“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.