Someone recently told me they were looking for a good therapeutic massage. I thought, well I’m perfect for you because that’s exactly what I do. Later, I began to think more about our conversation and thought I would share my thoughts with you.
I’ll just come out swinging on this topic: All massage is therapeutic. The difference between types of massage is based on your goal. Say you get a massage because that’s how you relax and take care of yourself, not necessarily because you have any significant pain or discomfort. That is a therapeutic massage. Or, say you can’t lift your arm over your head without feeling pain. That would also call for therapeutic massage. The techniques and approaches are different, but the outcome is the same- your brain gets the message that your body is in a safe space and that those pain or stress alarms can slow their roll while your body settles into a more parasympathetic state. Relaxation is an outcome, not a type of massage.
After speaking more with this person, I figured out they regarded therapeutic massage as deep pressure massage. This idea is a misconception. Pressure is a sensory preference. It does not indicate whether the massage will be beneficial or therapeutic. But I get that getting the pressure right is extremely important and can dictate whether you enjoy your massage or not. As an example, I have scoliosis and my back doesn’t like heavy pressure, but my runner’s legs love a firmer touch. I feel pain when someone works deeply on my back but I feel relief when the work is deeper on my legs. It’s my brain’s perception of pain and pleasure; it’s not a request that comes from the tissues in my body. And while I’m on the subject of deep pressure, I’ll give you a little intro to a topic for another blog: deep pressure is not a requirement for change because change does not happen at the tissue level (it’s because of the gray matter in your noggin).
I have heard Swedish massage referred to as a “fluff” or “fluff and buff” massage and I don’t care for those terms at all. Those ideas minimize the importance of self-care and demean the people who like a more flowing massage and whose goal is strictly relaxation. If you feel better after your massage than before the massage, then your massage was therapeutic.
And since your body responds to what is happening in your brain, guess how all of my massages start. You got it- those same long, flowing effleurage strokes. The same strokes that make up a “relaxation massage”. Why? Because if you are in pain, your brain is screaming “danger” and the last thing your body needs is my elbow shoved directly into that shoulder that isn’t moving your arm above your head. The long, flowing, slow strokes are meant to move your brain and body into a more relaxed, parasympathetic state- breathing slows, the pain gets quieter, and your focus is on something other than discomfort. This concept is referred to as descending modulation– the good feels are louder than the bad feels. Then, if you are wanting to focus on that shoulder, we can move into more focused techniques.
I have no problem with “deep work”, but that work will be combined with Swedish-style strokes and Active Engagement techniques, and will be at a depth that is comfortable for me and safe for you. And, most importantly, all of it will be therapeutic.