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!



Inspiration for the “Muscle of the Month”

I created the “Muscle of the Month” because I think it is important to know the names of major muscles and muscle groups.  The more you know about your body, the better equipped you are to take proper care of it.  This knowledge will make it easier for you to figure out what might be going wrong within your musculoskeletal system and, more importantly, give you the vocabulary and information to have more useful and informative conversations with your doctor and others in your health care team.

As usual, I’m going to chirp in a little disclaimer here: I’m talking about bones and muscles, the basic building blocks of the body’s physical structure.  There is a lot more to the body than muscles and bones; the musculoskeletal system is only one of many systems of the body.  The digestive system and immune system might be a couple of others that you’ve heard of before.  But I am a massage therapist, so I look through that lens.  Just as a surgeon comes to a consult wearing surgery goggles, I’m wearing massage goggles.  There is nothing wrong with either.  We use a completely different set of tools to approach and solve problems concerning the human body.  I think it is important to have these different views with any problem concerning the body.  My point is, I’m a muscle person, ask me about muscles, but don’t take it for gospel.  I don’t diagnose, my educational background is nothing compared to your doctors’.

In addition to the names of muscles, I want to share what they do, how they move your body and what can go wrong.  My hope is to bring awareness to how easy it is to take care of your muscles, and also bring some awareness to the remarkable amount of work that it takes to keep the human body alive and moving.  Perhaps you will want to take better care of your body if you appreciate the trouble it goes through everyday to keep you moving!

The most important thing you need to know about your body:  The human body was built to move!  Our muscles and bones create the structure which holds everything in, and moves everything around.  So… our musculoskeletal structure was designed with mobility and durability in mind!  Therefore, your body will be at its best if you are using it.  A lot of problems that occur within the muscles arrive because of lack of movement, staying in the same position for a long period of time, or only doing a small number of movements all the time.  A simple way to avoid pain is to move frequently, and put yourself in positions opposite to the norm.  For example: if you sit at a desk all day, get up and move every hour or so; walk, lay on the ground, put your arms behind you instead of in front of you.  Why? You ask…  Your body is smart.  It pays attention to the positions you stay in, and tries to make things easier on you by locking muscles in those positions.  If you sit at a desk all day, muscles in your chest (pectoralis major), abdomen (rectus abdominus), and hips (psoas) all contract, and stay in a shortened position even after you move; because locking in a shortened (contracted) position conserves energy.

Constant communication between your muscles and your brain orchestrate the most intricate to the most robust movement without you putting any conscious thought into it.  Just like you don’t consciously have the thought, “okay breathe in: that means you diaphragm, internal and external intercostals, pectoralis minor, and you too serratus posterior superior!  Breathe in!”  (yes, those are all real names of real breathing muscles used in inhalation)  It is a fairly miraculous thing that the brain and spinal nerves are such amazing multi-taskers.  Since we have no clue just how much communication is happening in the background to keep us alive and moving, it is not surprising that we take for granted the masterpiece that is the human body.

I’d like to share my appreciation of this marvel with you in the hopes that you will pat yourself on the back a little more often just for doing a great job of breathing!  And maybe, just maybe, you will feel inspired to take better care of this one and only, absolutely amazing body that you have been gifted!

Myofascial Therapy 101

What is this “Myofascial Release” you speak of?

Perhaps your doctor or physical therapist recently mentioned that you should consider getting “myofascial release.”  Your physical therapist may have incorporated myofascial release into your treatment, but you are still left wondering, “what in the world are you people talking about?  What is a myo-facial anyway?”

I believe that information is an important component to your health and well-being, so I’m going to do my very best to explain to you the myofascial phenomenon.

I have to admit, I generally don’t like health fads.  Just because there’s hype around it doesn’t make it fabulous or appropriate for everyone, but in this case, I am thrilled that more people are talking about and suggesting myofascial release.  It is a super effective treatment for pain relief and injury prevention.  If you’ve looked at my website at all, you’ll know…that’s kind of my gig!  Okay, back to the point…

First things first: definitions!

Myo refers to Muscle:

(perhaps you’ve heard your favorite hunk on Grey’s Anatomy sling out the long phrase “myocardial infarction” to explain to another doctor that the patient had a heart attack… well “myocardial” means heart muscle)

Fascial refers to a thin layer of tissue that wraps all muscles and organs in the body like plastic wrap:

(ever notice that thin translucent layer on raw chicken breast; that’s fascia)  This thin layer plays some important roles in your body.  It helps the different layers of tissue move around each other smoothly.

If you look at a cross section of the arm, this is the order in which you would see the components that make up that arm.  Your skin is the top layer: it contains and protects your internal organs, muscles, blood vessels, etc.

Under your skin is a layer of fat (called adipose tissue), which stores energy and provides a little bit of cushion

Under that is your muscle.  There are usually multiple layers of muscles laying this way and that.  Your muscles contract (get shorter) and pull on your bones to create movement throughout your body.

Next layer after your muscle is bone, and then muscle, adipose tissue, and skin.

If you were able to follow along there, you’re probably thinking, “ok great, fascia covers the muscles so that they can glide back and forth while I move my bones around.  So what’s the problem?”

You may not be aware, but your body is busy taking care of itself all day, every day.  While we clumsily stumble through life, our body is patching and repairing the damage.  This beautiful self-help kit is awesome, but sometimes the patches (scar tissue) that the body lays down on connective tissue, muscle, and fascia start to get a little sticky.  Then we inevitably don’t drink enough water, and our fascia gets dehydrated, and no longer has that great smooth glide to it.  All of sudden we start waking up feeling a little creaky.  You might think to yourself, “oh, I must be getting old.”  Don’t ever say that to yourself again!  Why?  Because age is not a disease!  And now you have the knowledge to say, “oh darn my sticky fascia!  I will drink more water today, and stretch.”

Now you are familiar with what “myofascial” is, and a couple of reasons why it might need to be “released.”  But if all you need to do to take care of your fascia is drink water, stretch and move your body, then why would you need a physical therapist’s or massage therapist’s expertise to help with that?

If you haven’t caught on by now, I’m here to answer just that!

When pain and movement dysfunction goes beyond the point of “feeling a little creaky” to “wow I can’t move my arm!” you might want to find someone to help you get out of pain and muscle dysfunction.  Myofascial Release is a very effective massage technique that moves the fascia away from surrounding muscle, connective tissue, and adipose tissue to free up the fascia from scar tissue and adhesions, and allows for more freedom of movement.


Congratulations!  You made it through Myofascial Release 101 (Marly’s perspective), and are now able to make more informed decisions about what your body needs!  Doesn’t that feel good!?

Myofascial Release Resources

Here’s a really great video that further explains myofascial adhesions:  Gil Hedley: Fascia and stretching: the Fuzz speech

My Useful Information page has a longer list of ailments that can be helped using myofascial release techniques.