By Tracey Anne Duncan
The benefits of massage are widely touted by influencers, the self help obsessed, and everyone else wholly consumed by the wellness industrial complex.. As a person who has been a practicing body worker (what massage therapists call themselves) for many years, I am always tempted to say that massage is the cure for what ails you.
The self-care movement has inducted thousands of freshly minted massage therapists into the industry who promise relief for everything from anxiety to xenophobia. I have been starting to wonder whether massage can follow through on all the promises these newbies are making. I used my own experience, plus some mighty (and somewhat damning) research to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the health benefits of massage.
During the course of my career, I have worked with athletes of every ilk, from professional boxers to amateur runners. I have always thought of massage as a good way for athletes to both enhance performance and recover from events. Massage is proven to be relaxing to the nervous system without any of the side effects of anti-anxiety pharmaceuticals; that fact has led me to assume that it would help athletes chill out both before and after an event.
After doing some research, I was surprised to find that my logic isn’t necessarily sound. The impacts of massage don’t appear to be measurable in a way that impacts athletic performance. Clinical research on sports massage showed no demonstrable benefits in reducing muscle soreness, enhancing performance, or shortening recovery time. Real talk, I feel pretty bummed about this and also a little guilty for all the athletes I’ve recommended massage to.
It’s worth mentioning though, that even if regular massages don’t transform you into an MVP, kneading out knots does make athletes feel better — less sore, less tight, etc. And that physical relief can be huge for people who put their bodies through a lot.
The woo-iverse is replete with reviews written by people who say that massage helped “fix” their posture. I take issues with these claims. First of all, let’s talk about what posture is. Simply put, posture is how you habitually hold your bones and muscles. “Bad” posture is when you habitually hold yourself in a way that takes the bones and muscles out of alignment with each other. Poor posture can lead to discomfort in the neck, shoulders, low back, jaw, and buttocks.
ShutterstockIt’s totally true that improving your posture can reduce discomfort. The problem is that reducing discomfort is not the same thing as actually changing your posture. In other words, yes, you can go get a massage to alleviate pain due to poor posture and you will probably feel better afterwards, but that’s a short-term solution to a long-term problem.
If you want to change your posture, it’s not going to happen after one massage. Or even several. Myfascial release and the Alexander Technique are both proven to help folks make positive postural changes, but these effects only come after a prolonged period of treatment