New Strings to the [el]Bow

by Morganne Blair, Sports & Remedial Massage Therapist with Bristol Massage Therapy

“How are you doing today?”

A fairly safe bet as a welcoming question, particularly as a therapist asking our clients at the start of an appointment! But it can be quite a loaded question … or rather then answer can be.

9 times out of 10 a client has booked an appointment because of pain – from sleeping awkwardly, picking up a strain whilst running or lifting a box that was much heavier than it looked! So, what do we want to do? Reduce that pain so that ‘normal’ service can resume!

All Soft Tissue therapists are working with your autonomic nervous system: The System responsible for your fight or flight, and rest & digest responses, and depending on the style of massage, we can either stimulate or calm it.

All of the Bristol Massage Therapy team, and indeed all massage practitioners, have an obligation to undertake Continuing Professional Development throughout our careers, to increase our education, and so to help our treatments work more effectively.

This year I decided to add three more modalities to my Sports & Remedial Therapeutic “tool box” to enhance the soft tissue work that I already practice. They are all “add ons” to treatment, working in conjunction with soft tissue work, and they are showing great results.

Kinesiology Taping (or “K” Taping)

This is the very bright and very fetching sticky tape, seen on many athletes in competition as well as at Park Runs. First off, the colour of the tape has no real purpose. Simply put it is a brilliant talking point and there to draw attention, so you can pretty much choose a colour that you like – be it black, blue, pink (ever the Scot, I also have a fetching Tartan pattern!).

Depending on how the tape is placed, it has a host of aims. The simplest form is pain suppressing – what everyone wants at some point; we can inhibit or activate muscles, help in lymphatic drainage and use as correctional techniques.

The original idea of K tape is to “facilitate the body’s natural healing process while allowing support and stability to muscles and joints without restricting the body’s range of motion.” Keeping the injured area feeling safe whilst not completely immobilising it. [There is another form of Tape – Sports Taping – which can be used to immobilise muscles and which is being used more in sporting events at the point of initial injury. This is NOT something that I have undertaken training in … yet].

K tape works with some of the nerve endings in the skin, helping to decrease pressure on pain receptors, whilst engaging with motor neurones. We are wanting to ‘normalise’ the tissue and muscle function whilst still enabling the full range of movement.

K tape will be placed at the end of session as more of a “home care” tool, as it can retain its effectiveness for about 3-5 days depending on the application, so that it can help provide longer term treatment effects.

Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilisation (IASTM)

If you have received IASTM before, you will know that the tools can look a bit odd, with my particular tools possibly being mistaken for knuckle dusters … Although obviously not used for this purpose!

We use the blades to “scrape” the tissue to help improve movement in the tissue layers, working with the functionality, increasing proprioception and recovery, and again to reduce pain.

The idea behind IASTM as a technique is to work with your sensory system to improve your motor output – i.e. make you move better! Here we are wanting to work with the fascial level more than the actual muscles due to much higher levels of sensory receptors in the fascia. The tool can also be used for different purposes in treatment; reducing pain, inhibiting or activating muscles, improve tissue slide and to reduce swelling.

Medical Acupuncture

Although the name is there, this is very different from Traditional Chinese Acupuncture. Those practitioners undertake over 5 years training and use a considerable number of techniques that Medical Acupuncture just does not include. In Medical Acupuncture, needles are inserted and we follow a ‘Western’ ethos of approved anatomy and physiology - you won’t hear me talking about ‘meridians’ in relation to my work here.

Again, the main aim of Medical Acupuncture is to reduce pain – trying to release Trigger Points and the referred pain they can induce. The needles can do this on different levels via different pathways. Working in the localised area to increase vasodilation (dilation of the blood vessels) therefore decreasing pressure on the pain receptors, working segmentally to suppress the pain signal further up the nervous system, and to the central nervous system modulating the analgesia.

More Strings to my [el]Bow

As you have read all these techniques have a primary aim in common – to reduce the pain clients are in when the come for an appointment. They can be used solely, or all in conjunction, & at different times – depending on what the treatment plan we have agreed is. But that is THE most important aspect … not every client will need or want to experience these techniques. All treatment plans, including these additional elements, are discussed and agreed before I whip out my needles or tape!

These techniques are constantly evolving and as more research is being done, as with all modalities of massage, we will learn more of the effect they have. However, I can say with confidence that since I have added these strings to my bow, I have seen marked responses and good results using this trifecta of tools … in addition to my own hands and elbows too of course!

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash