How Does Massage Actually Work?

Everyone knows massage feels good and if you’ve had one after you’ve exhausted yourself running or cycling, you know how much better your muscles work afterwards. Athletes, performers, city workers and countless clients at West London Physiotherapy have felt the benefits of my massage, but how many people know how a massage actually works?

Massage increases blood flow to the targeted muscles, speeding up the delivery of the nutrients they need to function properly while disposing of metabolic waste that can cause pain and delay recovery. If you don’t move around much during the day then blood flow is naturally reduced, so massage is a great way of getting everything pumping again.

Repetitive use in a stationary position (such as sitting at a desk all day) can cause muscle fibres to become stuck together, known as an adhesion. These adhesions restrict movement and if untreated can lead to whole muscles becoming hypertonic and eventually painful. A precise massage can work on the problem tissue, lengthening it and breaking down the adhesions until a normal range of movement can be restored.

Imagine your muscles as a system of ropes and pulleys across your skeleton. Usually everything moves smoothly, but if one of those ropes was too short or too weak it would stretch or even snap. The same can happen to your muscles if they’re not moving properly, so massage isn’t just for treating injured tissue but for preventing injury as well by keeping all your ‘ropes’ moving fluidly and at the right strength and length.

If you’re a dedicated athlete, massage can be essential for speeding up recovery from muscle fatigue, letting you get back to your sport quicker without resorting to painkillers or anti-inflammatories.

During a massage I use oil sparingly so I can maintain a good grip, then I feel around the problem area to identify tissues that are stiff. As I am treating specific issues I will often concentrate on only one part of the body per treatment. I use deep tissue massage and a variety of techniques which may involve moving the client’s position in order to stretch, contract or access muscles that can only be reached from certain angles.

A neuromuscular technique popular with my clients is trigger point release, where I find specific points of discomfort and hold down until I feel the muscle release underneath. This helps to loosen tight muscles, restore circulation and reduce specific areas of nerve over-excitation.

I not only look at the muscle or area where pain is present, I also look at the relating structures and pain referral areas. I aim to rebalance the muscle groups and work along specific chains of muscle movement. So if you come in with wrist pain I may also treat your neck and if you have tight calves I might also treat your lower back.

At West London Physiotherapy, I’m often brought in to see a client later in their recovery to work on muscles that have tightened through compensatory patterns and new issues brought up in reaction to their recovery, such someone who has been on crutches for weeks and then developed upper body pain tightness. By loosening and relaxing problem tissues my work goes hand in hand with the physiotherapist’s, helping to rehabilitate the person holistically.

Despite sports massage being a deep tissue treatment, it can also prove relaxing and calming on the mind and soothing to the body, easing your aches and pains. I hope that the whole experience will leave you feeling in a physically and psychologically improved state and ready for whatever your next challenge may be.


 Sophie Weeks 

 Personal trainer and massage therapist.

 For any other questions regarding this topic please do not hesitate to contact West London Physio on 0207 937 1628 or email