A client’s first concern when they come in for a session is whether or not massage will help their pain. I want to jump up and down and scream, yes, yes, yes, but the answer is more nuanced than that.
Why isn’t the answer just a simple yes?
Unfortunately, pain is complicated. And that means that solutions are too. There are no magic bullets for pain. Opiates were the closest thing we had and they’ve been turned into super-villains. Whether or not that is fair or even accurate is up for debate. I’m not going to dive into the rabbit hole that is the opiate crisis, but it’s important to touch on it.
Opiates in a Nutshell
Opiates are awesome for acute pain.
But terrible for longterm issues.
They were being overprescribed for both.
Opiates only reduce pain by about 40%-50%
They have a huge list of side effects.
Opiate medications can induce hyperalgesia (make pain worse).
They can cause dependency and addiction.
Both of which can kill you via unintentional overdose.
When the front line treatment for pain is no longer the doll of the ball, what are we left with? There are options such as Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Injections, NSAIDS, and everyone’s favorite, surgery.
Then there is my old football coaches advice:
“Just walk it off, ya pussy.” – Coach Hardass
These options can help people. I’m particularly fond of GOOD physical therapy. However, if these pathways do not work that can leave people feeling hopeless.
Losing hope is terrible anytime, but it is devastating when you are in pain. This point is when people start to expand their options. They open their minds. Some get just desperate.
The Holistic Way(s)
If you just cringed a little, I understand. If you didn’t, I also understand.
If you don’t want to walk it off, and the more western approaches have left you wanting. Or made you feel like a drug addict. You are left with holistic, homeopathic, alternative, natural, Chinese, ancient, functional, and integrative medicine.
We already have a weird problem. This area has a major identity crisis going on. It’s also hard to tell legitimate treatments from bullshit.
“It’s hard to tell legitimate treatments from bullshit.” – Me, just a minute ago
This field encompasses everything from massage and chiropractic to magic water and coffee colon washes. The list of practitioners is endless as well and some of them sound like they came out of a fantasy novel.
We have crystal healers, reflexologists, Reiki Masters, potion makers, herbalists, magnetic healers, Qi Manipulators, Fire Cuppers, psychic surgeons, neuro-acoustic wizards (seriously). And that’s not even close to a complete list.
These folks may or may not have any formal training, and it’s buyer beware!
Luckily massage falls into a group that walk between the two worlds. These professions include: Osteopaths, Naturopathic Doctors, Chiropractors, Acupuncturists, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and LICENSED Massage Therapists. There are also many Physical Therapists and Medical Doctors that walk this edge too.
The Edge Walker Breakdown
Regulated in most places
Require secondary education of some degree (Months to Years)
Licensed and insured.
Usually, evidence-informed, may or may not be evidence-based.
Scope of Practice varies wildly from place to place
Often draw from both western and alternative practices.
Generally fall under the Integrative Medicine Category
Sadly, can still be littered with quacks and bullshit.
So Where Does Massage Fit?
As far as treatment of pain goes, I don’t think you will find much better than massage. Massage should be a first door treatment for nearly all muscoskeletal complaints. I’m going to be bold and say I would list massage above chiropractic and physical therapy for MANY issues.
The key is seeking to out a well-trained massage therapist. One that is educated, knows their limits, and meshes well with your goals.
The goals part is pivotal. And you need someone who knows what the hell they’re doing. Remember there are plenty of shitty massage therapists out there. They come in many forms from know-it-alls to know-nothings.
If you are looking to manage stress, you need a therapist that specializes in massage for stress and anxiety. If you have migraines, you should be seeing an LMT who knows that condition inside and out. If you are looking to control pain or rehab an injury, then you need to see a therapist that focuses on that.
As I often say, any massage is better than no massage. However, if you don’t seek out a specialist, then you are cheating yourself, and your progress will be slow (or nonexistent).
Don’t all massage therapist learn the same stuff? To some degree that is true, but since we all come from varying backgrounds, every therapist gravitates towards different types of work. And they bring different levels of education and experience with them.
Some therapists go to spas to rub rich people with oil; some want to help people manage stress, some want to work with veterans, some have a heart for hospice, cancer patients, or expectant mothers.
“We want to help people in pain.” – Smart Therapists
And then there are therapists like me. We want to help people in pain. We are fixers, explorers, and experimenters. We have a love affair with anatomy, pain science, and how the body moves. We do not use any one modality and have huge box of tools to help you. We use treatment plans, measure outcomes, and work in ways that you may have never seen even if you have had massage before.
This type of massage therapist can certainly help with your pain. They may even be able to fix it. That’s a big statement, but it’s true for many clients. And if your massage therapist cannot fix the problem, they will be able to improve elements of it. You will also be given tools, tips, and other techniques that will between sessions.
One word of warning, you are not likely to find this type of massage therapist at a chain or a spa. More accurately, you won’t find them there for long. I worked at a chain for about a year before I knew that it was not the right place for me.
“You will not find a therapist like me in a spa or a chain, not for long anyway.”
Corporate chains do not allow for proper intake, personal connection, therapy plans, doctor communication, or the tools needed to address most musculoskeletal issues.
If the chain experience appeals to you, then make sure you try out each therapist and find the kind that will work WITH you. Do not stay with a practitioner that work ON you. The process is a two-way street. And YOU should always be involved in your rehabilitation.
With a good therapist, your treatment will always be evolving, and you will be learning about your body every time you go in.
Interested in an appointment?
SCI Body Therapy
2861 W. 120th Ave
Westminster, CO 80234
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