Pain •Sensible advice for aches, pains & injuries

Regular Swedish versus “tensegrity-based” massage

added Aug 15, 13 • updated Jun 5, 15
Kassolik K, Andrzejewski W, Brzozowski M, Wilk I, Górecka-Midura L, Ostrowska B, Krzyżanowski D, Kurpas D. Comparison of Massage Based on the Tensegrity Principle and Classic Massage in Treating Chronic Shoulder Pain. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2013 Jul. PubMed #23891481.
Tags: controversy, fascia, biomechanics, debunkery, etiology, pro, massage, manual therapy, treatment

PainSci summary of Kassolik 2013 ★☆☆☆☆?1-star ratings are for negative examples, fatally flawed papers, junk science, suspected fraud. Ratings are a highly subjective opinion, and subject to revision at any time. If you think this paper has been incorrectly rated, please let me know.

Here’s a study that compares two kinds of massage for shoulder pain: regular Swedish versus “tensegrity-based” massage, which I have literally never heard of in 15 years of studying massage (although I can easily guess what they think they mean.) I smell a pet theory. “Tensegrity-based” massage is not actually a thing. There is no TBM® or standard definition. It means about as much as “anatomy-based.” Tensegrity refers to a principle of biomechanical organization (see Ten Trillion Cells Walked Into a Bar). Massage “based on the tensegrity principle” is wide open to interpretation to the point of absurdity. And yet the defining characteristic of tensegrity-based treatment offered in the abstract of this paper is merely where massage was applied (not how): “directing treatment to the painful area and the tissues … that structurally support the painful area.” As opposed to foot massage, perhaps? Meanwhile, the control group massaged “tissues surrounding the glenohumeral joint.” So, shoulder massage compared to … shoulder massage. This comparison may be about as meaningful as a taste-test of tomatoes and tomahtoes.

Giving these researchers a little benefit of the doubt, perhaps they were trying to describe the size of the treated area, also known as “less thorough” and “more thorough.” That would be a somewhat interesting comparison, though not really useful for validating a treatment idea as vague as “tensegrity-based massage.” I can think of a few (about 17) non-tensegrity-based reasons why more thorough massage might work well. “Be thorough” is pretty much the first lesson in massage school. And the shocking conclusion? They found that “more thorough” worked much better.

~ Paul Ingraham

original abstract

OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to compare the clinical outcomes of classic massage to massage based on the tensegrity principle for patients with chronic idiopathic shoulder pain.

METHODS: Thirty subjects with chronic shoulder pain symptoms were divided into 2 groups, 15 subjects received classic (Swedish) massage to tissues surrounding the glenohumeral joint and 15 subjects received the massage using techniques based on the tensegrity principle. The tensegrity principle is based on directing treatment to the painful area and the tissues (muscles, fascia, and ligaments) that structurally support the painful area, thus treating tissues that have direct and indirect influence on the motion segment. Both treatment groups received 10 sessions over 2 weeks, each session lasted 20 minutes. The McGill Pain Questionnaire and glenohumeral ranges of motion were measured immediately before the first massage session, on the day the therapy ended 2 weeks after therapy started, and 1 month after the last massage.

RESULTS: Subjects receiving massage based on the tensegrity principle demonstrated statistically significance improvement in the passive and active ranges of flexion and abduction of the glenohumeral joint. Pain decreased in both massage groups.

CONCLUSIONS: This study showed increases in passive and active ranges of motion for flexion and abduction in patients who had massage based on the tensegrity principle. For pain outcomes, both classic and tensegrity massage groups demonstrated improvement.

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