Sean McCoy LMT

The Massage Effect

Your body has three circulatory systems. Pulmonary, Lymphatic and CSF (Cerebral Spinal Fluid). Massage effects all three. Here is how:

Just moving my hands across tissue under mild amounts of pressure increases blood flow in those areas. Simple movement, pressure and psychological feedback cause capillaries and larger arterial structures to dilate. This increases the amount of oxygenated blood in the tissue, resulting in warmth and relaxation. 

However, as massage intensity increases: so does the heart rate. While you relax and breathe through the work, your autonomic nervous system (ANS) is doing some things behind the scenes, to help you receive the work. Heart rate and blood pressure increases force deeper breathing which increases gas exchange rates. Leaving you, when I am done, quite literally, out of breath. Even though you didn’t move.

The body’s internal recycling and waste removal system. Cells produce malic, carbolic, lactic and ureic acids as normal byproducts of metabolization (among other molecular structures). They are normally carried away to be either reprocessed, passed through the kidneys or excreted through sweat glands.

Massage accelerates the flow of the lymphatic system. This effect can last for hours and even days depending upon varying factors. Massage also increases the particulate viscosity of the lymphatic fluid. What that means is: Normally, the lymphatic system is like water. After my massage? More like a New England Clam Chowder. And that is only partially a joke

Due to myofascial bindings and adhesions; coupled with intramuscular inflammation from working out: Your lymphatic system is clogged.
Large areas of tissue become dammed up with these acidic metabolic byproducts. The sensation of tissue recovering from this congestion feels like “crunching“. My massage unclogs much of the clogged lymphatic passageways. 

Note: This is why it is so important to drink water after massage. Add water to dilute what massage has made dense with acidic byproducts. 

Your brain and spinal column are literally bathing in this clear runny substance. It moves in a free form fashion throughout your skull’s interior and the spinal column providing lubrication and cushion. Like lymphatic fluid, it too helps carry away cellular byproducts and eventually diffuses into the lymphatic system. Massage has been shown to increase the throughput of CSF circulation. Limited studies have shown that many who receive massage that stimulates CSF report an increased sense of well-being, and a decrease in negative or harmful thinking [1]My massage, while not targeting the CSF circulatory system, cannot help but affect it. Like the lymphatic, an overall increase in circulation has a highly cleansing effect of the fluid. Clean CSF; happy CSF.

Massage Mythbusting

That is a little yes, followed by a big No. Your lymphatic system is how your body internally, naturally processes and removes whatever it no longer needs. That process is dramatically accelerated during my massage. Remember, your body is constantly producing metabolites. That’s life. My massage unclogged congested areas and accelerated throughput. But the massage did not remove anything.

Depending upon the toxin that has been introduced; the time it takes to be removed from your body is relative to its metabolization rate, not lymphatic throughput rate. That means, getting a massage will not decrease the amount of time it takes to recover from a hangover. Nor will it make you drunk, all over again. What it will do is make you sick. Due to pulmonary & lymphatic acceleration, all the sugar molecules that your brain produced burning up the alcohol, are now coursing through your system resulting in the worst hangover ever. However, once it is over – you will be cleaner.

No! Lies! Stop! We can do this without introducing Massage Post Traumatic Stress. Think of the last baby tooth you pulled. Think about how much it hurt to fuss with it. Think about how you couldn’t seem to stop fussing with it until you pulled it free in a moment of beautiful agony ( or would that be horrible relief? ). Either way, your brain gave you permission to mess with that tooth. It allowed some pain, because it knew the prize would be no pain. Similarly, we want to find that level of intensity that your brain allows. If your subconscious believes in the work, you will not suffer an inflammatory response. And amazing changes can be made without you having to suffer the pain of post massage inflammation. If you can no longer breathe, or are clenching your teeth: Please say something. As a professional massage therapist, I can come at the tissue from another direction. Or a different intensity or tool. That way, you can receive maximum work, without receiving the “Yellow Card” of Inflammation.

Not true! Babies love, love, LOVE massage! Why? Because mom is releasing endorphins. 

The reason for concern is that massage can cause blood pressure fluctuations. During the first trimester, for at risk groups, blood pressure fluctuations could be problematic. 

How Can You Tell If You Can Receive Massage While Pregnant?

Are you active? If yes, then you are probably fine. When you do your workout, or execute errands, etc. you are triggering more and greater blood pressure fluctuations than during most massage. As long as the doctor has not said otherwise, and you are living an active healthy lifestyle, there is no reason to not enjoy the pregnancy discomfort relieving effects of massage.

