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What You Should Know Before Receiving Therapeutic Massage

Updated on September 19, 2013

What Is Your Purpose?

What is the purpose of getting a massage? Some people say its for pain relief. Some people say its for stress relief. And some people say its to relax. The answer is all of the above. However, wouldn't you say that getting rid of pain and getting rid of stress would cause you to relax?

If your muscles are all tense and knotted up, doesn't that cause you pain? And if those muscles got all tense and knotted up due to you overworking them or stressing them, doesn't that still equate to pain?

And wouldn't getting rid of the tension and knots in the muscle that is causing your pain release your stress? Furthermore, if you're stress was released, wouldn't that relax you? And wasn't that your purpose in the first place for going for a massage? So my question is, why don't more people understand this?

Not All Massage Is The Same

If you are seeking therapeutic massage, then you go to a more therapeutic spa. You seek a more therapeutic style therapist because you are seeking more of the health benefit; and that is what they specialize in.

Not all therapists do simply Swedish massage, in fact, some therapists rarely use Swedish in their style. Swedish massage is the most basic and commonly known style of massage. Its main purpose is to improve or increase circulation throughout body, which is very beneficial.

However, there are over 80 modalities of massage. That means there's a lot to choose from and it means that there is a different purpose to each style of massage. Most of the time you won't discover this fact if you go to a typical corporate owned or franchised spa. A corporate mindset will not necessarily understand or comprehend a healing mindset. In a corporate mindset it's about quantity, whereas in a healing mindset it's about quality.

What Kind of Services Do You Need?

Therapists in these type of spas, are not as free to utilize their full style and knowledge as they might be in a smaller privately owned spa, or doing private therapy. Sometimes, more therapeutic massage services can be found in more medical or rehabilitative settings, and spas that specifically emphasize therapeutic services; or again, through private therapeutic massage services.

I emphasized that, because some people call massage therapists that have a private practice because they want services that are outside of both ethical and legal boundaries. That is not what we do. And none of us invested our time and hard earned money in our education, or to pay for a license for that purpose.

The massage therapists that are really going to benefit you the most, are the ones whose hearts are really into it; and for whom healing is their gift and passion. Are you going to run across massage therapists who are not truly passionate about massage? Absolutely! In fact I'd say at least 1 out of 10 massage therapists most likely will not be passionate about it.

However, it benefits you to keep looking beyond that. Don't let 1 or 2 bad apples spoil the whole bunch. Once you find that one therapist that really puts their heart into it; and who is really concerned about relieving your pain, relieving your stress and making you feel better; you're going to really know that the search was worth it.

Be open and extend some trust to the therapist in addressing the issues in your tissues that stress your body and cause you pain. Consider that with all the different modalities out there, there are going to be some styles that seem strange to you, and are different than you've ever experienced. Just be open to that and to the idea of trying something new that may be the key to releasing your pain.

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Be Sure To Communicate

No matter what type of spa you go to, or what type of therapist you encounter, you should be very clear in communicating what your purpose in coming to the spa is. The receptionist should ask you questions about what your purpose is and what your expectations are. The therapist should ask the same thing, so you have more than one opportunity to make your intentions clear to the therapist.

But if you wait until you're more than halfway through your session to tell your therapist, "What I really wanted was just Swedish massage (or relaxation)," then your session will be a disappointment that you cannot blame on the therapist.

Don't Make General Statements

Too often, when people call a spa, they simply say they just want to relax. That's a very, very general statement, and there number of ways and methodologies that can be utilized to accomplish that goal.

Does that statement mean that you just want to be rubbed down as in Swedish massage? Does that mean you want to get rid of your stress, and if so, does that mean that you're open to any methodology that will help you accomplish that? Does it mean that you want any focused therapeutic massage, as in deep tissue massage?

Be Specific About Your Massage Needs

If the therapist is working on you, and they find extremely hypertonic muscle and/or knots in your muscles tone; does your statement about wanting to relax indicate that you want the therapist to address those issues, or should they simply ignore them in favor of giving you just a simple Swedish massage for relaxation? And if the therapist uses a methodology other than Swedish to relax you, would that make you uncomfortable? In your mindset, does relaxation massage only mean Swedish massage? If that is the case, then that is what you specifically need to tell the therapist.

The therapist is not a mind reader. Usually, they're going to ask you your purpose in coming to the spa. If you say, "Oh, I just want to relax, but I have some pain in my lower back and in my neck that I'd like more attention on," what exactly does that mean to you? What exactly does it mean to the therapist? Does that mean that you want focused attention on back pain area, or does that mean that you want to therapist to spend an extra 2 to 5 minutes on it? There's a difference between extra attention and focused attention.

