There are many reports of feeling post-massage soreness a day or two after a regular Swedish Massage session. This is more pronounced when deeper tissues are accessed with stronger/heavier pressure. The interesting thing is that Thai Massage rarely induces this feeling. Why is this the case?
What is Post-Massage Soreness and Malaise (PMSM)?
Have you heard of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) before? You typically experience DOMS 24-72 hours after performing either an uncharacteristically intense workout of some kind, or you begin a new movement activity that your body isn’t used to. It’s characterised by localized pain and muscle weakness.
Interestingly (and a little tangentially for this post), DOMS is not very well understood from a pathophysiological standpoint. There are theories about that inflammation causes the pain, yet there is even stronger evidence to suggest the opposite (Inflammation actually goes up in repeated bouts of the same exercise, yet pain or DOMS goes down… possibly even suggesting that inflammation mediates some other process in the muscles that cause DOMS. Reference: “Skeletal Muscle Inflammation Following Repeated Bouts of Lengthening Contractions in Humans“).
One thing that most researchers agree on is that when we experience DOMS, we have a physical disruption of the muscle cells. In other words, a little muscle damage. Some also believe this damage to be the cause of the pain, yet the evidence actually suggests that the pain is more associated with the healing process rather than the damage itself. (Reference: “Evidence for myofibril remodeling as opposed to myofibril damage in human muscles with DOMS..“).
Back to PMSM…
Post-Massage Soreness and Malaise is considered to be related in both etiology (cause) and physiology (structure/function) to DOMS. It’s caused by the physical disruption of the muscle fibers, which the body ultimately heals through complex mechanisms. As a result, we can feel sore and tired for a day or so after oil-based massage.
How does Thai massage avoid this?
Amongst the many differences between Thai Massage and Swedish (or oil based) Massage is the use of sinking pressure versus gliding pressure. In oil-based massages, you are essentially pushing fluid (interstitial fluid, blood, lymph) through the tissues at an accelerated rate. By doing this you essentially create a “high pressure system”, and this increase pressure and pace of movement of fluid, leads to disruption of the muscle and connective tissues.
With Thai Massage (and when I say this, I’m referring to Navina™ Thai yoga therapy), you get less of this forced disruption because you are sinking into the tissues rather than pushing fluid over the tissues. It certainly does create a pressure system that causes fluid to move, but because we often don’t move with the pressure applied, the fluids aren’t pushed through at a high speed. This leads to less disruption to muscle cells and therefore less DOMS-like pain.
This is not to say that one is better than the other – each form of massage has it’s own unique assets and therapeutic application. It just so happens that you’re less likely to be sore after a Thai Massage (when done properly) than you are with oil-based massages.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like: “When Joints Crack In Thai Massage – Is It Okay?” and “One Of Our Magic Tricks In Thai Massage – Making You Relax“.