Let’s say, no. And in 2-4 hours after the massage, when you begin to feel like you are catching a flu you will understand why I push it so heavily.

Massage. Especially Deep tissue massage, can make you feel like you are ill. This is due to the sheer density of your lymphatic fluid currently flowing at up to quadruple its normal rate. This increase in density is caused by released metabolites, that are acidic in nature, and whose quantity alone can confuse the hypothalamus into thinking you’ve caught a bug. 

Water, in abundance for 4-6 hours after massage goes a long way to diffusing the  lymphatic fluid, helping to return it to its normal watery state. For Deep Therapy sessions, movement in addition to water is your “silver bullet” against the “feeling yucky” sensation.

What Is Happening To Me?

My massage dramatically increases your lymphatic flow throughput rate. This effect will last for several hours after your session. Lymphatic movement is the natural and normal way that your body eliminates all the by products of cellular metabolization. My massage unclogs much of the congestion in areas where the movement of lymphatic flow is restricted[2]. This clearing returns huge swathes of tissue to normal lymphatic functionality as it also increases the overall throughput for hours. This is also why is is so important to drink extra water after massage. The phrase “be sure to rehydrate” falls flat when someone is already hydrated (or so they believe). What has to be made clear is that a slight overdose of water is actually what is needed for a limited period of time to help diffuse the now overloaded lymphatic fluid.
Due to myofascial tissue buildup, scar tissue or extremely hard tense muscle tissue; the lack of oxygenated blood can cause pain, cramps and parathesis[3]. Muscles that get “worked out“, but then “go to the office” and sit in what is called an inhibited state (shortened and not flexed) for hours, restrict their ability to traffic the oxygenated blood. Especially when and where needed. Making continued workouts more painful. Recovery time is more painful. Long term ability to move is more painful. Fortunately it does not have to remain that way. By aggressively addressing the stiffened muscle fibers; a pain free fuller range of motion is almost immediately realized.
Myofascial tissue (or the fascia) is literally everywhere throughout your body (if I’ve not made that abundantly clear already). Modern medical science is only now gaining deeper understandings of this recently identified new organ of the body[4]. This tissue serves an array of purposes and behaves differently depending upon where it is located in the body, and what is needed from it. It is constantly growing and changing to suit your body and what your body is doing. Of course, most of us are doing our bodies a disservice when we sit at a desk for hours. Or sit on a couch for hours. Or drive a vehicle for hours. My massages will change your fascia. It will release adhesions and break bonds between fascial groups and even tissue types. It will warm and allow muscle, tendons, ligaments and bones to return to a more natural position and state. It will promote the actual reduction in the amount of fascial buildup (overtime) [5].

Some of the most significant tissue related massage changes are happening to the myofascial tissue.  Here are some common locations and what is actually changing:

Often, this area is protruding, thick and firm. The fascia has developed to support a head forward computer posture. The splenius cervicus muscle, responsible for holding your head up, while it is jutted out over your central line of gravity becomes chronically fatigued. This fatigue triggers myofascial buildup, like a concrete support structure to help you continue opposing gravity. It also leads to head aches and parathesis (numbness/tingling) in the arms & fingers.

Over time, deep therapy massage is proven to reduce the accumulation and overall amount of myofascial blocking. The result is a significant reduction, and elimination of the pain and numbness in the arms, forearms and even fingers.

To be clear: Not between the shoulder blades. But between the rib cage and each of your scapula. The fascia there, is thin and smooth like a satin sheet. Its purpose is to provide a friction free surface for multiple moving systems to interact, independent of one another. Due to injury or chronic postural problems, the fascia can literally form adhesions between the intercostal muscles and bone of the ribs, to the subscapularis muscle of the scapula. These adhesions can limit and immobilize shoulder movement. My massage can not only free those adhesions, it will stimulate and help disperse the hyaluronic acid these fascial tissues are supposed to be producing in order to keep themselves lubricated and interacting smoothly.

The medical name of the superficial layer of tissue at the low back, is literally Thoracolumbar Fascia. It appears as a white diamond in any pictures you may have seen. Under this layer, and merging into, so many of your back muscles interweave. Yet, when the fascia becomes stiff and thick: The ability to lean and twist becomes painful if not impossible to do. 

By warming the tissue, and aggressively massaging the area, this fascia can be returned to its flexible, pliable yet tough original state.  Massage in this area often relieves symptoms associated with sciatica.

In just these few examples, we can easily illustrate how depending upon how the body needs it, in that particular location, is how the fascia manifests. 

It is malleable in how it forms and the function it serves. 

Massage exploits that malleability in order to ensure the body has the fullest and freest range of strong motion available.