What's the mechanism of action of a massage?

What problem(s) does a massage solve? How does it do it? I mean the question especially in the context of use before/after resistance training.

I haven’t been able to find more detailed info than telling me that a massage can “relax you” or influence your “energy” and “pressure points”. Physically, what’s happening during a massage? How does it achieve whatever benefits a massage may have?

As I understand it, there are two major effects from massage. One is increased blood flow to the affected areas. This can promote muscle repair and lower buildup of lactic acid that can result in soreness. Another one is stretching of tendons and ligaments. This loosens the joints and increases flexibility.

That’s just a myth.

Is it just tendons and ligaments? I certainly feel something when I’m using a foam roller in the middle of my back after exercise yet it seems like it’s muscles, not tendons and ligaments.

When I first started running, I’d get terrible knots and tight areas in some of my muscles, particularly my calves and IT bands. I would use rollers, though I’d also get sports massages specifically to work out those tight areas.

How did you best use it?

Sometimes I use it to roll but other times, I’ve found that I use the little teeth to put constant pressure on the knot without moving and after a while, up to one minute, it feels like the knot breaks or deflates. I’d like to learn how to do that reliably.

I don’t think it’s super well understood but there’s good guesses.

When you do repetitive actions, some of the muscles involved can kind of get “locked on”, have a higher resting tension level. Think of that trick where you press both arms against a door frame for a while, step away from the door and your arms raise without concious effort. Massage is probably breaking the cycle just from the stimulus of pressure, rhythmic motion and pain.

There’s also sensors in tendons that trigger muscle relaxation (golgi tendon reflex) which may be getting fooled into firing.

Another cause of muscle pain are trigger points, little hardened nodules, that can be physically broken down.

Local blood flow might have some effect. But generally, you never want to stretch ligaments. You don’t want loose joints, you want the muscles around the joint loose to allow full movement.

Yeah, those are the cunts I’m talking about. How do you best break those down? Constant pressure from the same angle? Keep moving the contact point around? After how long is it best to move on if it’s not having an effect? There have been times when I waited longer than I usually do and then it suddenly broke.

You won’t have much luck with a foam roller on trigger points, you need to be right on it. You could try one of those spikey yoga balls, or whatever they a called. One of the massage techniques is called ischemic or static compression, where you apply pressure for a while to block blood flow and sudden release to cause something of a flush of blood to the area.

If you can actually get a grip on the area, another technique is a sort of “active release”. Contract the muscle, get solid pressure on the leading edge of the trigger point and bring the muscle into stretch -essentially dragging the point through your pressure.

A physio might use dry needling to directly attack the trigger point. An older technique was a freezing agent at the site with hard stretch.

Eta: it’s pretty individual for how quick simple direct pressure can cause a muscle to release but if you do it more than a few minutes, probably time to try one of the other methods.

I use the teeth on this type of roller: Imgur: The magic of the Internet and balance as much of my 150lbs body on it. It certainly feels like I’m right on something.

  1. BloodBlock & FlushBack 2) Leading Edge Roll Up Stretch. I’ll try those, thanks.

treating myofascial muscle knots is tough. They tend to be the result of chronic localized spasm andthe parallel muscle fibers tend to get crosslinked with each other rather than staying in nice, neat chains. Sort of like a tangle in a long lock of hair. This results in local ischemia, inflammation, and more spasm.

Lots of techniques are tried on these things. Muscle relaxers (they don’t work), anti-inflammatories, ranging from ibuprofen to cortisone injected into the knot (they don’t work), dry needling (doesn’t give long lasting relief) and massage (feels wonderful, makes it hurt SO GOOD, but relief only lasts a day or two). Stretching and relaxation and heat/cold and local massage probably do the most good.

Get yourself one of these self-massagers for your muscle knot and go to town on them.

I think a few of those things only giving temporary relief has a lot to do with people not stopping the activities that are causing the problem. If you are getting neck and shoulder muscle pain because you go 8 hours at the computer straight every day and you plan on keeping that up, everything is going to be a temporary solution.

Thank you doc!

I go heavier than my body can comfortably handle with resistance training.

Do you spend time stretching after your workout? You’d be surprised how much that can help. Or a proper warm up before?

People often don’t realize that the way strength training works is at one level actually damaging the muscle and rebuilding it stronger. Treating it like a minor injury, like stretching it out, proper rest period and even icing sometimes, can help recovery. Don’t think of stretching and warmup as stealing time away from the workout, anymore than changing your oil is taking time away from your 1000 mile road trip.

I usually do eccentric overload to near muscle failure to maximize microtears. I realize it. I’m aiming for it. I’m looking to minimize the downsides of that while maximizing its upsides.

I usually do a few sets at lower intensity before I go heavy so I guess that counts as warming up?

The stretching I do is using the usual stretching, a little. But I prefer to use a foam roller’s teeth to massage the knots as a form of focused stretching. And I’m surprised how much it’s helping. Hence why I started a thread to see it that could be improved upon further. And you’ve been quite helpful, thank you. If you’ve got anything more, I welcome it.

Seriously, do a real stretch routine. For most people, normal that means “almost none”. You know which muscles you targeted, hold a non-painful but good stretch on each of those muscles for 20 seconds minimum.
eta: yes, that counts as a warm up!


I’m charitably assuming that you’re British, and are somehow unaware of just how offensive the word “cunt” is in American English. And it’s clearly not directed against a person, in this context. So this is not an official Warning. But do not use this word on the board again.

Where in the rules is this?

From the beginning of the rules:

“We have one guiding principle: Don’t be a jerk.”

There are just way too many cases to list them all. So the above is the general idea.

The c-word is not just offensive, it is sexist as well. And a lot of people here aren’t happy with the 2nd even if they are open-minded about the first.