In my daily experience as a clinical massage therapist, non-specific neck and shoulder pain, i.e. when there is no medically detectable underlying injury, pathology or abnormalities present; seems to be one of the most common physical complaints people are experiencing in the modern desk orientated world.
One of my clients recently came to me for a massage treatment and when I asked her what she needed help with she pointed to her shoulders and said ‘Oh! The usual desk-syndrome!’, which I thought summed it up pretty well.
The National Library of Medicine (NIH) states: –
A few years ago, I conducted a study with massage therapists around the country, to see what were the most common complaints their clients experienced; what caused them and what benefit they were looking for from treatment.
The survey revealed that in almost half of the study cases (48%), the main complaint involved head, neck and shoulder problems.
The survey also revealed that a massive 82% of people felt that work is what caused the majority of their stress, and over half (59%) where looking to reduce aches, pain and stiffness as a part of their stress reduction goal.
Stress affects us all and comes in many shapes and forms. In my opinion, and in accordance with the findings of my survey, the effect of stress is much the same on our musculoskeletal system as it is on a psychological level. In the work place we can find too much sitting or standing in static positions; lack of movement and stretching; worry and anxiety; work pressures such as deadlines; create accumulative stress on our bodies.
To explain this in a physiological way, muscle tension is a reflex reaction to stress. It’s the body’s way of guarding against perceived threats such as injury or pain. One of the most common sites in the body where the effects of stress can be felt is the neck. From the base of the skull to the top of the shoulders, the neck can easily become a center of pain and tension where the physical symptoms of stress accumulate.
This might lead to what is called a myofascial pain syndrome (MPS), where the muscle fibers are in a constant state of contraction. With micro-spasms, sometimes referred to as muscle ‘knots’, trigger points or fascial adhesions. Causing impaired circulation, fatigue and ischemia with subsequent stiffness, weakness and tenderness with local and/or referred pain.
Massage can be very helpful to break the pain-spasm-pain-cycle by addressing both the symptoms and the cause. Massage may also help reduce the amount of ‘stress’ hormones cortisol and adrenalin that are released by calming the body’s sympathetic nervous system; a branch of the autonomic nervous system that triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response. By releasing tight soft tissues, breaking up the fascial adhesions and deactivating trigger points, it will help relieve the aches and pains and restore the muscles to their normal length and better nerve and blood circulation.
Massage promotes relaxation, it may also stimulate the body to release more of the ‘feel-good’ hormones dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and various endorphins that are mood enhancing resulting in better sleep, tissue repair, regeneration and healing.
The massage therapist might also help you recognise when there are postural imbalances that might need to be addressed, and suggest stretching, strengthening or movement exercises to help improve the situation, or as a preventative measure to maintain a healthy, active body.
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