Orthopedic Massage in a Nutshell

Orthopedic Massage Therapy (OMT) is a bodywork modality that aims to restore balance to the body’s soft tissues. It is condition-specific, with protocols uniquely tailored to treat a variety of pain and stress conditions, including carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic low back pain, anxiety, and insomnia.

Orthopedic Massage Therapy treats the source of pain, not just symptoms. When you come in for a session, we’ll spend time trying to understand why you’re experiencing discomfort in specific areas. Is your low back pain related to the fact that you sit all day and your pelvis is tipped forward? Does the outside of your knee hurt because the fascia along the outside of your hip is too tight? Are your fingers falling asleep because your neck and chest are tense? In most cases, orthopedic massage is about returning the body to a position in which it can function more effectively, with greater ease. It’s about facilitating the healing process, not forcing it. Balance is key. Imagine balancing the tip of a long yard stick on the palm of your hand. That’s how the head should float over the shoulders. That’s the kind of balance that orthopedic massage therapy aims to create.


Why am I so tight?

Fascia can become thick and tight as a result of inactivity, improper conditioning, injury, and/or poor nutrition.

What's wrong with tight soft tissue?

Tight soft tissue compresses nerves, weakening the signal between the brain and muscle. Nerve deficiency translates into muscle weakness, joint pain, numbness, and tingling–which is often a precursor to injury. Tight soft tissue also reduces circulation. Without proper circulation, blood and lymph can’t properly nourish soft tissue. Toxins build up, causing increased inflammation. In response to inflammation, the body produces excess collagen in the form of scar tissue. Scar tissue causes greater restriction, further tightening the fascia.

What exactly is fascia?

Myofascial release specialist John Barnes describes fascia as, “…a specialized system of the body that has an appearance similar to a spider’s web or a sweater. Fascia is very densely woven, covering and interpenetrating every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein, as well as, all of our internal organs including the heart, lungs, brain and spinal cord. The most interesting aspect of the fascial system is that it is not just a system of separate coverings. It is actually one continuous structure that exists from head to toe without interruption. In this way you can begin to see that each part of the entire body is connected to every other part by the fascia, like the yarn in a sweater.”

For more information about fascia, check out this great video by the eccentric anatomist Gil Hedley:

What does healthy soft tissue feel like?

Many people say that healthy fascia feels like salt water taffy. It is pliable and has some bounce.

How does orthopedic massage improve soft tissue health?

Physiologically, orthopedic massage improves soft tissue health by initiating change in myofascial meridians by relaxing muscles, releasing trigger points, changing the sol/gel chemistry of ground substance, lengthening collagen fibers, and resetting muscle spindles and Golgi tendon organs. Massage also supports the parasympathetic nervous system (the opposite of the fight flight response), which promotes relaxation and digestion.

What kind of techniques do you use?

I trained in and regularly use myofascial release, neuromuscular therapy, trigger point therapy, and scar tissue release.

What kind of conditions respond to orthopedic massage therapy?

Common conditions indicated for soft tissue manipulation include: back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic sinus infections, frozen shoulder, anxiety, depression, fibromyalgia, tennis elbow, IT band syndrome, joint pain, migraine and chronic headaches, plantar fasciitis, rotator cuff injury, spinal disorders, sciatica, sprains and strains, tendinitis, TMJ dysfunction, whiplash, and more.

Anxiety and depression aren't soft-tissue conditions, so how can orthopedic massage be helpful?

Anxiety, along with depression, has a strong bodily component. Research shows that a slumped, inwardly-collapsed posture can actually trigger and exacerbate depression. “We tend to think the brain and body relationship goes one way. In fact, the passages go both ways,” says Erik Peper, a professor of health education at San Francisco State University “When you choose to put your body in a different mode, it’s harder to drop into depression.” The same holds true with anxiety, which is also hugely helped by the calming effect that massage has on the body’s parasympathetic nervous system.

How do I know if I need orthopedic massage?

Physical therapist and trainer Ming Chew says, “The quality of your fascia determines the age of your body. I always remind my patients that fascial hygiene is just as important as dental hygiene. The dentist sends you reminders to get your teeth cleaned, but has anyone ever sent you an alert about your fascia? Hardly, because the fascia is the least understood.” If you’ve made it this far in the FAQs, you already know quite a bit about fascia. It’s up to you to decide whether you would benefit from orthopedic massage.

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Hurts so good!

For my clients who don't mind a little intensity, I heartily recommend the RAD Roller. I use it to keep my upper back and shoulders tuned up. It also works pretty well on quads and tight forearms.

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