Everything you wanted to know about massage therapy but were afraid to ask
Alex Matyashin, RMT, R.Ac.
Registered Massage Therapist
What happens during a massage therapy session?
At your first massage therapy session, your massage therapist will ask you about any symptoms you may have (like lower back pain) and will also ask questions about your medical history. The therapist will perform some tests to confirm his clinical impression. The practitioner may also initiate a discussion about what you expect to achieve from the massage session.
The massage therapist leaves the room while you undress and lie down on the massage table. A sheet is draped over your body during the session and moved only to expose the part of the body being worked on at any given time.
Massage oil or lotion is often used to reduce friction between the practitioner’s hands and your skin. The room is kept warm and free of distractions. The therapist will ask whether they are applying too much or too little pressure. Soft music may be playing in the background.
The manner in which a practitioner massages your body depends on the problem being treated. A massage session can last from 30-90 minutes and may include a schedule of follow up visits, depending on the severity of your situation.
What are the benefits of massage therapy?
Physiological benefits of massage therapy
- Improves waste removal processes in the body
- Encourages sleep, thus helping with insomnia and other sleep issues
- Helps to relieve stiff and aching joints
- Encourages lymph drainage which can help to reduce swelling
- Improves the blood circulation through the body
- Helps to encourage deeper breathing
- Relaxes and relieves sore and tired muscles
- Can either help to stimulate or sedate the nervous system
- Helps to relax the body
- Can help to limit scars from forming after injuries
- Can also help to break down existing scar tissue
- Massage can help to release muscles that are pressing on nerves to relieve pain or tingling in arms and legs
- Can improve muscle tone and balance, thus giving better support to the skeletal system
- The relaxing properties of massage can help to decrease the heart rate
- Regular massage can actually increase white blood cells, strengthening your immune system
- By relaxing the respiratory muscles, massage can improve lung capacity
- Improving and stimulating digestion
Psychological massage benefits
- Overall relaxation, which is very important for helping to reduce stress, tension, anxiety, and the effects of these
- It helps to ease the mental distress that is caused by being in pain
- It releases endorphins, which are the body’s natural “feel good” chemicals
- Massage creates an overall feeling of wellbeing
Will the massage hurt?
This depends on the type of massage and the depth of the strokes. A light, relaxing massage that doesn’t probe very deep into the muscles, shouldn’t hurt. With that being said, there is a ‘feels good’ hurt and an ‘ouch, stop it’ hurt. A good massage, even a really deep tissue massage, should always stay in the ‘feels good’ hurt range.
Pain can be an indication that the muscle is possibly injured or inflamed and pressure should be adjusted. Also, pain can cause you to tighten up and negate the relaxing effects of the massage. The most effective and deepest massage always works with your body’s natural response, not against it.
Are there any risks associated with massage therapy?
In general, massage is considered relatively safe. Pain or other rare negative side effects are generally caused by an extremely vigorous massage technique. The possible side effects of massage are:
- Aching muscles and/or headaches may occur as a natural result of the release of excessive physical tension and emotional stress.
- An increase in the need to urinate as the body begins releasing excess waste such as toxins. This is one of the reasons you would be advised to drink more water post treatment.
- An increase in bowel movement with accompanying flatulence (gas), especially if the abdomen has been massaged.
- Heightened feelings of emotion, e.g. weeping. Sometimes this has occurred during treatment and the person feels completely overwhelmed. Embarrassment of this happening needs complete reassurance that this is one of the side effects from treatment due to lifestyle. How the body has been coping with it, or not, finds its escape here and that is definitely a good thing. No need for embarrassment whatsoever.
- Often times, a feeling of emptiness can accompany the release of extreme emotions.
- An increase in the feeling of hunger can occur, especially if you have been withholding your food intake excessively. As the body becomes more relaxed, it can be alerted to the need for proper nutrients.
- A deep feeling of thirst can also occur. Again, the relaxation attained from massage will alert the body to its need to rehydrate.
- Feeling of great tiredness through to extreme exhaustion may be felt as the body attempts to make you aware of its need for sustained rest. This is especially true of those who are constantly on the go without a minute to rest. Today’s “modern lifestyles” can and do leave us working on half empty energy reserves at times and massage can bring this to the foreground in terms of physicality.
