What Is The Right Kind Of Massage?

Massage is an ancient healing art that has been practiced in every culture. Captain Cook once described how his back pain was successfully treated with massage by the native people of Hawaii during his stay in the islands.

Massage has evolved and taken many paths and continues to evolve during these modern times. With so many names and philosophies, how does a client know which is the right kind of massage for them? And how does the therapist know what is the right kind of massage for the client? Sports massage, Swedish massage, Russian massage, acupressure, deep tissue massage . . . there are so many different kinds of massage. I'll discuss some general categories in another article but for now I want to talk specifically about what I mean when I say that the right kind of massage can be very effective, while the wrong kind of massage will, at the very least, be ineffective and, at worst, cause symptoms to worsen.

Let me give an example taken from my own practice. Years ago, when I was first beginning to learn Russian massage, a woman called and booked an hour appointment. Upon arrival, she told me she had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She'd had experience with massage before, liked it, and wanted a fairly vigorous one hour massage. I had recently begun to study with the renowned Russian Massage therapist Zhenya Kurashova Wine and knew from Zhenya that a vigorous one hour massage would not be the best choice for her and that, in fact, a gentle 20 - 30 minute treatment would be better. I explained this to the client. She was willing to consider it for a future visit but at that moment, she really had her heart set on a one hour vigorous massage. Against my better judgement, I complied. At the end of the appointment she said that she liked the massage very much and booked another appointment for the following week to try the alternative treatment I'd suggested.

When she came the following week, I asked how she felt after her first massage. She said she'd felt better for the rest of the day and then went home, crashed, and could barely get out of bed the following two days. I proceeded to do the very gentle 30 minute treatment that I do for CFS and fibromyalgia. The client came in the following week and, again, I asked how she felt after the last massage. She reported that she'd gone home, took a 20 minute nap, and then felt really good for the next three days.

Two different massage treatments, two entirely different reactions.

Zhenya would tell us that massage is like medicine. First, you have to have the correct diagnosis. If you don't know exactly what is the problem, you are not going to know what is the correct solution. Then, as with medicine, you have to know what is the right medicine and what is the right dose. How much? How often? In Russian massage we study the specific effects that each stroke has on the physiological processes of the body. How is the treatment for nerve irritation different from treatment for muscle pain? How is treatment for an acute situation different from a chronic condition? How would one approach a systemic disorder? A client with congestive heart failure? Stroke?

As you can see with my client, the wrong kind of massage felt good at the time but really did not help her. The right kind of massage got much better results. A good therapist will understand exactly how her touch affects the body at many levels. She will listen carefully to the client's needs and adjust accordingly. By understanding the client's condition at that point in time and understanding how we affect the body, we can deliver just the right kind of massage and achieve greater results.