We All Need a Massage - Especially Musicians!

Updated: May 4

Are you a musician? Have you ever thought of yourself as an upper body athlete?

Musicians use their muscles with an intensity that is comparable to athletes - such as dancers. Unfortunately, unlike athletes, most musicians are less likely to learn how to prevent injuries caused by incorrect musical techniques, improper form, or injuries from overuse. (1)

Research studies from the New England Journal of Medicine and Medical Problems of Performing Artists have concluded that the majority of musicians, at some point in their careers, will suffer from debilitating injuries. (1,2,3)

This leads us to believe regular preventative care is paramount to ensure that musicians reduce any chronically tense muscles to prevent future injury, and to restore the structural integrity of their bodies. (4)

Using Massage to Reduce Cortisol Levels

When it comes to preventing injuries and repairing tissue damage "Cortisol" is a topic we need to discuss!

The hormone Cortisol is both good and bad, just the right amount and you can decrease inflammation, too much, and the healing process slows right down.

First let us consider some research about cortisol levels and how they relate to massage therapy.

Dr. Tiffany Field 2005 (The Touch Research Institute in Miami, Florida***6) examined urine from two groups of people.

  • The first group received massage.

  • The second did not receive massage.

Tests revealed that the urine taken from the massage group, showed that after a massage

  • Cortisol levels were reduced by 31% on average.

  • In addition, on average their serotonin levels increase by 28% and dopamine levels increased by 31%.

Cortisol: A balanced level of the hormone cortisol helps to regulate metabolism (cortisol maintains blood glucose levels), reduces inflammation, and even assists with memory. Problems arise when cortisol levels increase under conditions of physical or mental stress. High levels of cortisol over a period of time increases inflammation. lowers your immune function, makes you gain weight, increases blood pressure, and even lowers your bone density. (8, 9)

Serotonin: A neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep, mood, appetite, digestion, memory, and sexual function. ***10

Dopamine: Another neurotransmitter that helps to regulate movement, attention, learning, and emotional responses. Dopamine contributes to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. (11)

Now that we have established that massage can have a positive effect on hormone levels (cortisol, serotonin, and dopamine). Let's talk a little about why your nervous system keeps triggering the release of of these hormones.

Your nervous system is divided into the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The Autonomic Nervous System - ANS is part of the peripheral nervous system, and is responsible for control of the bodily functions that are not consciously directed such as: respiratory rate, heartbeat, digestion, hormonal regulation, and many other functions.

The ANS is divided into sympathetic and parasympathetic branches.

From an evolutionary perspective stress and relaxation responses are hardwired into these systems. You have probably heard of the flight or fight response - this is when your sympathetic nervous system kicks into overdrive.

It is a great system if you are trying to outrun a lion on the plains of Africa. The problem is that continual physical or mental stress can also keep this fight-or-flight system turned ON, even when there is no longer any danger present. This is where massage comes in.

After a massage, in addition to the hormonal changes mentioned, the autonomic nervous system reduces the heart rate and breathing becomes more regulated. These changes result in a state of relaxation that can help reduce anxiety, depression, and tension caused by acute and chronic stress or performance anxiety.

The Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.org) points out other health benefits of massage such as maintaining a stable blood pressure and relieving stiffness and pain. This research was first reported in the New York Times, then published in the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine from a 2010 study. (6,7)

Using Massage to Reduce Tissue Tension

I am sure that, as a musician, you are well aware of the knots (adhesions/trigger points) at the top of your shoulders (trapezius), neck, forearms, wrists and hands.

This happens when your soft-tissue, fascia, and muscles are overused, over-loaded, lack key nutrients, or suffer from poor circulation (ischemia). This results in the formation of trigger points and tight areas in your neck, back, shoulders, forearms, elbows and hands.

Dr's Travell and Simons defines a trigger point (myofascial trigger point) as a "hyperirritable spot in a skeletal muscle". A trigger point is painful on compression, in addition it gives rise to characteristic referred pain, referred tenderness, and motor dysfunction. (12)

These eventually lead to decreased range-of-motion in a joint, peripheral nerve compression, increased restrictions, decreased circulation and pain. All of which can have a substantial effect on your musical performance.

A combination of Massage, Motion Specific Release, and joint mobilization can help to release these restrictions and often make substantial changes within a short period of time. Releasing these restrictions will also help you become more aware of your body’s needs, prevent future injuries, and increase overall well-being.

Massage Can Make All The Difference!

A tight restricted area is an injury waiting to happen. Massage can restore myofascial health in all areas of your body and help you get back to playing at your best.

Music is all about following your passion. We are very passionate about the work we do at Kinetic Health. Let's work together so you can reach your optimum level of performance while at the same time reducing the possibility of future injuries.

I look forward to seeing you at the clinic, and your next performance!

Patricia Milburn-Barile

About the Author

Patricia Milburn-Barile works as a registered massage therapist at Kinetic Health.

She has been in practice for over twenty years and specializes in deep tissue therapy and resolving sports and repetitive strain injuries, headaches, neck pain, low back pain, sciatica, arthritis, fibromyalgia, TMJ Syndrome, motor vehicle accident injuries, and soft-tissue dysfunction an joint pain. She also has a great love for the performing arts and music!

If you are experiencing any of the above or know of someone who is then call Kinetic Health (403-241-3442) to book a massage therapy session with our experienced professionals.