“falling somewhere between massage and osteopathy this treatment is ideal if you lead a stressful life and feel tight and tired” Gowri Rao, the Scotsman magazine,
Clenching is a learned behaviour
Recent research has shown that the majority of muscle tightness is caused by habitual clenching. There are a few causes of this clenching. There may be an underlying pain syndrome that has created a reflex in the surrounding muscles causing them to go into spasm. This is only really relevant in acute episodes of pain lasting a few weeks or less. Once the pain has recovered the muscle spasm normally returns to its original state. However, if the pain syndrome lasts for longer than a few weeks the muscles in spasm may become programmed to be in spasm and once the pain has gone the muscles remain in spasm. They have essentially learned to be in spasm. If they learn well enough they can remain in spasm indefinitely. The control mechanism that regulates muscle contraction views this new state of increased tension as normal. In a similar way that muscles learn to perform any task, say playing the piano or driving a car, if the task is repeated enough times then the muscles memorise the task and can perform the task almost instinctively. Experienced drivers or pianists don’t really need to think about how they are doing the movements with their feet or fingers because the muscles have learned the required movements and can perform them without much conscious effort.
What teaches the muscles to be tense?
There are other mechanisms in which the body will teach increased tension to muscle groups. Tension in muscles caused by prolonged static postures, or repetitive tasks that require a certain muscle group to be clenched for prolonged periods can, if performed for long enough or enough times, have the same effect on the muscle groups involved. The muscles will learn to perform that posture or task and it will become the norm.
Sitting at a desk all day
For example, sitting at a desk for hours every day: The arms are held forward in order to type or use the mouse. The muscles at the front of the shoulders are pulling the arms forward, the muscles at the top and back of the shoulders are holding the weight of the arms. This all requires muscle effort which, if repeated enough times, will become the norm. Even when not at the desk these muscles will remain clenched. This becomes felt as tension and stiffness and may eventually lead to fatigue in the muscle which is experienced as pain.
Athletics, sports or dancing
Other examples can be found in athletics, sports or dancing. Just look at Raphael Nadal’s left arm compared to his right. Years of using his left arm to swing the tennis racket has led to a massive imbalance in the musculature of either arm. He will have huge imbalances in the tension patterns on his left and right sides.
Why does this all matter?
Prolonged tension in muscles will cause two main problems in the muscle network. The most straightforward problem is that the tense muscle may become fatigued and eventually painful. The pain will remain as long as the muscle remains tense. The problem is that the clenching is now normal so the body doesn’t know how to unclench. Harmonic massage is designed to teach the body to relearn how to unclench.
The more complex problem is that all muscles work in groups or chains that can span the entire length of the body. Any tension in one area will cause a compensatory alteration in the behaviour somewhere else in the chain. This may create a weak area that is prone to strain or another tense area that is prone to fatigue. These changes also change the way in which we move. Movements become imbalanced and awkward. There are unnatural tensions and torsion forces put through the joints. This can increase degeneration or lead to further acute injuries. Harmonic massage is designed to search out these imbalances and reverse them.