Is there anything more primal than the idea of massage? The concept of one person laying their hands on another to affect positive change on that person’s well being isn’t a new one. It’s been written about in one form or another for at least 5,000 years. There are texts dating back to 2700 BCE from China and Egypt that detail how to use the power of touch as a form of “internal medicine” to heal. But is there any truth, any real scientific backing supporting the idea that the act of massaging muscles and joints has any real positive affect on the recipient?
I recently had the opportunity to have a great one on one discussion with Nicole Zollinger-Muench about this very topic. With a BS in psychology from Purdue University, ACE certification as a personal trainer, comprehensive Pilates instructor and certification as a massage therapist, I figured Nicole (she likes to go by Zolly) just might know a thing or two about this! So let’s dig into this and see what we can learn!
BBF: What caused you to pursue a career in massage therapy?
NZ: I have always been a ‘touchy-feely’ person. As a child, I would be the one going around the dinner table giving shoulder massages to my family. But back in high school, I experienced a back injury from a track and field accident – that led me to really pursue my health and fitness journey. I was a high jumper, and one day during practice, I misjudged a jump and landed on the metal bar, fracturing two vertebrae in my lower back. Finding relief from the pain was the great motivator that caused me to enter this field of wellness and healing.
I got started with personal training as a result of the exercises prescribed to me by a physical therapist to help with my injury. I knew that if I had a job in a gym, I would be far more likely to adhere to my own exercises better. I was the type of trainer who would give a little shoulder massage after a workout. Enough people said “You know, you’re really good at that!” so I decided to go to massage school and discovered my gift of touch.
Studying movement and the physics of the body in motion helped me hone in on massage therapy skills that would help my clientele better. I can see where their movement is restricted and know where to give soft tissue mobilization techniques that release the restrictions and help with functional movement.
As we learned in Is Foam Rolling Really A Great Recovery Tool? breaking down adhesions between fascia and muscle can result in better blood flow to these areas, better mobility, recovery and overall performance. While foam rolling is a great cousin to massage, a good massage therapist will be even more adept at locating and releasing these trouble spots. My blog post isn’t the only source that supports this belief, or Zolly’s claims about massage, our friends over at Harvard Health Publishing back it up as well.
BBF: I’ve experienced your uncanny knack for identifying problem areas by sight firsthand. To the average bear, it seems almost like magic – it’s good to know it’s a result of proper training and a keen eye! So what are some additional benefits to massage other than just functional movement?
NZ: I think massage therapy has a benefit or affect on every system in the body. However, there are also contraindications or conditions that massage could make worse. This is why it’s IMPERATIVE that massage therapists receive rigorous training and education. For example, the state of Indiana has decided to license massage therapists in order to protect the public from uneducated therapists working in the field and potentially harming people. With that said, I think the most comprehensive answer I can give you about the additional benefits of massage was written by Mark Beck:
“Massage has direct psychological and physiologic benefits. Physically, Massage increases metabolism, hastens healing, relaxes and refreshes the muscles, and improves the function of the lymphatic system. Massage helps prevent and relieve muscle cramps and spasms and enhances local fluid movement, thereby promoting the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the cells. Because blood carries nutrients to the skin, massage is beneficial in keeping the skin functioning in a normal, healthy manner. Massage therapy also is effective for pain management in conditions such as arthritis, neuritis, neuralgia, labor and delivery, whiplash, sciatica, headache, muscle spasms, and many other conditions.”
– Beck, Mark F. Theory and Practice of Therapeutic Massage, 6th Ed., Milady (Cengage Learning) 2017
Since each person is different, based on their needs and biological differences, massage therapy will also affect each person differently. A properly trained and experienced massage therapist will take a detailed health history and talk to their clients about their goals for massage and what they can reasonably expect. Massage therapy has been shown to reduce inflammation and speed recovery times in active people and athletes. It will help prevent injury by improving movement and softening restrictions that could become a strain or sprain in a muscle or joint. Massage will help range of motion and improve performance when done during the correct time in the periodization of an athlete’s training schedule. While massage therapy is NOT recommended for acute injuries (injuries that are severe, have just happened or have high inflammation), it HAS been shown to be helpful for chronic injuries, or during the recovery process of injuries.
BBF: That’s a lot of great information! I think a lot of people probably take for granted the importance of working with a licensed massage therapist if they really want to see results. I think a lot of people probably think to themselves that they’re “pretty good at shoulder rubs” and take for granted the word “therapy” in massage therapy. With so many potential health benefits, it would be a shame if someone didn’t do their research and make sure they’re going to the right therapist. On that topic, are there any tips you can offer someone who might be looking for a massage therapist?
One size does NOT fit all. It may take some trial and error to find the right therapist for you and your needs. Be sure that you’re clear with anyone you’re considering selecting what your goals and expectations are.
Verify credentials! A licensed massage therapist will have been vetted by the state and is required to follow state laws and ethical requirements. Ask for your therapists credentials and be wary if they are resistant to providing them.
You get what you pay for. While it is nice to get a $30 massage from a franchise, many times their therapists are overworked and underpaid. Often they are recent graduates from programs, hoping to get experience. A therapist who is in business for themselves may cost more, but they have proven their worth by their success rates, repeat clientele and long-standing reputations. Sometimes word of mouth is the only way to find such individuals.
Never mix sexuality with sensuality. Asking a massage therapist for a ‘happy ending’ is a sure way to end the session, be terminated as a client and be black-balled to the entire massage community. While massage appeals to the senses, it has nothing to do with sex. We are NOT sex workers. Massage therapists are professionals, and should be treated as such.
Masseuse and Masseur are outdated labels. Walls and red flags are sure to go up if you call a massage therapist one of those terms.
Finding the right massage therapist for you is a lesson in trust for both you and your therapist. It is important that both client and therapist feel safe and comfortable in the working environment. However, when the right match is made, the results can be powerful and life changing. Receiving your massages are lessons in self-awareness. Many times, people don’t know until they are touched / manipulated that they have a problem area. Over time, you will become more aware of your body’s communication to you through pain and discomfort and be able to detect those signals before they become a repetitive use injury or a traumatic injury.
Still not sold on the benefits of massage? You should be. It’s even recognized by our friends at the Mayo Clinic for the numerous benefits outlined above, plus a few more! Their takeaway is:
“Brush aside any thoughts that massage is only a feel-good way to indulge or pamper yourself. To the contrary, massage can be a powerful tool to help you take charge of your health and well-being, whether you have a specific health condition or are just looking for another stress reliever.”
As you can see, there’s a lot more to massage than just having someone rub your body. The potential benefits that you can experience by adding massage therapy to your life are numerous! A few things I learned from my conversation with Zolly:
- The vetting process that you should take when selecting a therapist should probably be more like selecting a doctor than a place to get your hair cut.
- Remember, there are numerous health benefits that you can gain from massage. Beyond what Zolly and Mr. Beck listed, there are a lot of anti-aging benefits that can be reaped from lowering the stress levels in your life – something that massage certainly does. So while not specifically cited or studied, I think it would be fair to consider that there could be some benefits to be gained there too.
- Also remember that while there are health benefits to be gained from a properly trained massage therapist, I would think that the converse holds true as well. Someone not properly licensed may well be hurting you, or slowing your recovery / goals. So do your homework when looking for a massage therapist. Follow Zolly’s advice and take this process seriously, the rewards are well worth the effort!
Live in or around the Indianapolis area and want to get in touch with Zolly? Feel free to give her a call at 317/379-3818 or send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has a private practice on Indianapolis’ northside in the Executive Office Park North in Nora on 86th Street where she works with two business partners each with their own distinct style of bodywork.
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