What is Massage Therapy?
The manipulation of the body’s soft tissues with the intention of decreasing pain and promoting good health is a practice which can be traced back over 5,000 years. Records show that ancient civilizations such as those in Egypt, Greece and China employed their own variations on this concept, and such therapies have continued to be effective forms of treatment down through the centuries. Today, many of those practices are known collectively as Massage Therapy, and the applications and benefits of these modalities are extremely diverse. Certainly, the basic concept of therapeutic touch is deeply ingrained within each of us. Haven’t we all rubbed the shin we just bumped on the coffee table to make it feel better? We may not realize it, but we are practicing an instinctual, rudimentary form of Massage Therapy. Modern science can now provide us with an explanation as to why this is effective to relieve the pain. What is more important however, today just as centuries ago, is just how effective Massage Therapy can be.
The modern form of Therapeutic Massage, which is most familiar to us in the United States, has roots in the 1800s, with Dutch physician Johann Georg Mezger credited as the chief catalyst. Mezger organized a variety of massage strokes, and adopted for them names which are still used today. Massage Therapy continues to evolve through the development of new approaches and the intermingling of time honored techniques from around the globe.
How does Massage Therapy work?
The benefits that Therapeutic Massage can have on the body and mind of a recipient are many and wide ranging. Although the most obvious focus of the therapist’s work is the client’s muscles, skin and connective tissues, there is also a profound interaction with the nervous system, which in turn affects many other areas in our bodies. In fact, with skilled and knowledgeable application, Massage Therapy can positively impact almost every body system.
To illustrate, here are just a few of the effects Massage Therapy can have throughout the body:
- Cultivation of a parasympathetic nervous response, the “rest and digest” relaxation mode
- Pain reduction through mechanisms such as synaptic gating
- Help decrease muscular tension, both general and specific
- Relieve pain from myofascial trigger points
- Help release adhesions in muscle tissue
- Enhance joint function and range of motion
- Reinforce improved skeletal alignment
- Help reduce heart rate and blood pressure (via the parasympathetic nervous response)
- Assist venous blood flow
- Promote the relaxation and proper function of the muscles of respiration
- Stimulate deeper breathing (via the parasympathetic nervous response)
- Reduce anxiety by decreasing levels of cortisol
- Improve mood by elevating levels of serotonin and dopamine
- Enhance digestive efficiency (via the parasympathetic nervous response)
- Improve flow of lymph fluid
- Bolster immune functions
- Stimulate superficial circulation
- Promote healthy scar tissue formation
What can Massage Therapy treat?
Given the astounding variety of ways Therapeutic Massage can affect us, it is no surprise that the number of issues and conditions which can benefit from Massage are equally vast. Many pathology textbooks and reference manuals have been dedicated solely to this subject, and so the following list is truly just the tip of the iceberg.
Massage Therapy can be effective in helping clients deal with:
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Chronic Muscle Tension
- Insomnia/Disturbed Sleep
- Migraine/Tension Headaches
- Nerve Impingement (Sciatica, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, etc.)
- Pain Management (Lyme Disease, ALS, etc.)
- Postural Distortions (Scoliosis, Upper Cross Syndrome, etc.)
- Pre/Post Surgery Management (Joint Replacement, Rotator Cuff Repair, etc.)
- Sports Injury Recovery/Prevention
- Sprains and Strains
- Stress-Related Conditions
- Tendinitis (Tennis Elbow, Achilles Tendinitis, etc.)
- TMJ Issues
- Traumatic Injury Recovery
- Much more!
What is a Typical Massage Session?
Describing a “typical” Therapeutic Massage session is as challenging as describing a “typical” person: the goals, needs, and requirements of each treatment plan are as unique as the client being treated. On any given day our LMT could be performing the weekly bodywork that helps a client manage back pain, creating a plan of action with a migraine sufferer, helping a first-time client with a recent sports injury, or addressing a myriad of other issues which come up in clients’ lives.
The key to achieving the desired results is to approach each client as an individual. The application possibilities of Therapeutic Massage are vast, and a preconceived idea for treatment or “cookie cutter” routines will prove unsatisfactory for most clients. Likewise, it is critical for the client to take an active role in helping guide the therapeutic journey by giving feedback about their experience, both during and between sessions, and by practicing self-care every day. Because of this, a clear discussion between client and therapist regarding treatment objectives and options is essential.
The Initial Massage Session
When clients come in for their first session, they will have completed a form outlining their health history. This form will likely provide some primary information regarding the reason for the visit, but can also alert the therapist to other issues that might affect if and how Massage Therapy can be appropriately performed.
Once our LMT has looked over the forms, he and the client will discuss the main reason for the visit. The client may be asked questions about the issue, so that it can be more effectively treated. Some typical questions could be:
- How long has this been bothering you?
- Are there things that make it feel better/worse?
- Have you seen a doctor regarding this issue? Was there a diagnosis?
In addition, depending on the type of issue being addressed, Dorothyann may ask the client to perform an assessment test, or observe the client’s range of motion in order to gain a stronger grasp on the situation. If there is anything on the health history form which needs clarification, or is a possible contraindication for Massage Therapy, Dorothyann will ask about it during this discussion.
Together, the client and therapist will determine the plan of action for the session’s bodywork. Typically, this plan will include:
- Which areas of the client’s body will be focused on, according to the objective of the session
- Which areas, if any, the client does not want worked on
- A general idea of the client’s pressure tolerance, if they have had Therapeutic Massage before
- Any special considerations, such as positioning or timing requirements
At this point, the therapist leaves the room to allow the client to undress to his or her level of comfort and get on the table. During the following treatment, the pressure being used is fine-tuned and the client is encouraged to speak up if any portion of the session needs adjusting.
Introduction to Therapeutic Massage
When the work is finished, the therapist again steps out to allow the client to redress, after which the client and therapist will exchange their thoughts and ideas about the session. Based on the results, a plan is agreed upon regarding how frequently treatment will be needed, and a follow-up appointment is made.
Receiving Therapeutic Massage with regularity is critical for many of the issues it is used to treat. Certainly, it is not uncommon to experience a period of improvement after the first treatment, but lasting results are almost always due to consistent work.
The sessions themselves are quite similar to the initial visit, although the subsequent intake discussions do not usually need to be as in-depth. The client will be asked how he or she felt in the few days after the first treatment, and if anything has changed health-wise which may need addressing.
It is not unusual for the first few treatments to vary in routine. Technique, pressure or areas of focus may be different, as the therapist and client work together to ensure they are achieving the best results possible.
After the bodywork is finished at each session, the results are assessed. If any changes in treatment length or frequency seem to be indicated, they would also be discussed at that point. The follow-up sessions required may be a finite number or it may be open-ended, depending greatly on the issues involved.
If you are curious about how massage therapy might be able to help you feel better, please call or stop by Healthy Weighs Wellness Center for more information.