Massage Therapy to Enhance your Rehabilitation

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by Candice Reimholz

As a massage therapist, I am often asked what the difference is between a ‘regular’ massage and a ‘clinical’ or ‘rehab’ massage. This is a great question, especially with the frequency of half-off massage deals that are being offered everyday. The result of these daily deals is that a lot of people are going for a massage wherever they can find the best deal. Is this bad? Not necessarily. What’s important is to ask yourself, “Why do I need a massage?” If you are getting a massage because you enjoy receiving them but don’t necessarily have a chronic injury or problem area, then this is probably fine. I do have to note that there are great benefits in seeing the same practitioner. A licensed massage therapist who sees you regularly will get to know your body and could help you identify potential issues.

Massage Therapy enhances rehabilitation.Now if you do have a chronic injury or are recovering from an acute injury, you may want to look for a massage therapist who is experienced with clinical massage therapy. Clinical massage therapy (or rehabilitation massage therapy) means that the massage is a site-specific treatment with a precise goal or outcome in mind. Similar to physical therapy, you would go to a clinical massage therapist with a specific complaint that you would like treated.

Here are four ways that clinical massage therapy is different from a relaxation massage:

  1. Experience
    All massage therapists (MTs) start out in a pretty similar place when they graduate from school. Besides the slight difference in curriculum, we all have to pass the same national certification exam. The difference comes with experience. I, personally, do 90% clinical massage therapy. Almost everyone that I have had my hands on for the last 7 years has had an injury or complaint. If you have a torn rotator cuff, you don’t want to see someone who does 90% relaxation massage. A clinical massage therapist learns over time what treatment is most effective for various conditions.
  2. Continuing Education
    Along with experience, continuing education is very important for a clinical massage therapist. There are hundreds of courses out there for MTs. Everything from hot stone massage to energy work to orthopedic massage. The types of classes MTs take shape the kind of practice they develop. A clinical massage therapist will take classes such as Rotator Cuff Treatment, IT Band Syndrome, Common Orthopedic Injuries, Neurofascial Integration, and Positional Release. These classes not only teach advanced anatomy and kinesiology, but skilled hands-on work as well.
  3. Professional Contacts
    Clinical massage therapists usually work within a network of medical professionals. Whether it be chiropractors, physical therapists, athletic trainers, or medical doctors, a clinical massage therapist will have resources at his or her disposal. We have all heard that is takes a village to raise a child. I believe it takes a village to bring someone to their optimal health. Very rarely is there one answer to a person’s recovery. A good clinical massage therapist will utilize his or her experience, as well as their contacts, to make sure all bases are covered.
  4. Detailed History and Plan for Recovery
    A good clinical massage therapist will sit down with you before your first session and ask a LOT of questions. They will want to make sure they know all there is to know before they even get their hands on you. We want to know whether your goal is to decrease pain or run a marathon. This will help the clinical massage therapists work with you, the client, on developing a clear plan of care. This means there will be recommendations on how often you should receive treatment, advice on what to do outside of the massage sessions, as well as referrals as needed. A clinical massage therapist will also have the knowledge to know when an injury or condition is outside of their scope of practice.