The benefits of therapeutic massage

A woman receives a therapeutic massage

Oftentimes, we correlate relaxation or a spa massage to massage therapy. While some of the benefits of medical, or therapeutic, massage mimic those of a relaxation massage — for example, stress relief and relaxation — the focus of medical massage is very different.

What is a medical, or therapeutic, massage?

Medical massage focuses on a specific need, and sometimes just a specific area, such as controlling pain, relieving inflammation, addressing nerve or tissue damage, increasing flexibility or managing other health conditions.

During the massage, the therapist addresses your medical issue through the use of a variety of pressure and movement, manipulating the soft tissue of the body, including muscles, connective tissue, tendons, ligaments and skin.

Who performs a medical massage?

Medical massage therapy, like general massage therapy, is offered by trained, certified professionals who have graduated from an accredited school and passed a state or national exam. Therapists who work in a medical setting tend to have pursued continuing education for advanced certifications; however, there’s no real defining line in the industry between massage therapy and medical, or therapeutic, massage therapy. You’ll also find that therapists who work in a medical setting often are working with physicians, osteopaths, nurse practioners and sometimes physical therapists.

When should a person seek a therapeutic massage?

Generally, people seek out massage therapy in a medical setting when they’re looking for a particular modality or certified specialization, specifically when referred by a physician.

Common examples of conditions that might warrant prescription massage therapy include:

  • Neck pain, lower back pain, or chronic pain
  • Migraines
  • Anxiety or stress
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle spasms

What are different types of medical/therapeutic massage?

The techniques vary by the massage therapist’s training and continuing education. The educational basis for treatment for most schools in the United States is Swedish massage or what’s often called Western massage.

Massage therapists may become certified in a variety of treatment styles, some of which include:

  • Neuromuscular, often called trigger point release, a type of soft tissue massage that aims to alleviate chronic muscle and nervous system disorders and problems.
  • Myofascial, which focuses on reducing pain by easing the tension and tightness in the trigger points by freeing restrictions and releasing adhesions in soft tissue.
  • Manual lymph drainage, a gentle form of massage used to relieve painful swelling in the arms and legs caused by lymphedema. This massage is often used for oncology patients.
  • Craniosacral, a gentle, lighter massage generally used to relieve tension and improve movement of fluids in the central nervous system.

When is a prescription for medical massage therapy required?

Costs, insurance coverage and prescriptions vary by medical massage provider, so it’s always best to check before you schedule. At the Center for Integrative Health at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, we require a prescription anytime a patient is planning to bill though their health insurance or wants to use their flexible spending account or health savings account to pay for the service. Patients have the option to self-pay without a prescription.

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What should a patient expect during massage therapy?

Each patient should expect to arrive up to 15 minutes prior to the start of their appointment to check in and fill out any necessary paperwork. You’ll be greeted by a therapist and taken to the treatment room where you’ll discuss the reason for your visit and what your goals and expectations are from massage therapy. The therapist will leave the room so that you can undress to your level of comfort and get under the covers of the massage table in either a supine (on your back), prone (on your stomach) or side-lying position, depending on the treatment.

The specialty of each therapist varies, as does the level of pressure and use of techniques and/or tools. The patient is encouraged to speak up so that the session stays within their level of comfort regarding pressure. Sessions at Ohio State last around 45 minutes. Patients are given time to slowly get up and re-dress before joining the therapist outside the room for a follow-up conversation.

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