"Oww" I said, that really hurts. "Muscle hard as stone." she replied, let go of my hand and motioned for me to check. The area between the base of my thumb and forefinger contained what felt like a piece of 1/4" cable. "From motorcycle." she said. I gave her back my hand, she squeezed the right way in the right place, then moved on. An hour after the massage I remembered to check the area for progress - the cable was gone.
It’s rare that I stretch often enough to see significant progress. I used static stretching while on the track team in high school and it barely made a difference. Discovered Active Isolated Stretching in the late 90s and it made a huge difference. Gave up regular stretching when I put away my last sport where it mattered.
Occasionally I find motivation to stretch. It takes 2 – 3 weeks to gain enough additional range that I feel the effort has been worthwhile. One Thai massage causes more progress.
Tukta (my masseuse) worked a new area one day, the lower ends of the Latissimus Dorsi. She didn’t stretch the muscle in any way I’m familiar with, nor did it feel like the muscle was stretched. But the next morning my lats were sore like I’d been lifting weights. Tried a lats stretch that afternoon and discovered I have equaled the maximum range of motion ever achieved on my own. It’s like somebody stuck a key in my back and wound it the wrong way, releasing the tension.
Is most of what we know about stretching wrong? Conventional wisdom on stretching is to stop when it gets tight and certainly don’t go into the pain zone. Thai massage is all about the pain zone – or at least that’s what it seems like. I’m rarely sore after stretching but it sometimes takes two days to recover from a massage. Maybe it’s because the massage seems to emphasize work on the ends of the muscles. Maybe it’s because releasing muscle knots and tightness uses a different physiological mechanism than stretching. Don’t know why or how it works so well, I just go back for more.
Systematic loosening of muscles has improved my posture. I now have less anterior pelvic tilt and it takes less effort to consciously correct the tilt. I also get fewer minor back pains.
I'm certain the gains from Thai massage are mostly due to the skill of the provider. Bad ones just hurt. Good ones hurt too, but there is a payoff. I blogged about how I learned to tolerate Thai massage.
I live in Thailand. One hour Thai massages costs between $6.66 and $10 in resort towns.