Massage for Old Injuries?

Ask a Therapist

By Art Riggs

Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Spring/Summer 2006.

Q. I describe myself as an aging baby boomer and weekend warrior with plenty of war wounds to my credit. Will massage help my old injuries?

A.Author and massage therapist Art Riggs of Oakland, Calif., specializes in deep-tissue work and has a special interest in sports massage and rehabilitation. He says, “There isn’t a lot of hard statistical data about the benefits of massage as a treatment for injuries because it is difficult to isolate the effects of different therapies in classic double-blind studies, but the growing popularity of clinical massage is a good testament. In 2005, Consumer Reports surveyed thousands of its readers and reported that massage was equal to chiropractic in benefits in many areas including back and neck pain. Massage also ranked significantly higher than some other forms of treatment such as physical therapy or drugs.

“The benefits of massage will depend on the extent of the injury, how long ago it occurred, and on the skill of the therapist. Chronic and old injuries often require deeper and more precise treatments with less emphasis on general relaxation and working on the whole body. Massage works best for ‘soft tissue’ injuries to muscles and tendons and is most effective in releasing adhesions and lengthening muscles that have shortened due to compensatory reactions to the injury. Tight and fibrous muscles not only hurt at the muscle or its tendon, but can also interfere with proper joint movement and cause pain far away from the original injury.

“Therapists who perform such work often have specialized names for their work such as orthopedic massage, neuromuscular therapy, myofascial release, medical massage, etc., but many basic massage therapists are excellent and utilize an eclectic approach combining the best of the specialities.”