If you’ve ever had any kind of injury and sought help from a manual therapist, chances are they’ve given you some degree of movement “homework”. Why do they give us work to do when we’re paying them to do their job and make us better? Shouldn’t a few treatments be enough to heal me? Unfortunately not.
Good therapists aim to not only resolve present issues but also establish strength and mobility in an effort to reduce the likelihood any of these issues will occur in the future. On top of that, one of the biggest misconceptions of massage/manual therapists is that we’re “fixers”. We’re not. A much more accurate term for our role in the healing process is “facilitators“. We have an understanding of the body that allows us to interpret a map of tension and imbalances within the tissues that can either result from injury or result in injury.
We can also begin to aid in unlocking mobility and range of movement that is otherwise inhibited through tension/injury/poor posture. Our role in the long-term effects of treatment is limited for a number of reasons. First and foremost, there is only so much work that we can do in the space of one/two hours every couple of weeks.
More than that though, the age old concept that we so often associate with strength and endurance also refers to mobility:
“Use it or lose it”
Essentially, how can we expect to maintain the range of motion that our therapist helps to unlock if we don’t regularly move through that range? Continuing to use your new-found range of motion not only prolongs the benefits of the massage treatment, it also has the power to reduce chronic pains and improve joint stability.
Why is this the case?
The changes we see immediately after a treatment are largely the result of short-term neural changes. This means that instead of actually changing the length of your connective tissues, we’re actually reminding your body that it can safely and comfortably move through a larger range without any negative symptoms.
This means that in these initial stages, any changes to our mobility are quite easily reversible. The good news is that with continued and consistent exploration of new movement, these changes will gradually become more permanent. That’s not to say that after a certain time we can stop performing these actions…our level of mobility is continually adapting to our habitual movements.
So whilst it may seem like your therapists just want to palm their work off onto you, what we’re really doing is attempting to create long-term and lasting pain relief. It can certainly take some time to integrate new movement patterns into a daily routine, but it’s well worth the effort. As therapists our job is to empower you to take your health by the reins and understand that the daily role we each play in our overall well-being is much more profound than a one-off massage treatment.
The therapeutic work starts in the clinic, where we can offer any number of tools within our professional toolbelt. And after reading this hopefully it continues outside our “office”.