Detailed guides to painful problems, treatments & more

Release me! 

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

I am getting almost as fed up with the word “release” in massage therapy as I am with “toxins.”

“Release” does not (indeed, it cannot) refer to any known, specific state of soft tissue. It’s poetry, not biology. It’s massage-speak for “better in some way, hopefully for more than ten minutes.”

As commonly used, the word strongly suggests an actual change in the flesh … but this assumption derives only from vague, erratic, uninterpretable sensory cues. Most therapists say — not all of them, importantly, but most — that they can feel tissue changing texture as they work, but that could easily be misinterpreted muscle behaviour and palpatory pareidolia.

Patients may experience a kaleidoscopic array of sensations during massage, and often call it “release” if they perceive an especially significant improvement (from feeling “stuck” to feeling “relieved,” say) — but we have almost no idea what any of these sensations imply about tissue state, if anything. People also have profound shifts in sensation from a good back scratch, fervent prayer, and eating cheesecake!

There are several more paragraphs about “release” in my article about fascia.