As a massage therapist and yoga teacher I am asked a lot about the best way to treat chronic muscular pain, particularly back pain.
Some people don't see the value in stretching or just can't see themselves following a stretch routine, others don't see the value of massage therapy as a long term solution to their problems given the time and costs involved.
The truth is that if you are living with chronic pain due to muscle spasm, chronic hypertonicity (excessive muscle tone or tightness) or as a result of soft tissue trauma, then a combination of these two may possibly be the most effective treatment.
Yoga vs. Massage for tight muscle tissue
There are very specific differences between massage and stretching and both have been proven time and again through clinical trials to be effective in lengthening (reducing hypertonicity in) muscle tissue. If you are currently in pain with restricted range of motion then a course of therapeutic massage will be far better than a yoga class to begin with. While stretching lengthens contracted muscle tissue it can only do so in the direction of the muscle fibres. This means that adhesions or scar tissue which may be contributing to pain and which may not be formed in the direction of the muscle fibre will not be affected by your stretches.
Deep Tissue Cross-Fibre Massage Therapy
Initial massage therapy work, particularly deep Tuina work, Soft Tissue Release or Myofascial Release techniques will work cross-fibre, stretching the contracted tissue not only from origin to insertion of the muscle, but also separating the fibres as the massage strokes work from one side of the muscle to the other.
Both are good? So which do I get first?
Once adhesions and scar tissue have been worked out this way, allowing for safer pain free stretching of muscle tissue to occur, it is important to learn how to stretch to maintain and improve the length in the tissue and prevent future injury.
So if you are in pain, get the massage or first, follow up with the yoga stretches afterwards. It couldn't simpler (or more enjoyable)!
Liam Byrne, Yoga & Pilates Instructor, Acupuncturist, Physical Therapist, Sports Massage Therapist,