Detailed, evidence-based help for common painful problems

Hooray for thorough massage!

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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.

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 … other shoulder massage. This comparison may be about as meaningful as a taste-test of tomaytoes and tomahtoes.

Giving these researchers a little benefit of the doubt, perhaps the difference was just size of the area of treatment, 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. The shocking conclusion? They found that “more thorough” worked much better.

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