The Great Divide

There seems to be a great divide in the world of massage therapy.  Relaxation massage vs. therapeutic massage.  Is there a difference?  Is one more important than the other?  Is one BETTER than the other?  I spend quite a bit of my time reading discussions, debates, and comments about massage therapy by massage therapists.  We, the Therapists, seem to be entrenched in an epic battle trying to decide which is the better massage.  I don’t participate much in the dialogue, but I read every word that I can find.  (Often these discussions are what lead me to learn things about new research, good policies, business advice, etc.)

The terms differ a little but the sentiment is the same: “My massage is better than your massage and anyone who chooses to do something different is somehow inferior.”  To be fair, no one is really saying these specific words, but the tone is ever-present.  When did this divide occur?  Why is a relaxing massage not as good as “medical” massage?  Why can’t a “relaxation” massage be a “therapeutic” massage?

Massage therapy is used in many settings including, but not limited to spas, beauty salons, stand-alone places, chiropractor’s offices, doctor’s offices, hospitals, physical therapy clinics, dentist offices, and others.  All of these are different working environments with different training requirements and expectations.  But they are all administering massage therapy.  It seems that the people who are working in contrasting environments are trying to tear down the other.  I’ve seen comments from either side, as well as the middle.

I say, “Why can’t ALL massage be considered good therapy?”  

My massage style is a manifestation of both “medical”* massage and “relaxation”** massage.  I work in a salon and I don’t file insurance.  I give one-hour, ninety-minute, and hot stone massage.  My massage sessions are tailored to what the client needs that day.  I have some clients who want to “check out” for an hour, relax, revive, and feel good.  These are people who come in on a regular basis, some with pain issues, some without.  We talk about what they need that day, I turn on the music, they lay down and I give an awesome massage.  (They tell me it is awesome, so I’m taking their word for it!)

I also have people who are in pain.  They have an injury, a condition, or chronic pain that massage therapy can help.  I use different techniques, I focus on the painful areas, and put all my effort in to pain relief.  I have become really good at using relaxation techniques followed by muscle specific work to relieve pain while (gasp) simultaneously relaxing the person.  Bam.  The best of both worlds.

I think that relaxation massage IS therapeutic.  There is a lot of talk about the effects of stress on the body.  We Therapists are always talking about stress relief, lowering blood pressure, getting rid of headaches, relieving stress-induced muscle tension, and improving lives.  There are tons of articles circulating talking about all the health problems resulting from stress.  So WHY is a stress-reliving, relaxing massage not considered therapeutic by some?  A relaxing massage contributes to stress relief.  Stress symptoms can go away. Health problems that result from  excessive stress could improve.  Sounds therapeutic to me.

My clients don’t seem to have a problem with my location or massage style.  They know that if they always get general massage but one day have an injury or issue that I can change what I do to address the problem.  What is so wrong with that?

I don’t think one is better than the other.  I also don’t think that any style is more important than any other style.  It’s what is important to the client on the table.  That is the most important, the best.

Why can’t both be the “best?”  Aren’t we all just trying to help people?

* I am calling general massage relaxation massage, also known as Swedish massage.

** I am considering medical massage to be the people who self-describe themselves as that.  They may work in a hospital, or with doctors.  Often not in a spa or salon.

What do you think?

Massage Feels Like…

*If you’ve never had a professional massage before, here is a wonderful description.*

The door opens into a small room.  The room is lamp-lit with a massage table draped with soft linens.  A lavender scent lingers nicely.  This room is quiet, serene, simple, and designed for comfort.   Heat seems to radiate from the table into the body, no shivering in this room!  Soft, soothing music plays.  The songs are almost always unrecognizable but beautiful.  It  is enough to distract but never loud enough to disturb.

Hands with warm lotion or oil begin on the back.  Long massage strokes, one after the other, signal the muscles to relax.

Slow, relaxing massage on the whole back is followed by detailed, specific massage on each shoulder.  Living life creates muscle tension between the shoulder blades that travels up to the neck.  Kneading on each side of the neck and on each shoulder melts this pain away and deeply relaxes the body.  Hot towels rest between the shoulders to enhance the pain relief and deepen total relaxation.

From foot to hip, hip to foot, the legs are worked next.  First one leg then the other, these muscles get kneaded, pushed and pulled.

After turning over one foot is uncovered for massage.  That’s right, a foot massage!  A hot towel wraps and compresses each foot, followed by a luxurious foot and leg massage.

Each arm is then worked and stretched including the shoulders, biceps, forearms and hands.  Special attention is paid to the hands.  Thumbs knead the palms and then each individual finger is rubbed and pulled.

The massage ends with the neck, face and scalp.  Fingers massage each side of the neck from the back, side and front.  Tension is erased from the whole body with the face massage.  Slow circles at the temples are followed by deep circles on the jaws and cheeks.  Eyebrows are traced and compressed along with the sinus area of the cheeks.

Claw hands explore the scalp and hairline creating goosebumps from head to toe.  The scalp is kneaded and scratched both deeply and lightly.  PURE BLISS.  This concludes the massage session.  All you have to do is lie down and breathe.