The Therapeutic Side Of Relaxation
“You’re the best part of my month”, she said as she lay face down on my massage table.
I’ve heard words like this before, “ahhh…I am so relieved I had this massage booked” or “I’ve been looking forward to this allllll day”.
But this was different.
For some reason this time these words gave me goosebumps, they made my throat close. It was because she said it with feeling and sincerity.
She said it was a sigh and a sad voice.
The one hour she got to lie on my massage table was quite possibly the best hour of her month.
How do you feel and respond to someone telling you that you make their life better, even if it is only for one hour?
I simply replied, “I am honoured to be part of it.”
In my head and heart I was trying to decide if I should say anything more, urge her to talk or just stay quiet. Eventually she opened up herself and told me some of the more troubling things that had been going on in her life lately.
She clearly had a huge weight on her shoulders and was experiencing the dreaded six letter word…STRESS.
Stress Effects And Massage Therapy
How many times a day do you notice high stress written or circled on your health history intake form?
How often does a patient tell you they have been under a lot of stress lately, whether it be from work, home life or a combination?
How many people say they have been tired and stressed and then hurt themselves?
The term ‘stress’ has many definitions including three which are relevant to our profession:
- the physical pressure, pull, or other force exerted on one thing by another; strain.
- the action on a body of any system of balanced forces whereby strain or deformation results.
- a specific response by the body to a stimulus, as fear or pain, that disturbs or interferes with the normal physiological equilibrium of an organism.
You might remember from school that when we are ‘stressed out’ our body responds by releasing cortisol and pro-inflammatory cytokines, as well as ramping up our sympathetic nervous system.
And we all know the different effects which short and long term stress can have on us, both mentally and physically: difficulty sleeping, headaches, serious diseases such as heart disease and cancer, weight gain or loss, substance abuse, isolation, mood changes, and many more.
So what is our role as a massage therapist?
We are the health care professionals that can best provide a venue, a space and a significant amount of time that our patients can be quiet, relax and sometimes vent their issues.
One of my patients, who is a physiotherapist, recently said to me, “Massage therapists have all the skills and knowledge of other health care professionals, but you all have a hell of a lot more finesse”!
He further explained that while I’m helping him with his overuse injuries, he also felt amazing, calm and relaxed after each treatment as well.
He could find injury relief from a lot of practitioners, but always chose massage therapy.
Why A Relaxation Massage Is Still Therapeutic
The relaxation aspect of a massage is highly overlooked.
We are often so set on proving that we have the skills and knowledge to be world class health care professionals (which we are!) and can mobilize, strengthen and stretch with the best of them.
All of these things I practice and love about our profession and am not trying to downplay at all.
However we maybe forget that many of our patient’s conditions have initially been caused, and are continually being aggravated, by some form of mental and emotional stress. In our time and effort to help our patient’s find more mobility and less pain, we can still provide an experience to decrease stress, even if it is only for one hour.
Specific, deep and therapeutic massage techniques can be applied in a relaxing way.
Massage strokes can be slower and more deliberate. Deeper, specific pressure can be eased into instead of suddenly applied. Mobility and range of motion techniques can be extremely beneficial, while also being relaxing.
When I taught at the massage therapy college I often tried to remind the students that some people go through a lot of stress in their day, in their week and for some in their entire life. Our patients are not just a medical condition, a sore muscle or a chronic headache.
From infants to elderly, the effects of massage therapy on decreasing stress has been widely cited. Preterm babies receiving massage have been studied thoroughly and results have shown reduction in stress behaviours (significant crying, low quality and quantity of sleep, low feeding response) and a decrease in time spent in neonatal intensive care. Studies have also shown levels of cortisol decrease significantly while both serotonin and dopamine increased post relaxation massage in adults with depression, chronic pain, cancer and during pregnancy. Life, and science, shows us every day that stress can lead to serious and scary conditions. Massage therapists can not only provide relief from pain and immobility but can also help alleviate stress. In a busy world we could all benefit from lying on a massage table for one stress free hour! Don’t forget that you may be the best part of someone’s month.
