One question that I am regularly asked is, “What is the difference between a medical massage and a massage experienced at a spa?” The answer that I always give is: intent, focus, and detail.
Medical massage addresses a soft-tissue dysfunction. I see patients that are seeking relief from a singular problem or more often — multiple issues. Cases that are often presented to me are:
- Numbness and tingling
- Decreased range of motion
- Hypertonia (knots)
I will observe and evaluate the patient and pay attention to their posture. Next, I ask questions about their ergonomics at work, how they train and exercise, or their daily routine. I then search for any clue that will tell me which muscles are problematic and where to begin treatment. The therapy focuses on the affected muscles and their associated synergists and antagonists. The two techniques that I employ the most are neuromuscular therapy and myofascial release.
Neuromuscular therapy consists of alternating levels of concentrated pressure on areas of muscle spasm. Muscles that are in spasm will be painful to the touch. The pain is caused by ischemic muscle tissue. Ischemia means the muscle is lacking proper blood flow, which is usually due to the muscle spasm itself—this is a cycle of pain. When a muscle is not receiving enough blood, the muscle is also not receiving enough oxygen. This lack of oxygen causes the muscle to produce lactic acid, which causes a burning or painful sensation. Inflammation leads to the muscle soreness that follows. Neuromuscular therapy will feel painful at first, but the pressure of the massage should alleviate the muscle spasm. Most people describe the pressure as “good pain”.
Fascia is a connective tissue that surrounds and supports muscles throughout the body. Trauma, accidents, and injuries can create restrictions in fascia. These restrictions reduce movement and cause pain. Myofascial release helps to break up these fascial adhesions. The application is slow and gentle. Pressure is applied with movement which elongates the restricted fascia and breaks down adhesions.
Medical massage is prescriptive in nature and is part of the patient’s overall treatment care plan that has been presented by their Doctor. Typically, this also implies reimbursement from insurance or the usage of tax-favored health care dollars. The patient is seen regularly; sessions are often multiple times a week to start, and then reduced after results are achieved. I always recommend maintenance work, which is effective in the 5-6 week range.
The intent of a spa is to relax. Specific goals might include feeling pampered, celebrating a special occasion, or reducing stress. A combination of techniques are associated with a true swedish massage including long flowing strokes and kneading. Chances are this massage will be full body. It’s probably a less frequent experience, and lasts about an hour.
Taking Care of Our Bodies
The therapeutic applications of massage therapy are numerous and the physiological effects on the body are profound. This is a powerful tool for wellness. Whether you are seeking relief from a specific injury, maintaining health and well being, or searching for peace and relaxation — massage can be highly effective. We ask a lot from our bodies, are you taking care of yours?
Ready to take the next step for your health? Schedule your medical massage appointment today.