Structural integration massage might not be relaxing but it can help loosen up your body.
THERE WAS A TIME when I associated massage with relaxation. I liked the calming music, the low light, the little nap on the massage table.
But lately, my massages include gritted teeth and deep breathing, waiting for the intense, uncomfortable sensations shooting up my forearm or through my shoulder to pass. I telepathically message my therapist: “Please hurry.”
Recurring shoulder pain made me more interested in the role of bodywork for recovery and durability. A physical therapist figured out posture was playing into my shoulder issues. A while back, a trainer recommended massage therapist Sam Hammer for recovery work for anyone who is active.
Hammer does structural integration massage, working on fascia, your body’s connective tissue. The physical therapy has helped, and I was interested to know what else Hammer would see to work on.
Hammer works with active people who like to push, as well as those who are less interested in a crazy sweat every day. With anyone, he assesses movement patterns. If you are active, you’re more likely to notice if something is off because it affects your sport or training, he says. But older folks often need basic movement training for more flexibility to prevent future injury, arthritis or limited range of motion.
I told Hammer about my shoulder history. He did a few assessments, and noticed one of the biggest culprits for me was tightness in my biceps and forearms from — did he say this to a writer? — typing. He noted also that I don’t have a lot of mobility in my mid-back.
He worked first on my forearms and biceps and I quickly learned how tight the tissue there was. (See above reference to clenched teeth.) He also said my fascia was twisted in my shoulder area to face a direction that was not the most optimal for the body. He said my tissue was responsive and healthy, which was a good sign for changing movement patterns. Thank the heavens.
He worked deeply into my shoulder, helping to release the fascia, and also did additional work in my mid-back to lessen the tightness there. Tightness in my mid-back potentially was causing me to over-rely on rotating through my shoulders.
Hammer also specializes in muscle testing, and did a quick test on my feet. I realized I am over-reliant on my toes to flex my feet, and Hammer pointed out tightness in my fascia in my shins. Runners who over pronate out or in on their feet often have tightness in their joints or shins that, once released, can change their movement patterns.
Hammer also gave me an exercise to do at home to release my forearms from tension caused by typing, and another to support twisting from my mid-back.
Almost everyone has an area of movement they could work on, he says. It’s wise for athletes in particular to know about movement patterns before taking on a marathon or lifting heavy weights. But even tightness in your hips if you’re in your 40s or 50s could lead to arthritic hips and hip replacements in 20 years, he says.
Some people get work done regularly, while others can work through their issues in a few sessions, Hammer says.
Hammer’s assessments deepened my respect for how complicated the body is, and how awesome it is to go to someone who knows way more than I do. It was fascinating to feel changes in my shoulders and arms with one session. My goal always is to keep my body healthy and durable while staying active, and this type of work and physical recovery is right in line with that.