Muscles

Since it’s starting to scroll off, I thought I’d move my Kobe Beef article to right here:

Why Do Kobe Beef Farmers Massage Their Cows?

 

Have you ever wondered why kobe beef farmers massage their cows? Kobe beef is a tender, flavorful meat from Japan where, in addition to the special breeding conditions, the farmers raise the cows according to a particular growth regimines. Of the special attentions that the cows receive, one of those things is daily massage.

The farmers know what goes into making the cows’ muscles tender. Who wants a stringy piece of beef? And really, apart from marbling, the thing that really makes a steak is whether or not it’s stringy or has large white chunks of connective tissue running through it. A really tough steak ruins a good experience.

steak examplesA nice cut of steak, like the bottom picture, has an even distribution of muscle fibers, an even distribution of connective tissue sheathing, and flecks of fat throughout to provide good energy to the muscle. That is a nice cut of steak. The steak on the top, however, has clumping of muscle fibers and a heavy distribution of scar tissue through the muscle body.

“So why massage?” you say. And the answer is simple: Massage can break up the adhesive scarring that occurs in muscles as a result of overuse and damage. As a natural part of the inflammatory response, scar tissue is generated in damaged muscle. The buildup of connective tissue within the muscle allows more adherence points of the surrounding muscle fibers and provides temporary gains in strength. Two of the big drawbacks, however, are that this mechanism limits both local blood flow and range of motion. It also tends to clump muscle fibers, making meat stringy and less tender.

And it’s a regimen of daily massage that keeps these cows tender. Any time the cows have to stand in one position too long, climb up hills they’re not used to, or even chew too much, they’re overusing their muscles and causing slight scarring. Often, it’s pretty minor, but the accumulation of scar tissue over a long period of time will negatively impact both the comfort of the cow and the later quality of its meat. As mentioned before, massage is an intervention that breaks up these myofascial adhesions so that the muscle can have better blood flow and better range of motion.

The same physiology underlies human beings. This first steak is what happens to your muscles and could very well by a myofascial snapshot of your shoulder. While most people think of overuse as the sore back perils of moving day and of thirty mile hikes, the truth is that just sitting at your computer in a hunched position is overuse. Your thoracic erectors have to hold you in a half-crunch position that’s not supported by the structure of your skeleton. Lots of day-to-day activities, when you do them with the wrong body mechanics, cause overuse damage. How about the stirring and fussing involved with cooking with countertops that are too tall? Even being in this airplane as I am now, arms and upper thorax held in bizarre contortion, overuses muscles that aren’t accustomed to this force angle against gravity. Whenever you ask your body to do something it doesn’t have the strength to sustain, you damage yourself.

And massage is just as important to you as it is to a cow, perhaps even more so. For species that live very few years, the muscle scarring mechanism can be a positive selection criterion. The buildup of connective tissue within the muscle allows more adherence points of the surrounding muscle fibers and provides temporary large gains in strength. Except people tend to live longer than their teens and the gradual buildup of scarring limits blood flow, which limits real muscle development, and it decreases flexibility over time.

So, to the human being, who drives himself much more strenuously than a cow and who lives significantly longer, massage can play a critical role in the development and maintenance of muscle tone. Regular massage can greatly increase flexibility and improve muscle recovery time. Plenty of empirical evidence that massage in a clinical setting can reduce the pain and inflammation associated with some RSIs. Beyond the physical benefits, it’s also relaxing. There are many benefits to the various forms of bodywork.

Massage is a great thing; just ask the cows.