( Note: There are two reasons for my addressing massage today:
a) I’m a massage therapist as well as a physio and I think that the what’s, who for, how’s and why’s of massage are not always clear so thought I’d shed a little light.
b) Christmas approaches, Calder Therapies offers GIFT VOUCHERS & a gift of a massage treatment is a wonderful gift to give or receive! Drop me a line for details, shameless plug over.)
Physical contact in a therapeutic sense is used by humans and much of the animal kingdom on a daily basis. We use it with friends and family via a hug and a friendly touch, with colleagues as a handshake, as parents with children it’s a way to bond, console and show affection and with partners and indeed anyone, it conveys connection and intimacy.
Massage can be defined as:
Massage, soft-tissue therapy, sports massage, manipulation, remedial massage, mobilisation, manual therapy… there are many different terms for a hand’s on touch approach as therapy or treatment.
MASSAGE can be firm (often described as SPORTS but any massage can use firm pressure) or gentle (RELAXING or THERAPEUTIC but can still be firm if you like). It can be aimed at a specific body part or problem (REMEDIAL) or applied over a large area. MANUAL THERAPY is a generic term that tends to be used more by physiotherapists, chiropractors and osteopaths who are using professionally acquired and recognised skills to target specific problem areas. A MANIPULATION refers to the high velocity movements that chiropractors, osteopaths, some physiotherapists and a few other therapists can use to produce the ‘click-crunch’ effect to relieve pain and tension (generally for short-term relief, though that’s another topic altogether). And a MOBILISATION is similar but uses less force, usually in an attempt to get a ‘stiff’ body part moving better.
The research has up until recently been limited and of poor quality because drug companies can’t make money from massage. Assumptions and opinions as to what MIGHT be going on inside us during massage are what we will tend to have heard. On a subjective level most of us probably know that aches, pains and tension can feel better after they’ve been rubbed and that we can feel more relaxed both physically and mentally. What clever research and science (1) (2) (3) now tells us about skin-on-skin contact is that it appears to primarily involve:
Neuromodulation = neuro (nerves) + modulation (exertion of a modifying/controlling influence) =
Everything we do, think, feel and experience is down to our nerves – they are quite literally EVERYTHING. Touch is incredibly powerful.
This neuromodulation via touch can effect the release of:
As a massage therapist who is also a physiotherapist I’m well aware of the power of touch. Many of my clients come to me for pure massage: the opportunity to lie-down, chill out, de-stress and have both mental and physical aches and tensions eased. I adapt my technique and the type of massage that I provide to suit the person and the issue – every person is unique and consequently everyone requires a slightly different touch.
Used in a more clinical physiotherapy context, touch can calm a mind that is worried and fixated on a pain that they have. Used correctly, it can be used to stimulate our nervous system to reduce our perception of pain. It can identify a problem area and turn a problem that someone doesn’t know how to deal with into a factual ‘this is the issue and this is how to fix it’: knowledge is power. Touch can help initiate some/better movement in problem areas. Hand’s on can also, strangely, allow better access to memories: frequently when I’m using my hands to investigate a problem area, clients will be reminded of related problems and injuries that questioning alone hadn’t brought to mind.
A long time ago in China , a girl named Li-Li got married and went to live with her husband and mother-in-law. In a very short time, Li-Li found that she couldn’t get along with her mother-in-law at all. Their personalities were very different, and Li-Li was angered by many of her mother-in-law’s habits. In addition, she criticized Li-Li constantly.
Days passed, and weeks passed.
Li-Li and her mother-in-law never stopped arguing and fighting. But what made the situation even worse was that, according to ancient Chinese tradition, Li-Li had to bow to her mother-in-law and obey her every wish. All the anger and unhappiness in the house was causing Li-Li’s poor husband great distress.
Finally, Li-Li could not tolerate her mother-in-law’s bad temper and dictatorship any longer, and she decided to do something about it! Li-Li went to see her father’s good friend, Mr. Huang, who sold herbs. She told him the situation and asked if he would give her some poison so that she could solve the problem once and for all. Mr. Huang thought for a while, and finally said, “Li-Li, I will help you solve your problem, but you must listen to me and obey what I tell you.” Li-Li said, “Yes, Mr. Huang, I will do whatever you tell me to do. “Mr. Huang went into the back room, and returned in a few minutes with a package of herbs and oils. He told Li-Li, “You can’t use a quick-acting poison to get rid of your mother-in-law because that would cause people to become suspicious.” Therefore, I have given you a number of herbs and oils that will slowly build up poison in her body. Every other day offer to massage these into her neck and shoulders. Now, in order to make sure that nobody suspects you, when she dies you must be very careful to act very friendly towards her. “Don’t argue with her. Obey her every wish, and treat her like a queen.” Li-Li was so happy. She thanked Mr. Huang and hurried home to start her plot of murdering her mother-in-law.
Weeks went by, and months went by, and every other day, Li-Li treated her mother-in-law to a massage. She remembered what Mr.Huang had said about avoiding suspicion. So she controlled her temper, obeyed her mother-in-law, and treated her like her own mother. After six months had passed, the whole household had changed. Li-Li had practiced controlling her temper so much that she found that she almost never got mad or upset. She hadn’t had an argument with her mother-in-law in six months because she now seemed much kinder and easier to get along with. The mother-in-law’ s attitude towards Li-Li changed, and she began to love Li-Li like her own daughter. She kept telling friends and relatives that Li-Li was the best daughter-in- law one could ever find. Li-Li and her mother-in-law were now treating each other like a real mother and daughter. Li-Li’s husband was very happy to see what was happening.
One day, Li-Li came to see Mr. Huang and asked for his help again. She said,”Dear Mr. Huang, please help me to keep the poison from killing my mother-in-law. She’s changed into such a nice woman, and I love her like my own mother. I do not want her to die because of the poison I gave her.” Mr. Huang smiled and nodded his head. “Li-Li, there’s nothing to worry about. I never gave you any poison. The herbs and oils that I gave you harmless. The only poison was in your mind and your attitude towards her, but that has been all washed away by the love which you gave to her.”
Adapted from “The Healing Body and Soul” by Darussalam