One of the most profound experiences in life is that of being touched. Touch is naturally intimate, personal and powerful.
Massage is touch, but why would a person willingly let someone they hardly know (at least in the beginning) touch their barely clothed body? For most people, it goes beyond a relaxing experience. In many cases, it’s the kind of touch that can predictably change the quality of a person’s life, says Jamie Lawless, owner and therapist at Flawless Care Therapeutic Massage. “Receiving a regular massage is maintenance for our bodies, similar to proper nutrition or working out. We only have one body, so it’s important to take care of it.”
In a 2017 consumer survey administered by the American Massage Therapy Association, 72 percent of the top responses regarding the primary reason for getting a massage during the previous 12 months had nothing to do with pampering. Medical reasons (43 percent) or relief of stress-related discomfort (29 percent) ranked the highest. And 71 percent of those surveyed believe massage should be considered a part of standard health care. Fay Siino, a massage therapist at the Massage Retreat and Spa, was catapulted into a career by her own experience with massage for back pain. “I didn’t know I could have that type of relief,” she says. It was then that she knew she wanted to help people by using massage.
More and more, people are discovering the efficacy of massage as an approach for healing medical conditions. From infants to the elderly, from physicians and attorneys to pregnant women, cancer patients and chronic pain sufferers, many find their issues mitigated, if not eradicated, within a few sessions of receiving massage therapy. Greg Luc, massage therapist at Woodhouse Day Spa, was drawn to the field by watching what it could do for athletes. Luc entered the field due to his experiences playing soccer. “I’ve always been in sports and saw [massage] used at the professional level,” he says. His respect for the results he saw in others propelled him not only to a career as a physical therapy assistant, but also as a massage therapist.
Luc recalls watching players and noticing physical issues the athletes had on the field that were inhibiting their performance. One former client, a Minnesota United player, came to him complaining that he couldn’t move and was feeling stiff. With Luc’s diagnosis and treatment “this player was moving around 80 percent better after two treatments, and his warm-up time decreased, so his productivity on the team grew,” Luc says.
Massage helps the body in surprising ways. Lawless explains she’s worked with clients who were suffering from depression or anxiety, recovering from an injury or surgery, dealing with chronic headaches or chronic pain during pregnancy, or just seeking overall wellness. Sometimes that means she helps people with nutrition, meal planning and weight loss. “Wellness is mind, body and soul, and I truly believe massage contributes to all three,” she says.
In addition to the kind of work described by Lawless, Siino has treated people to improve circulatory and lymphatic systems and injuries in half the time it would normally take to heal. She’s also had the opportunity to work with clients with fibromyalgia, restless leg syndrome and jaw pain. One client elicits fond memories for Siino as she was able to relieve their pain of multiple myeloma through massage.
Careful assessment and diagnosis of problem areas is required and is sometimes the most interesting part of the treatment process, according to Luc. Whether it’s a movement assessment or a foot, postural or performance assessment, matching the right kind of therapy with the injury or complaint is essential for recovery or relief.
While massage therapy is not regulated by a board in Minnesota, professionals working through the knots in your neck and shoulders have likely been through more than 600 hours of formal coursework in anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, medical ethics and medical terminology, as well as hands-on supervised instruction. In addition, they’ve been trained in one or more types of massage beyond the ubiquitous Swedish massage, which is meant to be mainly relaxing. They often learn trigger point or deep tissue massage (not as relaxing and sometimes a bit painful, but greatly relieving), hot stone massage or more sport-related massage (to prevent or treat injuries).
A massage therapist’s training and technique may also vary based on the cultural background of the school or trainers, so experiencing an Asian massage will feel very different than a Western or American massage. Because massage is now much more readily available at gyms, in malls and airports, it is prudent to ask about therapists’ training to see if their skills and experience are likely to match the results you desire.
Massage therapists advocate strongly for their work. What they know is that, while some people consider massage a luxury, they’ve witnessed its necessity. It’s not hard to hear the passion in their voices when they talk about their craft. Siino says her favorite part of the work is “watching the quality of people’s life improve.”
“It’s a helpful thing for the body,” Luc says, “especially in a society where touch has some negative connotations. Nurturing is a very nice thing!”
7 Benefits of Massage Therapy ( Courtesy of The Touch Research Institute)
- Lowers stress
- Relaxes sore muscles
- Increases circulation
- Normalizes blood pressure
- Brightens mood
- Boosts immune function
- Fosters sound sleep