- Sometimes, due to the nature of some types of massage (i.e. deep tissue), bruising may occur. This is often seen in the denser areas of the body like the hips and buttocks. If bruising doesn’t show in discolouration then the surface area can definitely feel bruised as a result of the deep muscle work having been done. This is all normal and will subside over a few days.
- Even though massage is a useful technique to help regulate blood sugar over time, if you have diabetes, you should check your blood sugar after receiving a massage because it may be too low. Plus, if you have diabetes and you are receiving massage on a regular basis, you should check your blood sugar frequently to evaluate changes over time.
How will I feel after my massage treatment?
Most people feel very relaxed. Some experience a significant decrease or freedom from long-term aches and pains. Many feel a little slowed down for a short period and then notice an increase of energy, heightened awareness and increased productivity which can last for days.
If you received a deep massage, you may be slightly sore the next day- much like a good workout at the gym. Sometimes a hot shower, or a soak in the tub can ease this soreness.
After your session, you should increase your water intake a bit. Just a glass or two more than normal is usually fine. This helps keep your body’s tissues hydrated and healthy.
Massage isn’t just a relaxing endeavor to enjoy at your next spa visit- it has healing and therapeutic properties. A deep tissue massage can help ameliorate a lot of your symptoms. Despite all of the benefits, in rare cases massage may cause negative side effects.
Soreness after a massage therapy session
Massage may bring to mind images of soothing, gentle touch, deep-tissue and sports massage are much more intense, though. You may experience discomfort during the session and could be extremely sore the next day. Soreness following a massage shouldn’t last more than a day or two—if it does, you should ask your massage therapist to reduce the intensity or treatment at your next session.
Fatigue and Malaise
An intense massage can leave you lacking in energy the following day. The massage may have over-stimulated your neurological system, creating a stress-induced fatigue. This fatigue can often be alleviated by hydrating and relaxing. You may also want to avoid intense exercise sessions or important, stressful meetings or engagements in the hours after a massage. Your central nervous system is slightly overloaded from the physical manipulation and just needs time to adjust.
The benefits of regular massage therapy sessions
Once people discover the many joys and benefits of massage, a common question arises, “how often should I schedule my massage sessions?” Of course, there is no set answer, but studies indicate that massage at regular intervals is most beneficial to your overall health.
Similar to exercise, massage therapy does more for you if you engage in it regularly. Even a monthly massage treatment can help maintain general health and keep you at your best.
Remember, your body strives to maintain optimum health by keeping all of its systems in balance. Along with proper nutrition, exercise and rest, massage relaxes tense muscles and stimulates the body’s communication lines to help it do its job—and to keep you feeling your best. Usually it takes 4-5 massage sessions to see a difference in your condition and 10-15 weekly or biweekly sessions to feel substantial improvement.
Single session effects:
- Pain relief– relief from pain due to musculoskeletal injuries and other causes is cited to be a major benefit of massage.
- State anxiety– massage has been shown to reduce state anxiety, a transient measure of anxiety in a given situation.
- Blood pressure and heart rate– massage has been shown to temporarily reduce blood pressure and heart rate.
Multiple sessions’ effects:
- Pain relief– when combined with physiotherapy and exercises, massage might help sub-acute, chronic, non-specific low back pain. Furthermore, massage has been shown to reduce pain experienced in the days or weeks after treatment.
- Anxiety– massage has been shown to reduce trait anxiety; a person’s general susceptibility to anxiety.
- Depression– massage has been shown to reduce subclinical depression.
So, make regular massage a priority in your life for a healthier tomorrow!
Family Physiotherapy, assessing and treating sports injuries for the residents of Thornhill, Markham and Vaughan
The physiotherapists at Family Physiotherapy have been providing high quality assessment and treatment techniques using safe and evidence based techniques to the residents of Thornhill, Markham, Richmond Hill, Woodbridge, Vaughan and Toronto. Our therapists are continually upgrading their skills and take the time to provide you with the one on one care necessary to quickly get you back to the activities you love doing.