picture of what it will be like. The reality may be very different and is certainly different to the occasional back rub given by a friend or a loved one. The main purposes of a massage include:
- Releasing the tension in the muscles
- Promoting healing
- Improving blood flow
- Reducing blood pressure
- Reducing pain and inflammation
It has even been suggested that massage can aid in the treatment of depression and anxiety, as well as be used as therapy for multi-dimensional illnesses such as fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. In these cases, the muscle soreness can be simply the return of symptoms that abated during and immediately following the massage session.
More than one way to exercise muscles
Even without secondary health issues, a massage puts the muscles through a much more vigorous workout than most people realize. A massage therapist works to find all the kinks in the muscles that build up through daily stress and either lack of exercise or a tendency to overtrain. The act of massaging the muscles stretches them, encourages the blood to flow more efficiently through them and stimulates them to work at their optimum level over the long term. However, this is hard work for the muscles, and they are bound to rebel at some point, particularly if sessions are too intensive, too close to each other or too long.
What do the experts think?
The head of the Sports and Deep Tissue Massage Department at McKinnon Institute Keith Grant agrees with the analogy between massage and exercise. He states that a massage is very much like workout. If the muscles aren’t used to it, they often respond with some soreness. Grant notes that the soreness should only last for a maximum of two days. If the soreness lasts any longer, then it is possible that the massage was too intense. The key to getting the intensity level right is good communication between therapist and client. Once the effects are explained, the therapist will adjust the intensity level in the next session. As the body adjusts to the manipulation, the intensity can be increased to allow the same benefits to be felt.
Is there such a thing as too relaxed?
Your body is one of the most complex machines in existence. There is an interplay between body and mind that is only really beginning to be understood. This connection could, however, explain the soreness experienced the morning after a massage. Neurological sensitivity, or “sensitization,” explores the “whole response of what’s going on in a person.” During a massage, the body’s experiences are processed through the central nervous system to be understood by your brain. At times of high stress, the nervous system and the brain may feel overwhelmed by this increase in information. The soreness and tiredness experienced the following day are then understood as side-effects of this information overload.
Minimizing muscle soreness
There are a number of ways to minimize the unwanted side effects of a good massage. Here are just a few things you may want to consider:
- Understand the need to look after your body and mind
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water after your session
- Take it easy after your massage; relax and find your balance naturally
- Communicate honestly with your therapist, particularly about your general health and mental wellbeing
- Try different massage techniques
- Change the length or intensity of sessions
In most cases, experiencing some muscle soreness after a massage is completely normal. However, if this lasts more than a couple of days, or incapacitates you in any way, then it needs to be addressed. As has been explored, there are a range of very simple explanations for this phenomenon. All of them are easily remedied, and all begin with an open, honest conversation with yourself, followed by one with your therapist.