What does Massage Therapy Mean?

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What does Massage Therapy Mean?

When I lived in Ontario, it always gave me a chuckle that, if I wanted to buy beer, I had to go to a place called the “Beer Store”.  At the store you walk in and order your beer, sight unseen, from the cash register, which means as a customer you have to know what you want before you get there. I mean, what kind of marketing is that?  I know they are selling beer, but what kind? What does beer really mean? Does it include cider? Does it include gluten free? What if you have never had beer before? Or had only had one kind? How do I, as a customer, know what I want?beer 1

Massage is exactly the same. What is massage therapy really? Even within the industry there is a fair bit of debate due to regional differences and scopes of practice. Oh, sure, we could wiki it, (here is the wiki link for massage -which is not where you should get your info by the way) For my practice I consider movement-oriented techniques  and mobilizations for pain a major part of massage therapy, but in another state they might consider only stroking, and kneading  to be massage. In Thailand massage means  you are to be fully clothed while the practitioner bends and flexes you, in Russia they might beat you with wet leaves and in India slowly drip you with oil.  The word massage seems to convey simply that you will come and  have some sort of interaction where someone else will do something to your body.  Even if we get specific, i.e. ,”Today we are doing medical massage.”, what does that mean? Is it massage that is done by a doctor? Or is it done in a medical clinic? Is it massage done for a medical reason? Even if we define medical…there is still that word massage there, which could mean anything. What are we doing when we preform massage.

From a client perspective this has got to be very confusing. Give your clients a little credit, because every time a new client books with you they are taking a chance. They really have no clue what they are getting before they get there. Chances are when they book with you for a sports massage they are either hoping it was just like their last sports massage or nothing like their last sports massage. But still, what is  sports massage? How do we as therapists convey what it is we do to our clients in a way where they know exactly what they are getting before they get it.

It is time to get really specific about what you are doing as a professional, and that specificity will set the tone for a better, safer experience for all involved (and earn you more money because you are seen as more professional). After your client intake I would consider dropping the word massage entirely form your vocabulary, because to clients it has no meaning, nor does trigger point, fascia work, neuro-muscular, stabilization and all the rest. It’s not enough to say “lets work on your lower back” because what does that mean? You have to say “I am going to gently touch your lower back by stroking it, and then move to deeper work with my finger tips. If, at that point, I think that we need to go further, I would like to pick up the skin and stretch it a bit. How does that sound?” At which point most clients would respond by saying, “Oh no…I hate the skin pulling part…my last therapist did that and I HATED IT” or they might agree fanatically.  It does not matter, but you have just had effective and clear conversation about what ‘massage’ is, and that is HUGE.

When someone says ‘yes’ to massage therapy on their back they may actually have no idea what you are about to do. So make it good practice to make it clear and  specific with your clients.  Their stress level will go down and their happiness with you will go up. You might even try dropping those buzz words all together and see what you are left with. Possibly it is a more professional, more science friendly package.


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