The Elements of Massage

Many of our clients wonder why we have such a detailed health information form.  Massage has long been considered a luxury service, however applying techniques in the wrong situation can cause significant harm.  Massage impacts every body system and having a complete and detailed health history is essential to providing a safe and effective massage.  

Illnesses and medications often have a direct impact on how the body performs.  As massage therapists, it’s important for us to understand what conditions our clients have and what medicine they are using to control their symptoms.  Here are just a few common elements of a massage and how they may change based on a clients medical status.

Heat – Heat is a huge help during a massage.  The increase in temperature expands blood vessels, increases oxygen delivery to the muscles and makes them much more receptive to treatment.  However, if a client has chronic heart failure that increase in temperature may put more of a strain on the circulatory system than the client can handle.  In some cases a change in temperature can trigger a flare of fibromyalgia.

Pressure – Pressure is another method therapists use to reduce tension in muscles.  As I mentioned earlier in the newsletter, the application and release of pressure increases blood flow to a muscle to reduce tension.  If a client is taking blood thinners or some other medications, deep pressure can cause bruising.  Long term use of prednisone can make the soft tissues of the body less flexible and resilient.  Deep pressure can cause tissue damage in these cases.

Positioning – The position of the body can encourage muscles to relax or respond to treatment when applied correctly.  Positioning can also exacerbate conditions or cause harm.  If someone has COPD, laying flat on the massage table will make it difficult for them to breathe so it is recommended that they enjoy their massage in an inclined position.  Pregnant women should also either be positioned at an incline and then lying on their side or use a pregnancy cushion during their massage; lying flat on their back can cause pressure on the main blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the fetus.

Motion – Sometimes therapists use movement as part of their session to help lubricate tissues or gently release restrictions and muscle tension.  In some cases surgeries, joint replacements or injuries limit the range and comfort of motion for clients and movement does more damage than good.

These are only a few examples of the ways in which massage techniques can have potentially severe impacts.  Hopefully this helps you understand why we ask so many questions.  Our whole reason for being here is to help your body perform optimally and the more information you provide us, the better equipped we are to help you meet your goals. Any time there is a change in your medical history; a new surgery, a reduction or increase in your prescription, please make sure to let your therapist know!

The content of this article is not intended to replace professional medical advice. If you’re ill, please consult a physician.

Premkumar, Kalyani. Pathology A to Z – A Handbook for Massage Therapists, VanPub Books, 2000.
Wible, Jean. Drug Handbook for Massage Therapists, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2009.

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