If you’re interested in massage therapy, you probably have a lot of questions. What type of therapeutic massage works best for low-back pain? Is there really much of a difference between Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, and shiatsu massage techniques for pain relief? What type of massage is best for relaxation?
Or perhaps you’ve already discovered the benefits of massage for your health and well-being and just want to deepen your knowledge of this hands-on healing discipline.
Massage therapy has been around for millennia and has roots in many cultural traditions. It is distinct among integrative health disciplines because of its dual identities as both a wellness practice and a luxury service, a pampering physical pleasure nearly everyone enjoys. This long history, widespread practice, and near-universal appreciation probably contribute to the swirl of mythology surrounding massage therapy services.
Since good information will help you get the most out of your massage therapy program, we’ve assembled a list of seven of the most common massage myths below. See how many of them surprise you!
Myth 1: A good massage will leave you sore.
Soreness is not an indicator of quality when it comes to massage. While soreness for a day or two following a massage is quite common, it should not be interpreted as a sign that a massage “worked” - or didn’t work, for that matter.
Different styles of massage have different goals, individual massage therapists’ techniques vary, and patients’ unique bodies can feel the effects of massage in different ways. While some patients seek out the firm pressure of deep tissue massage to release tension buried in the fascia (connective tissue) between muscles as a treatment for chronic pain, other massage therapy clients prefer a lighter touch and less intense experience for maximum relaxation and stress relief.
The deep tissue massage patient may be more likely to experience muscle soreness the following day, but both types of massage described above can prove equally effective in meeting the client’s goals and needs.
In any case, no massage should put you in pain beyond moderate muscle soreness for more than a day or two afterward. If your pain lasts longer than that, or if you experience any kind of severe pain, you should tell your massage therapist and make a doctor’s appointment to rule out any serious injury.1
Myth 2: All massages are basically the same.
As mentioned above, massage techniques can vary greatly in the way they feel and the effects they have. Patients bring different goals and approaches to the experience, whether that is to release muscle tension after a marathon with a targeted sports massage, or to improve range of motion in parts of the body with chronic pain from a condition like arthritis2, with a gentler Swedish-style massage.
The massage therapy profession has developed a variety of techniques to address different client goals, concerns, and preferences. Your licensed massage therapist can walk you through the kinds of massage therapy services they offer and help you find a style that most benefits you.
Myth 3: Pregnant women can’t get massages.
In the past, there was a belief that massage could induce labor. This is now considered inaccurate. In fact, some health benefits have been shown for pregnant women from massage, and many massage therapists study prenatal massage techniques that make massage comfortable and enjoyable for pregnant women.
Still, since more research is needed, many doctors and massage therapists themselves take a conservative approach to massage during pregnancy. This means some massage therapists avoid giving massages to women during the first trimester, when miscarriages are more common. Another common precaution is to avoid putting heavy pressure on the legs, because pregnant women have a higher risk of blood clots and there is concern very deep strokes could potentially release a clot.3
If these precautions are followed, however, there is little reason to be concerned about risks to pregnancy from massage. In fact, studies have shown massage can be beneficial to pregnant women in decreasing depression, anxiety, and back and leg pain. Regular massage therapy during pregnancy may make delivery less painful and reduce the chance of premature birth.4
Myth 4: Massage is too expensive.
The average cost of a massage in 2018 was $60 per hour5, with prices generally ranging between about $50-$90. That’s less than many people spend at coffee shops each month!
Check to see if your health insurance plan will cover the cost of massage therapy if your doctor writes a prescription for it. Some tax-protected savings accounts for health expenses will also let you use these funds for massage with a doctor’s prescription to reduce the cost even further.
Given the benefits of massage for reducing stress and safely aiding in pain management, regular massage clients know there are few better investments in your health and well-being that offer a better value!
Myth 5: Harder pressure makes massage more effective.
This myth is similar to #1, that a good massage will always leave you sore. The truth is that the effects of massage can bear some similarities to exercise, working your muscles in a way that makes them sore but increases flexibility and range of motion and ultimately feels good.
But massage does not need to include very deep strokes or heavy intensity in order to be effective. In fact, the deep strokes associated with deep tissue massage should normally be preceded by lighter ones to warm up muscles, lessen tension, and prepare the body properly for deeper work. This should help the massage therapy patient to feel less pain during deep tissue massage, rather than more.6
Some soreness and temporary discomfort is normal during massage, but it’s always a good idea to communicate how you are feeling to your massage professional and discuss your preferences. Massage is all about making you feel good in the end.
Myth 6. Massages can be deep and painful or soothing and relaxing, not both!
It is true that the physical experience of massage can vary in intensity depending on the specific patient, style of massage, and the approach of the massage therapist. It is not true that more intense massages with deeper strokes can’t be relaxing - or that more relaxing massages don’t yield major physical benefits.
A deep tissue massage or Thai yoga massage can be a more intense physical experience for many people than other massage techniques, but this actually helps some people to relax more deeply, similar to the stress relief many people experience from intense exercise.
Other people find a gentler experience more relaxing and beneficial, similar to the way many people prefer taking a walk along a quiet path over marathon training as their preferred method for stress relief.
People relate to their bodies differently. There is no right way to find relaxation in massage – only the right way for you. Talk to your licensed massage therapist and try a range of styles until you learn what best suits your needs.
Myth 7. It’s rude to interrupt a massage therapist while they are working.
As with any health care provider, or any situation involving touch, communication is important to facilitate the best outcomes with massage. Your massage therapist can best address your needs and respect your preferences if you express them clearly and provide feedback about what feels good or bad. Feel free to ask questions as well!7
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1“Everything You Need to Know About Deep Tissue Massage”:https://www.verywellhealth.com/deep-tissue-massage-89738
2 “Massage and its Benefits”:https://www.massagetherapy.com/massage-and-its-benefits
3 “Pregnancy Massage”:https://www.webmd.com/baby/pregnancy-and-massage#1
4 “Pregnancy and Labor Massage”: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2870995/
5 “How Much Does Massage Therapy Cost?” https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/massage-therapy/how-much-does-massage-theraphy-cost
6 “5 Common Myths About Deep Tissue Massage”: https://elementsmassage.com/mequon/blog/5-common-myths-about-deep-tissue-massage
7 “Communicating With Your Massage Therapist”: https://www.tmw-massagetherapy.com/blog/3-massage/9-communicating-with-your-massage-therapist.html