Benefits of Massage: For Firefighters

Why I love working with Firefighters

Body Truing Massage Therapy is all about injury prevention and performance optimization.  Firefighters, and other 1st responders, make up some of my favorite clients because they benefit on so many levels from massage therapy.  There’s a lot of research out there about the benefits of massage.  Most of them are pretty general, focusing on how massage is relaxing and relieves muscle tension.  I’d like to go a little more in depth on how those benefits, and how they apply to someone with a high adrenaline, physically demanding job.

Physiologically, the body of a 1st responder, is taxed more than most individuals.  The consequences are two fold.  As a firefighter you are expected to stay in peak fitness and be ready for anything, but you never know when you’re going to be called into duty.  This set up, waiting to spring into action at any time, is taxing on your body because it requires that you never really relax, even while you wait.  It is impossible to keep your muscles warm and limber when you’re not running from one call to the next.  1) Cold muscles + intense physical activity = injury.    2) More adrenaline, cortisol, and other hormones that keep you alert, are coursing through your veins which makes it impossible for the body to relax, repair, and take care of itself.  This puts your body at risk for injury.

To really understand the benefits of massage for firefighters, we need to break down how the human body works.  1) Why do “cold” muscles create a greater risk of injury?  2) Why does being alert prevent the body from repairing itself?

1) Completely healthy muscle tissue doesn’t necessarily need to be “warmed up” before being used.  Unfortunately, most of us don’t have completely healthy muscle tissue throughout our bodies.  Problems arise when there is already muscle dysfunction and restrictions such as myofascial adhesions and trigger points.  Restrictions within the muscle and fascia inhibit full range of motion which can lead to muscle damage when that tissue is expected to carry a load or reach its full range of motion.  Trigger points affect the strength and length of a muscle resulting in pain and microscopic tears when the muscle is engaged.  The bottom line is: tight muscles and restricted fascia cause pain and injury when the body is required to do hard work.

So what are the benefits of massage, you ask…  There are a plethora of massage techniques to address muscle tension, fascial adhesions, and trigger points (muscle dysfunction).  Myofascial release can break up and dissolve restrictions in the fascia which increases range of motion.  Trigger point therapy targets the specific muscle fibers that ball up as a result of old injuries, pain, adhesions, and poor posture.  Releasing trigger points greatly reduces the risk of injury by allowing blood into the tight muscle fibers and restoring the entire muscle back to its proper length.

2) Being alert and ready for anything is a priority for firefighters.  Your body recognizes the importance of that and therefore makes the necessary accommodations.  That means no multitasking!  The nervous system has two modes of operation: the sympathetic (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic (rest and digest).  It isn’t possible to do both at the same time because the body has a limited amount of resources, and a limited amount of blood to deliver those resources.  Blood is the transporter of oxygen and nutrients throughout the body.  20% of your available blood supply goes to your brain, because without that, nothing works.  The rest is distributed based on need.  In the sympathetic mode (where firefighters live most of the time) blood is directed to the skeletal muscles and the brain so that when the time comes you can act quicker, jump higher, run faster, and lift more.  That means that less blood is given to the digestive system, which slows the synthesis of new energy.  Less focus is given to repairing damaged tissue and rebuilding new tissue so that all hands can be on deck for the next physically demanding task.  Without proper rest, there is no recovery.

Massage activates the parasympathetic mode!  Regular massage helps train the body to relax, and also provides you with extra rest and digest time.  Often times, about half way through a treatment, my client’s stomachs will start grumbling, or they dose off for a bit.  I never accept apologies for such behavior, I simply say, “well, I guess that means I’m doing a good job!”  It doesn’t matter if you talk through the whole massage, your body still goes into a state of relaxation, and that means a state of recovering.

I am in awe of, and full of gratitude for anyone who is willing to put their lives at risk to save others.  It just so happens that I am in a profession that can help those fine individuals take care of themselves.  That is why I love working with firefighters!