Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Massage - luxury or necessity?

What do you think of massage therapy?  Is it something you can do without or do you think it is an important part of a holistic approach to being healthy.  I personally tend to lean towards the latter, regardless of whether you are a sportsman/sportswoman or not.

I first started getting regular sports massage when I was weight training.  My muscles would become so tensed up after several hours of pumping iron in the gym and a sports massage was the perfect antidote.  The massage therapist that I used back then seemed to be believe in the "No pain no gain" approach.  He would use his thumbs to dig deep in my muscle and then apply his full body weight to it.  It wasn't pleasant at all but at least it prevented the cramps.  Then I moved to Switzerland and stopped the weight training and no longer felt that I needed the regular sports massage.

Time went on and then a few years later I was completing in my first Marmotte cyclosportive (a one day cycle race with 5000m of vertical climbing), when my knee started to cause me a lot of discomfort.  I managed to complete the event but as the days and weeks went on the pain stayed.  I could barely walk up or down stairs.  I booked an appointment with a sports therapist here in Zurich and when he examined me he said that all the pain was down to incredible short tight muscles which were locked up.  With regular weekly massages I recovered well.  His approach was completely the opposite of the first masseur and he told me that there is no need at all for the sports massage to be painful if it is done correctly.  He would always start by using ultrasound to work deep within the muscle.  I would have kept up regular sports massage with this guy but the problem was that he only had day appointments and it was hard to go to him during my working day due to my workload.

My next encounter with massage was following a very tough initiation to x-country skiing (skating style).  I went with one of my friends who was already accustomed to the technique and we covered a decent distance, but my technique was very bad and I was using my upper body strength far too much.  The next day I had an incredibly painful headache and the pain was over my right eye.  My friend had a suspicion that tension in my back had caused the headache and she was right.  When she pressed certain points on my back the pain would go away momentarily.  From this point onwards I decided I would take regular massage to address my muscle tension and indeed I have.

I am very lucky as at UBS we have our own on site massage service.  We do have to pay, but despite that it is still great that we can fit it so easily into a working day.  The other wonderful point is that the company offering massage services has many masseuses who offer different kinds of massage.  So over the last year I have experimenting with various massage techniques.  I would like to summarise my experiences as follows (but please remember that this is just my personal experience and other people may find for them another massage technique is their preferred choice):

1) Classic massage with ultrasound - this gave good recovery but I didn't feel any effect from the ultrasound part of the treatment.  Maybe it was working silently but it would be hard for me to tell.  At this point I was going for specific treatment and wasn't looking at the effect of the massage on my headaches.

2) Classic massage alone - this gave me quick temporary relief from my muscular symptoms but I didn't notice a really progressive improvement over time in terms of reduction in my tension headaches.

3) Shiatsu massage - this one I really like.  The masseuse used her elbows to apply pressure to various points on my back.  My back ached less as the weeks went on and although I still had some headaches the frequency was slightly reduced.

4) My personal favourite - acupuncture and classic massage combined.  There are 2 masseuses at UBS who offer acupuncture and both are very good.  The sessions begin with classic massage on my back, shoulders and neck to assess the problem points and to start to warm up the muscles.  When specific problem spots are found they use needles to activate the site and leave them for some time to do their work.  In addition they insert needles at various other points in the body such as the foot or the hand or the head to stimulate the body's own immune system.  Since I started this combination the number of headaches I suffer from has reduced drastically and I no longer get backache.  In addition touchwood I seem to have a healthier immune system.  It is probably not only the acupuncture/classic massage which is improving my health but the combination of this plus yoga.  However I had also been doing yoga during the period I was receiving Shiatsu and didn't notice quite such a powerful effect as with this combination.

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