I've been planning on writing on this subject for some time now, but Robb Wolf just mentioned it on his podcast and I figured I should strike while the iron is still hot.
So, massage. Body work. Whatever you want to call it. Is it a good idea? Should you do it?
Short answer: YES.
Before that, a tangent based on the question in Robb's podcast. Is massage paleo?
A) Who cares.
B) Let me answer your question with a question: Is Batman paleo?
Hah hah - of course Batman isn't paleo... right?
I dunno. Batman is a deeply archetypal character who's identity is deeply animistic and elemental. That sounds like an evolution of some ancient hero mythology to me. Do you really think our caveman ancestors didn't figure out that rubbing a tight/sore muscle made it feel better? I bet it didn't take too long afterwards for one of those caveman to perform the very first "shoulder rub" maneuver on his favorite cavegirl. And, once that proved successful, I bet it took about .03 seconds for somecaveone to decide that making a close study of massage might be a good idea.
And now, many many years later, we get to reap the benefits of all that progress. Lucky us.
Okay, so massage feels great, I think we all know that. But are there real benefits? Opinions vary, but I'm a big believer. This is based on the fact that I've been getting regular body work now for a couple of months and it's made me feel much much better.
I am not an expert on massage therapy, so I'm not the best authority to speak on all the stuff that happens, but here's the short simple version: Something happens to gum up the optimal workings of your muscular system. A muscle tightens up in response. And then, because your muscles/fascia are basically a big system of rubber bands and pulleys, lots of other things can get thrown out of wack as well. Getting someone who knows what they're doing to release the tension in the right spot can trigger a systemic resetting. In short, it feels nice and helps you move better with less pain/tightness/tension, etc.
It also helps flush out your body. This is often oversimplified as "removing toxins," which I think is a bit of a misnomer. What's happening is massage helps flush interstitial fluid into the lymphatic system. This fluid contains the intracellular waste that is produced by normal cellular functions. If things are tight and tense, this flushing process might not be working super well and a good deep tissue massage acts like wringing out an old moldy washcloth.
Which leads me to a word of caution. If you haven't had body work before and decide to go get a massage, drink lots of water afterwards. Your lymphatic system is going to be processing more waste than usual and the extra water will help. I thought I drank enough after my first massage but the next day my lymph nodes were all swollen and I felt pretty bad. It went away in a few hours (after I drank a lot more water) and the subsequent massages have been fine.
So, massages are great and do great things. But don't expect them to be a silver bullet. You should probably seek to identify the underlying cause of your issues. Maybe it's physical - poor posture, poor gait, etc. Maybe it's lifestyle - job stress, too much sitting, etc. Fixing these issues might prove to be really difficult, but make the effort - it's the only viable long term solution.
If you're looking to get some body work done what kind is best? Of course, it depends. I'm a fan of any kind of deep tissue work. Lots of people love Rolfing. The important thing is to find a person you like working with who you can see regularly.
If you're in the Triangle area of North Carolina, I highly recommend Matthew Steere, the guy I've been seeing for a few months now. You can get ahold of him via email [msteere09 (at) gmail (dot) com]