Our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and accumulated bad habits are gradually influencing how our bodies are aligned, contributing to tension in our neck, shoulders and back. Poor posture is a habitual physical positioning that causes unnecessary strain on the body, often resulting in muscle stiffness, various pains and an array of associated symptoms.
Massage therapy can help relax the prolonged hardening of contracted muscles caused by postural imbalances, improving circulation and allowing the body to realign itself back into the proper position. Students in massage therapy training become knowledgeable about musculoskeletal anatomy and therapeutic techniques to address the particular symptoms and desired results for each patient, among many other things.
Longer hours slouched in front of computer screens, necks bent towards mobile phones and sleeping with insufficient mattress and pillow support are common causes of muscle aches. Shoulders and necks tend to pull forward due to shortened pectorals when standing and there may be lateral misalignment, with one side higher than the other. Postural problems can affect more of the body than generally realized and worsen with age as the spine’s vertebrae are pulled out of alignment.
Since all of the body’s soft tissue is interconnected, improper structural alignment forces some muscles to overcompensate while others get weaker. If the head isn’t resting in the correct position, muscles at the back of the neck stay contracted, inhibiting circulation of oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Tissues eventually become hard and fibrous, leading to muscle stress and fatigue, poor lymph flow and weakened immunity.
Poor posture can restrict the lungs’ ability to expand and the optimal movement of vital organs, which may result in low energy, digestion problems, headaches, anxiety, sickness, disease or injury. It can also create emotional consequences, such as affecting mood, confidence and how one is viewed by others.
Professionals with therapeutic massage training might identify patients with poor posture by their rounded shoulders, jutted out neck and chin, or pot belly, although due to various body types, proper posture differs from person to person. Massage therapists may evaluate a patient’s gait patterns and body position to determine musculoskeletal distortion, discussing with the patient about where they are feeling aches and pains.
Postural massage therapy focuses on the whole body using a combination of manual techniques, gradually releasing fascia and muscle constriction as it moves from superficial to deeper structures. Swedish massage can promote improved circulation and release chronically contracted areas while strengthening exercises bring balance back to the weak, elongated tissue. Once strength is improved, deep tissue massage stimulates the body to reverse some of the tissue’s fibrosis. Any technique that helps loosen tension in contractured tissues and aids in releasing the body to a comfortable, efficient posture is beneficial.
Establishing new postural patterns is best accomplished through homecare addressing activities of daily living. Repeat sessions to assess progressions and address new soreness as the body shifts closer to balance is commonly effective. Approaches such as the Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais Method, Rolfing, Hellerwork and Trager Approach may include hands-on manipulation to promote healthier patterns and balancing of the body. Students at OVCMT’s therapeutic massage school learn about the concept of somatics, the area of movement studies promoting mind-body awareness, during their comprehensive training and supporting workshops.
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