And furthermore, how much time did you pay for? The request in my example was for 3 separate things. If you only paid for a 50 minute massage, and you want them to really get rid of that tension in your neck, that could take up to half of your time.

If the therapist focuses on relieving your neck and lower back pain, that alone could take your entire 50 minutes, depending upon the exact nature, area and extent of your pain problem. Just concerning low back pain, there are at least 4 areas of approach or methodologies you can utilize to figure out the source and eliminate a low back pain problem. Any massage therapist worth their salt is going to try to release that as much as possible, so that you feel better.

The therapist may only be able to concentrate on your upper body, depending on your pain problem. In that case, they may be able to give you some of the relaxation techniques of Swedish, but only on the upper half of your body in addition to whatever pain problem they are giving focused attention to in that part of your body.

Be Realistic About Time

That maybe all they have time for in 50 minutes. So if you came expecting to get 3 things like that, and a full body treatment accomplished in one 50 minute time slot, you're kidding yourself. You gotta be realistic in your expectations, and specific in your communication to therapist.

If you are expecting a full body massage in addition to specific focused attention on certain areas for pain relief, you would need to extend your time to either an 80 minute massage or 110 minute massage. It is unreasonable to expect to get all of that in one 50 minute session. It may take several sessions to eliminate your pain problem.

At best it would be a very rushed session, as 50 minutes, for most therapists, is somewhat of a teaser. At worst, you leave the spa feeling pretty good, but about 2-12 hours later your tension and pain will all come flooding back, because the therapist wasn't given sufficient time to truly address the issues. Basically, 50 minutes is an assessment time.

If the therapist does a full body massage in that time frame, they are basically rubbing you down, and assessing your body at the same time. There isn't time to focus on anything if they have to do your whole body in 50 minutes. There isn't time to get rid of knots or muscle adhesions. So there is no guarantee that you won't start feeling the same discomfort you came there with, within several hours of that sort of rushed massage. In all honesty, you don't get the best value that way.

Before You Complain, Consider

You can't complain about a therapist if you weren't communicating properly with the therapist. You cannot give vague or general instruction to the therapist, and expect them to be a mind reader and know exactly what technique or style of massage you want to experience.

Even if the therapist asks more specific questions to get more specific information from you; there is still no guarantee that they're going to read your mind and give you exactly what you want, unless you state exactly what you want.

Additionally, it is the responsibility of the spa administration at the front desk, to try to ask those questions of you up front; and match you as best as possible with a therapist that fits your style or what your expectations are.

Swedish Massage

Swedish massage uses the hands and wrists more, and is physically more harmful to the therapist's body due to repetitious movement of the wrist joint.
Swedish massage uses the hands and wrists more, and is physically more harmful to the therapist's body due to repetitious movement of the wrist joint. | Source

The Difference Between Swedish & Deep Tissue Massage

Another complication is that often times people come into a spa thinking they want deep tissue massage when they really don't have any comprehension of exactly what deep tissue massage entails. Deep tissue massage and Swedish massage are 2 totally different things. Additionally, there is difference between liking pressure, and deep tissue massage. If you want Swedish massage with a bit more pressure, then that is what you should state. Deep tissue massage is a totally different thing than that. This is why there is a separate certification for deep tissue massage, apart from the standard Swedish massage certification.

The methodology, purpose and the pressure of deep tissue massage is different than Swedish massage. They are not one and the same. Swedish is what most people mean when they say they want relaxation. Deep tissue is what most people say when they want a lot more pressure to relieve soreness and pain. If you tell the therapist you want relaxation, but you also want deep tissue; you may not end up with the exact experience you wanted because you didn't communicate effectively with the therapist.

So many people think they have to feel pain to relieve pain. That's not true and is usually only aplicable in a case of someone who has some specific sensitive type of injury. In that case, the type of therapeutic work required is going to require a little pressure in an area that is sensitive to any type of touch. A perfect example of this was when I had frozen shoulder.

That injury did not a require excessive deep pressure, but it did require specific type of movement and directed pressure; and that pressure or movement caused pain. No matter which way you moved my arm I was going to feel pain, because that condition is painful due to inflammation, and due to the fact that the muscles are completely locked.

There is a difference between specifically directed pressure and deep pressure. Specifically directed pressure has a specifically directed purpose and it doesn't necessarily have to be deep or cause pain to be effective. Either way, you can experience deep or directed pressure that feels good because it alleviates the pain, but it shouldn't be a painful feeling to accomplish that task.

