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Massage Today
July, 2014, Vol. 14, Issue 07

TDR Massage Protocol for Pain Relief

By Linda LePelley, RN, NMT

Tissue Density Restoration (TDR) massage was developed in response to my clinical observations over a number of years that musculoskeletal tissues experiencing pain are associated with an elevation in tissue density (TD) and once the elevated TD is reduced, the pain is alleviated.

Wanting to focus on these phenomenons and better understand their nature, I decided to stop doing relaxation massage and limited my practice to clients in pain.

My original focus was directed at determining the components of treatment that are most effective and discarding actions that, at best, do not appear to contribute to improvement or, at worst, are counterproductive. I asked my clients to participate; rather than just laying back and quietly enjoying the massage, they keep me informed about what they are experiencing throughout the treatment. Patterns of duplicable efficacy emerged, resulting in an extremely beneficial protocol.

Questions Remain

Once I determined I had a replicable method of alleviating pain by treating the elevated TD, the questions that remained were:

  • Who experiences elevated TD?
  • What areas of the body are affected by elevated TD?
  • What part does age play, if any?
  • Can the improvements achieved be extended beyond short-term relief into a state that can be considered permanent?

TDR massage - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark The answers I've found are much like the treatment itself; simplistic, easily dismissed by some because they seem too elemental and easy. However, they are consistently reliable. In my experience of actively looking for elevated TD, I've found it happens to everyone in pain. All musculoskeletal pain can be located and felt (in the tactile sense) by a second person, as palpable areas of indurations at the locus of pain. From the toes to the top of the head, elevated TD can be found at any physical location that hurts. The older a person is, the thicker and more compressed the density can be. I suspect the reason has more to do with a buildup over time, rather than degenerative changes of aging. Rather than deterioration, it seems more accurate to describe it as a disorder of accumulation. (Perhaps previous injuries lay a foundation upon which TD builds? Maybe a residue is deposited during the inflammation process which, if not cleared out through normal circulation, attracts mineral deposits over time.) Through close observation and repetition I've found that the more malleable the affected tissue becomes, the longer the relief will last. People can be fully relieved of chronic pain and that relief retained with maintenance massages.

How it Works

I have ideas of how and why TDR massage works, but they are just that, ideas. I am not a pathologist, biochemist or neurologist, nor do I have the time or inclination to acquire the additional education it would require to be able to investigate the physiology involved in the formation of elevated TD. But I don't need to. I trust what I can see, experience and duplicate. I don't have to fully understand the mechanism of the combustion engine to drive a car, but that doesn't impair or hinder my ability to do so. I can leave scientific research to those who have dedicated their education and interest and are qualified to do such work. I suspect that in much the same way that I am impelled to discover how to affect changes in tissue density, a motivated researcher will investigate that explanation one day. I am a nurse massage therapist – my duty, talent and intention is to provide my clients the best possible pain treatment outcomes.

In order to share the method of TDR massage, I use the term, "Protocols". While I do not anticipate changes to these protocols, I think that it's a mistake to declare rules and dogmatically follow them. Doing so fosters resistance to any future perspective or observation that may suggest they need to be adjusted. It also stifles exploration, hinders growth and suppresses conversation and communication. With that said, I've found that by following these directions, the results are reliable and effective.

TDR Massage Protocol

The massage movements I use are abbreviated Swedish – friction effleurage in small, circular areas; using slight petrissage movements, which helps monitor the boundaries and density of the target area as they change throughout the treatment; and vibration, which can be used as the tissues become malleable and are able to be grasped and gently shaken. The smaller the focus area, the sooner it is likely to be resolved.

You will want to measure and document the state of the target area before providing treatment and then again afterwards, using the Tissue Density Grading Scale (TDGS). (See "The Tissue Density Grading Scale: A Communication Tool," Massage Today, March, 2014.) By doing so, you will have an accurate picture of the condition the tissues were in before treatment and proof of the effectiveness of your treatment afterwards.

First, focus on the location of the pain and target the worst spots first. (As tissues soften and the pain begins to resolve, the target area may shift.) Causing pain promotes the localized excretion of inflammatory chemicals which I suspect may play a part in the development of elevated TD. Regardless, there is no reason to exacerbate an already painful condition. The amount of pressure to use at any time will depend on the clients ability to tolerate it without going over a 3 on the 0/10 pain scale. Using the Walton Pressure Scale along with the TDGS will help you determine treatment progress and provide more precise documentation.

Keep the tissues you are working on moving continually. This will usually require working on areas no larger than the span of your two hands at a time. Doing so not only contributes to tissue heating through friction, but I believe that in addition, the movement combined with appropriate pressure, creates a fatigue state that helps soften TD.

Tissue Density Grading Scale
Grade 0 (Yellow) = Tissue is flaccid, hangs from attachments and has little to no resistance to gravity.
Grade 1 (Green) = Tissue is toned yet easily malleable.
Grade 2 (Blue) = Tissue is firm, tender if pressed into; muscles may appear and feel as if they are bound together as one.
Grade 3 (Red) = Tissue is tight, rubbery and is strongly resistant to mobilization.
Grade 4 (Brown) = Tissue is hardened, rigid and immobile.
Work in a warm location and keep the tissues warm. It is helpful to use a table warming pad, and any other available heat transference devices you are experienced with. (I think the localized increase in temperature that TDR massage induces, combined with constant movement and pressure is the primary means of TD reduction. Perhaps the heat generated melts lipids that have solidified and condensed around nerves and nerve endings.)

I have found that it takes about 45 minutes of consistent, firm, circular massage to begin to affect change at which time you can feel a smoothing of ridges and softening change in the density of the target area. At this time, the client will also state that it feels better. Continue treatment(s) until the indurations are no longer palpable, and tissues are with a Grade 1 on the TDGS.

If the condition requires more than one treatment to resolve, it is best to schedule following treatments as closely as possible. The tissues seem to remain more malleable for a few days following treatment, thereby not requiring as long to respond and soften.

This protocol applies to pain of any size, at any location. When a new client comes seeking relief, I tell them that if I can feel elevated TD at their pain site, I will be able to help them. As one develops their sensitivity to the palpable varieties of tissue densities and becomes adept at restoring it, they will find themselves able to truthfully state, "I feel your pain," and then relieve it.

Click here for previous articles by Linda LePelley, RN, NMT.


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