Can Massage Be an Alternative to Surgery?

When you think of the word “massage”, a luxury spa day may be the first thing that comes to mind. But did you know that massages actually are not just a “spa day” treat? There are medical massages that can offer true medical and rehabilitative support. This becomes most important when thinking about treatment options for various injuries.

Athletes and those who work out often cause wear and tear on their bodies. Common examples include pitchers or quarterbacks who may have damaged their shoulders; or those who did a lot of agility and may have inflammation in their knee. These injuries may be so bad, that you may have to see a physician who recommends surgery. Surgery can be invasive, and may come with complications. 

But what if there were other, non-surgical alternatives to managing these conditions? Can massage be an alternative to surgery? Continue reading to find out more about what a medical massage is, and how it could be used to help in your recovery. 

What is a medical massage? 

A medical massage is form of massage that is designed for treatment of medical conditions. These conditions are diagnosed by a physician, like a primary care physician or an orthopedist. Once you receive the diagnosis, you can work with a licensed massage therapist who will target tissues related to the injury, with the goal of improving function and reducing pain. These sessions usually take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, making them easy to fit into a busy schedule.

Types of massages 

All massages are not the same as there are various types of massages; the one you need will depend on the depth of the injury and the underlying issue.

Swedish message 

This is the most commonly offered massage technique and aims to promote relaxation by releasing the tension that is stored in your muscles. Swedish massage is more gentle than other types, like deep tissue, and may be better for people who want to increase relaxation. If you hold a lot of tension in your lower back, shoulders, or neck (as most of us do), then this type of massage really focuses on relaxing those areas. 

Deep tissue and trigger point therapy 

This type of massage is similar to Swedish, but targets the deeper layers of your muscles. This is the best technique for athletes with injuries and individuals with chronic pain conditions. There are similarities with Swedish massage as far as strokes and movements, but the pressure is so deep that sometimes it can be more painful. This is achieved by a therapist going layer by layer, attempting to reach and stretch those deep tissue layers. 

Trigger points are localized foci of muscle spasm in the tissue that can cause pain in other areas, or referred pain. This means that even though you may feel pain in your knee, the main issue is the muscle on your outer thigh. Trigger points can be caused by overloading the muscle, which is common in athletics with repetitive movements. Trigger point therapy targets these foci, attempting to relieve the tension and promote relief in those referred pain locations. 

Injuries that can be addressed with massage 

If you are dealing with an injury or a chronic pain, you may be wondering can massage be an alternative to surgery for everything? The answer is no, but there are many conditions that can be healed through medical massage. 

A common issue is whiplash. Whiplash is an acceleration deceleration injury common in car accidents and high speed accidents, like two people colliding. They are often the injury that leads to concussions, which are mild traumatic brain injuries. Whiplash affects the entire body, not just the neck, and can have residual effects for years. Pain killers and anti-inflammatory drugs are short-term solutions. But massages can help relieve soreness and pain and increase blood flow to the injured tissues, which decreases inflammation and speeds up healing. 

Another injury that can be addressed through medical massage is a herniated disc. A herniated, or bulging, disc is a condition of the spine where the gelatinous center of the vertebral discs presses on the spinal cord, causing sharp pain and limited mobility. This is caused by aging, increased load on the lumbar spine, or a combination of the two. Although surgery is a treatment technique, massage can be one of the surgery alternatives. Deep tissue massage is the best option for a herniated disc because there is enough pressure to relieve spasms and tension in the deep tissues.  

Last, but certainly not least, sciatica is a common injury that affects anywhere from 10-40% of the population. It is caused by pinching of the sciatic nerve, a long nerve that traverses the back of the leg. When it is pinched by the vertebrae and herniated discs, causing sharp and radiating pain. Massage can improve sciatica by loosening and relaxing muscles in the lower back and the trunk. When they are tight, this can cause tension on the sciatic nerve. Massage can also improve circulation, which increases the movement of oxygen and healing nutrients. This is important for proper muscular healing. Releasing endorphins and stress are two other functions of massages, as endorphins can relieve pain naturally and lowering stress lowers cortisol which can cause systemic retention of stress in the muscles. 

There are various other ways that massage can be an alternative to surgery. It’s important to speak with your physician about your injury and options before engaging in various treatment techniques. And when you are ready, contact us to set up a consultation! 

Sports massage 

A sport massage is a combination of various types of techniques with the goal of improving an athletes maximum performance and physical conditioning. It is individual to each person’s needs, and uses techniques like

  • Swedish style massage 
  • Effleurage (stroking) 
  • Petrissage (kneading)
  • Compression 
  • Friction 
  • Tapotement 
  • Vibration 
  • Gliding 
  • Stretching 
  • Percussion 
  • Trigger points

There are other types of massages, including reflexology, aromatherapy, chair massage, Thai massage, and cupping therapy. So, if you are wondering can massage be an alternative to surgery, the answer is yes, with many options from which to choose. 

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Darian Dozier

Darian Dozier is a 3rd year medical student and the owner of the blog Melanated and Meducated. She is from Kansas City and, when not studying, is interested in writing, hanging with friends, and research.

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“Whether you are a professional athlete or a grandparent trying to keep up with your grandchildren, Armored Massage is here to help people perform their best so that they can do the things they love. “

— Stephen Preyer
Founder and Lead MT of Armored Massage

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