Deep Tissue Massage

In Deep Tissue massage, other parts of the body can be utilized by the therapist, which alleviates stress on their hands, and puts needed pressure on knots & adhesions deep in the muscle layers. It is the best way to apply pressure and release pain.
In Deep Tissue massage, other parts of the body can be utilized by the therapist, which alleviates stress on their hands, and puts needed pressure on knots & adhesions deep in the muscle layers. It is the best way to apply pressure and release pain. | Source

Understand The Proper Methodology

If you're a person that's looking for deep tissue massage; you need to understand that there are superficial layers of tissue that have to be worked out first prior to anyone being able to get deep.

Therefore, there has to be a methodology used to either warm the muscle or relax it and break it down to some degree. That technique is not always Swedish, particularly for people who work out on a regular basis and have some developed muscle tone. In their case there's a lot more muscle to get through.

Even on people whose muscle tone is hypertonic due to lack of exercise, stress and overwork; it still takes time to get through that type of muscle tissue. The superficial tissue layers have to be relaxed before you can go into deeper muscle. You can't just plow into it.

So there are different methodologies and approaches to accomplishing this task. Some therapists like to use Swedish. Depending on the time factor in how much the client would like to get done; I sometimes am of the opinion that that approach takes too long.

A few other methodologies to accomplishing that specific tasks might be acupressure, compression, thai massage, myofascial massage, and sometimes even reflexology or simply a hot pack. I'm sure there are more. These are just a few of the styles that I'm a little more familiar with. The point is, there is more than 1 way to win the battle.

The Battle Against Resistant Muscle

Massage therapists don't want to battle against the client. They want to work with a client to battle against resistant muscle, stress and pain. At the same time, they don't need the type of client that wants to dictate to them what to do, how to do it, and the exact amount of minutes to do each step in either. It really helps us if the client is educated, having a realistic viewpoint about massage; and can communicate effectively to us what their needs are; then allow us to use our training, experience and passion to relieve their pain.

Even if the therapist's style is not typical of the client's experience; it can still be a win win situation if the client is open minded and willing to try something new to relieve their repetitive pain problem. They may discover a new technique that may seem strange or unorthodox, but that is very effective in relieving and releasing their specific pain problem.

Half the time, people come in saying they want to relaxation when their muscles are full of knots. If the massage doesn't release the knots, how is the muscle really going to relax? Also, if you have a build up like this usually there's more than 1 level to it. There's several layers of muscle tissue and you can have knots in all the layers. This is why one 50 minute session is not a cure all. At best, it's a rub down/assessment, but it's not the timeframe to really allow a therapist to remove your pain.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither were your pain issues. Most of your pain problems were developing since your childhood due to possible structural and alignment issues in your hips or feet and could include posture problems along with years of stress. Your parents were, most likely, unaware of any of this.

Usually the pain is the result of all of the above and has caused an imbalance which repetitive motion injuries plus the addition of years of stress due to lack of exercise, abuse or neglect will amplify. They will not go away or be addressed completely in one 50 minute session. You cannot live a lifestyle of imbalance for years; and then expect that in 1 day, you can regain the proper balance after you decided you can no longer tolerate the pain of the imbalance.

It's a better investment of your time, energy and finances to get a plan of action on how to correct the imbalance in your body that's causing you pain. A massage therapist can give you an effective plan that will help to rebalance and align your muscles, and eliminate your pain problem for relaxation and longevity.


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    • Etherealenigma profile imageAUTHOR

      Sandra M. Urquhart 

      3 years ago from Florida

      No problem Dream On. Thanks for checking out the article and leaving the comment. Peace and blessings.

    • DREAM ON profile image

      DREAM ON 

      4 years ago

      Very helpful and gives a very clear view of which massage to ask for depending on your needs. Thank you so much.

    • Etherealenigma profile imageAUTHOR

      Sandra M. Urquhart 

      5 years ago from Florida

      Thank you. Thanks for the visit.

    • ccdursina profile image

      Carolina Dursina 

      5 years ago from Spring Green WI

      Well written hub, very informative - thank you!

    • Etherealenigma profile imageAUTHOR

      Sandra M. Urquhart 

      6 years ago from Florida

      Great! I'm so glad the info helped. That was the point. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Etherealenigma profile imageAUTHOR

      Sandra M. Urquhart 

      6 years ago from Florida

      I love it. I love making people feel better.

    • Francesca27 profile image


      6 years ago from Hub Page

      Very good information. I just picked up info from a massage shop, at the mall. Now, thanks to you, I'll know what questions to ask.


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