Massage and Posture
By Lucie O'Donnell, Licensed Massage Therapist
People enjoy and need massage for so many different reasons. Among the most common are to relieve muscle tension, reduce pain, prevent or aid in the recovery of injury, or for pure relaxation. The list goes on and on.
Although they may not be conscious of it, however, the underlying reason why many people feel in need of a massage session usually is a result of posture. Whether it's due to long hours on a computer, sitting all day at a desk, extended time driving a car, or let's not forget-- vacuuming, folding laundry, picking up toys, carrying and feeding babies or toddlers-- you are most likely slouching and hunching your shoulders forward for a good portion of these activities.
When I'm massaging someone who is complaining of mid and upper back and neck pain (which is very common), they are sometimes surprised to learn their pectoral (chest) muscles are contracted and have trigger points (tight areas in the muscle tissue that cause referred pain) and adhesions (when inflammation causes connective tissues to bind together). Typically, the muscle group that is opposite the area that is causing pain or discomfort needs to be addressed as well. Think of your muscles like rubber bands attached to your skeleton that are either lengthening or contracting. When one side lengthens, the other side contracts.
So if someone spends extended amounts of time in a slouched or hunched forward position, the muscles in the mid and upper back are lengthened; and conversely, the pectoral muscles are contracted. The problem is that over time, this position will become the new "normal" for your body and result in noticeable and significant posture change. In this case, shoulders are forward, chest is caved in, and mid/upper back develops a slight hunch. You do not want this!
The ideal upper body posture consists of shoulders in a relaxed, low, and back position. Massage is crucial in addressing and avoiding posture change by helping to relax and lengthen contracted muscles, loosen muscle adhesions, and increase range of motion. Regular massage, along with stretching, will also help make you aware of how your body posture is affected by your daily activities and past and current injuries.