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.