A Healing Touch

A Guide to Medical Massage


Massage therapy is nothing new. In fact, it’s thought to date back as far as 3,000 BC in India. For thousands of years, massage has been used throughout the world to promote relaxation and cure illnesses. But in the US, it was often still considered a luxury or indulgence. Fortunately, over the past few decades, the American medical community has become increasingly aware of the benefits of therapeutic massage to alleviate and reduce the symptoms of any number of medical concerns.

Medical massage, also known as therapeutic massage, administered by a licensed massage therapist, focuses on your body’s soft tissue — the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that support your body’s healthy function. US healthcare providers are discovering the effectiveness of massage therapy and recommending it to their patients even, as clinical trials show how well injuries and diseases respond to targeted massage techniques. Your general practitioner, chiropractor, or physical therapist may have recommended medical massage to complement therapies they’re already using to treat an area of your body — and for a good reason.

Medical massage can ease discomfort and pain and help you find relief from chronic (long-term) or acute (more recent) conditions, including:

  • Repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Migraines or cluster, tension, or sinus headaches
  • Strains, sprains, and whiplash
  • Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder
  • Low back or radiating pain
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Tendonitis
  • Cancer-related fatigue
  • Osteoarthritis of the knee
  • Post-operative pain and scarring
  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • Sluggish immune system
  • High blood pressure
  • Fibromyalgia

A licensed massage therapist can coordinate with your doctor to tailor the massage to your needs and target affected areas. Open communication is key. The more information you provide your therapist, the better able they’ll be to help you. Explain what your concerns are and what other treatment you’ve received. Inquire about how much experience a particular therapist has with your specific condition. If not much, consider looking for someone well-versed in your situation.

What to Expect

Your medical massage therapist may create a mood with low lighting and calming music, similar to a spa. But rather than an all-over massage, expect them to spend most of your treatment session focusing on your area of concern (although they may also work on surrounding or supporting areas). The massage work may feel deeper than a spa massage, and you may experience more tissue tenderness afterward. Don’t be afraid to let your therapist know if the pressure is too deep or uncomfortable.

Your therapist may also incorporate stretching into your session and, depending on their training and your needs, may use deep-tissue massage, myofascial release, trigger-point work, movement therapies, or passive-resistive stretching techniques. They may also do “spot work” in conjunction with your chiropractor or physical therapy treatment, where they come in and target an area for 15 or so minutes during your regular treatment.

When used in conjunction with your other treatment, medical massage can help decrease pain and increase your range of motion, make it easier to move and function more normally, and help you heal faster from a variety of medical concerns.

Aren’t Medical Massage and Spa Massage the Same?

The short answer is no. While both involve someone applying pressure to your body, medical massage is different in important ways:

  • While spa massage is generally focused on relaxation, medical massage uses a broader set of therapies — targeted to your specific diagnosis — to foster muscle health and recovery.
  • A medical massage emphasizes a medical need such as managing pain, reducing inflammation, improving circulation, relieving nerve compression, improving digestion, or increasing flexibility.
  • Medical massage includes specific follow-up recommendations, usually including a series of visits within an allotted time versus sporadic spa visits.
  • Lastly, your insurance company may cover all or part of your medical massage since the visits are designed to aid in resolving a specific ailment or condition.

Did You Know?

Massage therapy can stimulate endorphins, your body’s natural painkiller, and increase serotonin, your body’s “happy chemical,” to help decrease your pain and improve your mood.

At the same time, it can reduce your cortisol levels, your stress hormone to relieve anxiety and stress, and even boost your immune function.

Medical massage can improve the function of your circulatory and lymphatic systems, reducing inflammation and enhancing your body’s ability to flush out toxins.

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