Pain Management

Massage Therapists: Pain Relief and Relaxation

Licensed massage therapists are allied health professionals who can have a significant impact on your well-being. Unfortunately, they are also often portrayed in movies or on TV in a less than flattering light, so their work can be misunderstood sometimes.

From helping clients recover from injuries to helping clients prevent injuries by keeping their muscles relaxed, massage therapists are trained to use touch to work on the muscles and soft tissues of the body. Therapists may work in commercial venues, like sports facilities, spas, and cruise ships, but they also may work independently or with doctors and physiotherapists to complement medical treatments.

What Is Massage Therapy?

Massage therapy, or therapeutic massage, falls under the “alternative medicine” umbrella. Some researchers have found that massages can help patients with serious illnesses, like cancer, and chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia. Massages have also been found to help people with migraines, anxiety, and depression, and more.

There are several types of massages and the type given by the therapist depends on the goal. Some are:

·      Sports massage

·      Deep-tissue massage

·      Swedish massage

·      Trigger point massage

Sports massages help people who are physically active. The massages can promote flexibility and help prevent injury, and they can help relieve the discomfort from overdoing exercise or physical activity. Massage therapists will usually focus on a particular part of the body, but it can be more than one spot.

Deep-tissue massages help loosen tight muscles and they promote blood circulation. As with the sports massages, deep-tissue massages may be for one specific area of the body or it can be a more general massage.

Swedish massages, which are probably the most popular and well known type of massage, focus more on relaxing the superficial muscles, while improving blood circulation.

Trigger point massages focus on particular trigger areas that could be causing pain, such as a spot on the neck that could be causing shoulder or upper back pain.

Massages are adapted to the clients’ needs.

What to Expect at Your First Appointment

When you first see a massage therapist, you should bring your prescription or referral if you have one. This will tell the therapist why you are seeking help.

The first few minutes of the session will be spent answering questions, which usually include your medical history, current limitations, your previous experience with massage, if you take any medications, and what you are expecting from the therapy.

There are some situations where massage therapy is not recommended. For this reason, it is vital that the massage therapist know as much about your physical and medical conditions as is necessary.

Here are some problems with which massage therapy might be contraindicated (advised against) or may be done with caution:

·      Varicose veins– gentle massage is usually done beside the veins, but not directly over them.

·      Skin disorders– massages are not normally performed on skin with wounds, rashes, bruises, burns, blisters, or other skin problems.

·      Infectious illness, such as influenza or other viral illness – aside from exposing the massage therapist to the illness, some people believe that massage could decrease your body’s ability to fight the viruses.

·      Hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease, deep vein thrombosis (DVT)– people with hypertension should avoid stimulating massages, but soft, relaxing massages could be helpful. If you have had problems with blood clots, massages could dislodge clots in the blood vessels.

·      Osteoporosis (brittle bones)– vigorous massage could be too hard on fragile bones.

How to Find a Massage Therapist

Not all states require massage therapists to be licensed; 44 states and the District of Columbia have regulations, and training and requirements for massage therapists can vary quite a bit between states. For example, the state of New York requires massage therapists pass an exam after graduating from an accredited massage therapy program. But in Alaska, licensing will only come into effect in July 2015.

If your doctor or physical therapist has recommended massage therapy, as for a referral for a trusted therapist, or ask from people around you who have had massages. If you can’t find someone through referrals, check if there is a state licensing board. They may be able to provide you with local therapists.

Prices for massages can vary widely depending on the location, facility, experience, and more. If your doctor has recommended a massage, check to see if your health insurance covers it. You may be entitled to a certain number of massages per year if you have a referral.

Marijke Vroomen Durning RN has written articles, promotional material, and continuing medical education (CME) for health care professionals, as well as patient information sheets and articles for the general public. She has also co-authored several books. Her blog was chosen as one of the Top 10 Canadian Health and Fitness Blogs by SheKnows Canada. She is the author of Just the Right Dose: Your Smart Guide to Prescription Drugs & How to Take Them Safely. To learn more about the book, please visit You can also go directly to Amazon or Kobo to purchase it. Please also visit

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