What truly makes a massage the best massage? Is it a relaxation massage or a therapeutic massage, and what is the difference exactly? There seems to be a difference presented in many spas and massage studios where choosing Swedish or Deep Tissue comes with a price and pressure difference. Some wellness centers also seem to provide environments that are more like Doctor’s offices because they’re promoting pain relief. As Massage Therapists, my colleagues and I often hear the complaint of receiving a rub down more than an actual massage when visiting high end spas, or chain massage studios. Does relaxation mean you leave feeling no difference in your muscles but very well lubricated and chilled out? We also hear our clients say they are afraid to choose a modality from the list of services we offer because they aren’t sure if they need a deep tissue massage or what that means. Does deep tissue massage have to mean a painful, unenjoyable experience with hopes of great results in the end?
The truth is there is no difference between relaxation massage and therapeutic massage. All massage has the same basic benefits of improved blood flow, tension relief, and relaxation. In my opinion there should not be a difference in price for the various massage modalities. I believe a person should not have to come in knowing what they want or need. It is the job of the massage therapist to determine the best course of treatment based on the client’s individual needs. The list of services we offer should be more for those who do know what they’re looking for. Some therapists may specialize in certain modalities and so if someone is an experienced massage enthusiast, they may want to seek a therapist who specializes in the particular modality they’re interested in. However, just because you have a specific pain does not mean your massage won’t also be relaxing. If you think you just need to relax but might also have some pain, you shouldn’t have to choose one or the other. A therapist should not be determining what the best course of treatment they should use on you based on a price scale either.
The best massage is one where the therapist is able to fuse or integrate massage modalities based on the individual client’s needs. The best massage is given when the environment is relaxing for not just the client, but the therapist too. Let’s face it; your eyes are closed most of the time you’re getting a massage. The initial 5 minutes spent lying on the table before the massage therapist enters the room is the client’s time to soak in the visual environment. The space should provide feelings of comfort and safety which will allow for the nervous system to calm. A dimly lit room with candle light will begin to allow the brain to relax into a restful state. Once the therapist begins massaging, closing one’s eyes helps the body fall into relaxation. The therapist will look at you, close their own eyes, and often look around the room as they work. The environment should be inspiring for the therapist to continue providing the most relaxing experience.
Soft music and sounds of water help wash away stressful thoughts as you lay on a massage table. It also helps the massage therapist get in tune with your body. Your ability to relax during a massage is what will allow for the therapist to delivery deeper therapeutic results that may require deep breathing through release of pain and tension. Even if a client has been in many times before, I’ll ask them about what kind of pressure they would like today. Today you may not feel like having as much pressure as you did before, or you may want more. Every session is different but every massage should be both therapeutic and relaxing.
Massage Therapy may be one of the most versatile healing arts out there. I encourage my staff to train in various modalities and never to get stuck. Even if a modality has proven tried and true, learning something new can rejuvenate a therapist’s practice and change their style up. I encourage my clients to try different therapists, and enjoy each therapist for their own unique approach to massage.
When we do not label things and divide things so black and white, the results are limitless! There are new research studies coming out all the time exploring the medical benefits of massage therapy. The fact that massage has been regarded as a luxury for the pampered rich is being challenged by chronic pain sufferers and those going through rehabilitation and recovery who successfully use massage to manage their pain. Professional athletes swear by massage to perform at their best. All people can benefit from massage therapy because in this day and age, stress is a killer. That is why finding healthy and holistic ways to relax is so important. So, you see, relaxation is therapeutic, there is no difference in one or the other when it comes to massage therapy.