What does Massage Therapists do When they don’t Massage

Massage therapists can choose from hundreds of different ways to help people with their hands, many of which aren’t actually “massage” in the traditional sense. Science has largely ignored the majority of these manual remedies. Many of them are suspect and obscure, while others are well-known and mainstream. Some of them may be valuable for certain purposes, but the overall utility of this jumble of strategies is difficult to assess.
My wife slowly healed in 2010 after suffering catastrophic injuries in a vehicle accident, including a spine fracture. You can probably guess what workouts she has to undertake. Early mobilisation and range-of-motion exercises are very important! This is merely regular post-injury treatment. Is it massage therapy if it’s prescribed by a massage therapist? Is that patient benefiting from massage therapy? Yes, in certain ways…
Early mobilisation and range of motion exercises, for example, will be taught to clients with neck injuries by qualified massage therapists since they help people recover faster.
56 Early mobilisation, in fact, strongly implies that recovery after practically any accident or surgery is considerably aided by it. Of course, “massaging with movement” isn’t the same as “massage therapy”; it’s something that only a few well-trained massage therapists recommend, and only in specific situations.
Lymphatic drainage is an unusual example of a specific massage method that is said to be useful for only one thing: reducing swelling. It has a good reputation for being the best treatment choice for lymphoedema, a significant consequence following mastectomy and other surgical treatments. But it’s also obscure, technical, and just a few hundred therapists worldwide practise it. It’s not “massage therapy” in the traditional sense; rather, it’s a specialised tool used by a small number of specialists, some of whom are massage therapists. Oh, and there’s more bad news: there’s new evidence that it doesn’t work, or at least not as well as we’d like.7 8
Massage therapists frequently utilise spinal traction to address low-back and neck discomfort. It might work for a few patients, but I wouldn’t bank on it, and I wouldn’t recommend spending a lot of money on it. The data for this, like many other popular therapies, is a jumble. 9 The lack of definitive proof is significant: traction would have shown up clearly by now if it functioned properly. If traction works at all, it is untrustworthy. In both my neck and back pain videos, I go through traction in great depth.
Friction massage, another type of massage used mostly to treat tendinitis10, was developed by physiotherapists and widely embraced by massage therapists. Unfortunately, despite being a good notion, it has yet to be well backed by evidence (undermined by it, if anything). Nonetheless, the profession clings to friction massage, mostly on the notion that it must be effective if it is performed by better-trained physical therapists, which is a risky assumption.

Massage therapists often employ procedures that are even more dubious than these procedures

A popular example is therapeutic “touch,” which includes hovering over the body and altering the patient’s “aura” rather than real touching. It’s not massage, and I believe it’s on par with astrology or dowsing in terms of legitimacy. Some massage therapists think it’s true, while others think it’s nonsense. Another well-known example is craniosacral treatment, which is a touch therapy rather than “massage” per se. Most doctors and scientists have never respected it, and it has even been attacked by many alternative health practitioners. Despite this, a large number of manual therapists sell it as if it were shown to be beneficial. Other spa treatments include hydrotherapy. Salt washes, mud wraps, and contrast bathing were all part of my training because of the historic link between massage therapists and spas (and largely a waste of time and tuition fees). Heating pads and ice packs are rehab clichés, and I actually like them for some purposes, as well as a few other related approaches – but the vast majority of “hydrotherapies” are antiquated, impractical, and have no demonstrable medical value. Dr. Moyer feels that these effects should be given more attention, and that they should perhaps constitute the foundation for a new discipline of massage therapy study and practise called affective massage therapy (AMT). Building on what is now known about massage therapy’s effects on anxiety and depression, all that can be done today should be done to better understand and maximise the ways that massage therapy affects affect, the observable components of an individual’s feelings, moods, and emotions.


Massage may help to alleviate melancholy and anxiety since it is simply calming. While not as well-proven as you might assume, it’s a very safe bet37, and data suggests that massage treatment can lower blood pressure3839 and help individuals sleep, especially while they’re dealing with the unique demands of hospital care. 40 All of this is unsurprising… and uninteresting. Relaxation is a vital part of health and pain management, and I don’t discount its importance, but it’s not a cure-all. Many critics have pointed out that getting a massage is a very pricey method to unwind. To be sure, it’s a good way, but it’s also expensive. Professional massage therapists charge approximately a $1 per minute on average, which is far more than many people can afford on a regular basis. This economic aspect is frequently overlooked in debates about whether or not massage is effective. For some people, it undoubtedly does… but is it good enough for the price? A snooze is also very pleasant and far less expensive. If massage is to be deemed a more cost-effective treatment for any medical condition than napping, we must prove that it does more — a lot more — than simply relax individuals.

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