When was the last time you were in a massage parlor — not to raid the place, but to actually get massage therapy?
If you’re like most cops, the answer is somewhere between “forever” and “never.”
Problem is, if you’re like most cops, you also have some sort of chronic soreness (lower back is most common, but shoulders, neck, and quads are frequent problems) as well as exercise-induced muscle injury. Massage is a proven remedy for many of those ailments, and some believe that it can add years to your life — and to your career.
Two Kinds of Work
I realize this column could quickly degenerate into a hilarious exchange of jokes and one-liners which you — and I, for that matter — can’t wait to blurt out, but let’s be serious for just a moment and talk about work.
For the purposes of this discussion, we’re talking about the biomechanical work — the physical exertion of muscle groups within and around your skeletal structure — and how massage therapy can help alleviate something called muscle imbalance.
When it comes to your muscles, there are two kinds of work — active work and passive work. No matter what activity you’re engaged in, you’re almost certainly doing both kinds of work, but you’re probably only consciously aware of one.
I’m presently sitting at my computer, typing out this column. The active work is taking place in my fingers and wrists (typing), while the passive work is in my shoulders and arms (holding my hands at a certain place to reach the keyboard) as well as my lower back (holding the abovementioned shoulders in position), a whole host of leg muscles keeping me vaguely balanced in my chair.
If I wasn’t doing all that passive work, the active work couldn’t get done.
See? Typing is a lot of work!
This constant exertion (passive work) of muscles and muscle groups causes the abovementioned muscle imbalance. Muscle imbalance is not only unhealthy, it’s uncomfortable.
Here’s the thing. The pervasive opinion among kinesiologists is that it can take your muscles up to seven times (7X!) longer to recover from “passive” work than from “active” work. Worse, muscle imbalance can be cumulative.
My fingers and wrists will feel fine by suppertime, but my shoulders and lower back will ache for hours and hours thereafter — probably right up to the time I go to bed, and maybe even when I wake up tomorrow.
On patrol, you hold your arm a certain way to key information into the MDT. You sit a certain way to alleviate the irritation of some piece of duty gear from sticking you in the kidney. There are dozens of other ways in which you are continually putting your muscles into prolonged, repeated, passive work, and over time you begin to do some real damage — damage that massage therapy can help to fix.
If you’ve accumulated lots of damage passive work is doing to your system, it could take several serious sessions at a professional massage therapist’s office to get back to baseline. Many years of damage can take years of repair work.
Muscle recovery from passive work is unbearably slow, unless you actively — uh, work, I guess — to help that recovery process along. The good news is that you pretty much just have to lie there — feeling awkward and self-conscious — and let someone else do the actual work (yes, I can already hear your jokes and one-liners building into a critical mass of hilarity).
A Reluctant Advocate
Until recently, I never believed in the restorative capabilities of a professional massage. The mere presence of New Age music, scented candles, and mystic crystals in any room — let alone one in which I’m supposed to take off my pants — generally has me running for the door.
But the fact is, the back and shoulder pains I had come to simply accept as part of being awake are significantly diminished — and the only new variable is the occasional application of a decent professional massage.
Professional athletes regularly receive massage treatment as part of their daily regimen, and may folks in the civilian world get a couple dozen massage treatments per year.
Why not cops?
Just be sure to choose wisely when deciding on your massage therapist (you’ll find that legitimate massage therapists work at massage clinics — the prostitutes work at massage parlors)....
I don’t want you to get caught up in a sting operation!