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Great post, Meagan. A hugely relevant topic. I am constantly trying to validate the relaxation massage to my patients. Decreasing stress is pretty much the only thing we know we can do. Positive outcomes could be nothing more than the body’s global reaction to decreased stress.
Thank you for reading Bruce! I totally agree! I hope we can inspire some people to realize massage therapists are not acting any lesser by providing relaxion.
This post resonates with me so much… not just because of what I do as a therapist but because I’m often referring clients to massage therapists for just this reason. Because sometimes people need physiological attention to the way they hold stress in their bodies. Not to mention that we are becoming so distant because of technology that the healing benefits of therapeutic touch are becoming more important and more nourishing to a stressed out system than ever. Your careers will never be obsolete – nothing compares to human touch particularly in a world where we are all starving for it! Well done!
The therapies you offer will never be obsolete either, mental health is so often overlooked, massage therapy and counseling are such a great compliment to each other.
Stress is dangerous and permeates much of the daily life. It’s hard to avoid, whether it be a from a job or simply the sensory overload that being involved in the public life brings. So it makes sense that the wind-down from this, relaxation, would have a therapeutic side to it. The soul rejuvenates. Massage therapy is a marvelous outlet for this relaxation.
Soul rejuvenation, love it!
Excellent article – nothing happens in a vacuum. All stresses have a root cause and addressing that stimulus is helpful in releasing the stress over the long term.
Massage therapy is such an important tool in stress reduction. The positive effects, both mentally and physically, that come from your sessions with your clients can help them to re-frame their stressors and have a more positive outlook.
Speaking from personal experience, one hour on a massage table after months of mental stress is as beneficial as a week of Caribbean vacation – and a lot more affordable.
Thanks for the response and the comparison!! I’ll have to start telling patients that!
Very interesting post. I had no idea that message reduced cortisol levels. That alone is a fantastic benefit of massage therapy. My son was a premie and we noticed he would always calm down and fall asleep faster when we rubbed his back before bed. It’s defiantly soothing, and I can see where it would activate relaxing hormones after a session. Great post.
Wonderful read. Getting was never a priority until a few years ago when work became very stressful. It is also good to be touch even if it’s just a hug from someone. I learned it through Ayurveda self-soothing by massaging your own feet and head before jumping in the shower. I don’t practice it as often but its wonderful.
I remember when I was in my 9-5 that I was so stressed and overwhelmed that I couldn’t wait to get to my massage therapist. The physical release and ability to just close my eyes and not be in demand for an hour was the best thing for me.
The stress reduction that massage therapy provides is truly life saving for some. It is also an excellent preventative measure for your overall health and well being. Great read!
Mental health is often overlooked, until it is too late. I am glad that there are professionals like this blogger who understand that everyday people have stress and it needs to be tended to before it becomes unmanageable or manifests itself physically. Stress, depression, and overwhelm are real problems and RMTs are an important part of resolving these issues.
I wholeheartedly agree that relaxation massage is still very much a therapeutic massage. How do you view this in terms of esthiticians and cosmetologists being allowed to perform “relaxation” massage? I don’t know if it is allowed throughout the country but here in Ohio they can give a relaxation massage which apparently just means no deep tissue. First of all, all massages are therapeutic, not merely relaxing. Secondly, you can still do damage to someone because you lack the knowledge to safely work on them, even if you aren’t pressing with full force. Furthermore, I think it is disrespectful to those of us who have a degree and a license in this field that we are put on the same level as someone who studied only the skin or the hair. In my workplace, we get paid the same amount for our massages as well, which is more grievous. What are your thoughts?
I agree Laura. Knowing the correct contraindications as well as anatomy/physiology etc should all be part of the education process for anyone who is putting their hands on someone. I know that with each province and or state the regulations are different as far as amount of training etc that each Massage Therapist gets. It is a constant struggle to try and get national certification to rectify some of these problems, but hopefully we will get there one day.