How to Choose the Right Massage Therapist
Finding the right physical therapist, chiropractor or massage therapist is just as important as finding the right primary care physician or psychotherapist. How your body reacts to touch can have a great impact on your physical and emotional healing. A bad experience with the wrong practitioner can store in body leaving you guarded and tense. Whether your goal is to find relief from lower back pain, chronic injury or simply to feel better, finding the right massage therapist can be easier when considering these points:
Are they licensed? Unfortunately the massage profession has been haunted with stigma, TV programs like The Client List, illegitimate ‘body rub’ or shops perpetuate the confusion of massage therapy with the sex industry. Illicit businesses for ‘Foot rub’ often advertise ‘certified’ massage therapist. Laws are different from state to state but to legally practice massage in the state of New York, a therapist must be licensed, not certified. Look for the credential LMT. A good source for finding LMTs in your state can be found here.
Do they specialize? Recently a new law is in effect and requires LMTs to also take continuing education to register in the state. This can make a huge difference in your treatment! There is a broad spectrum of training from relaxing aromatherapy to courses in advanced orthopedic manual therapy techniques. Ask your therapist what their back round is/continuing education to match their skills with your needs.
Where do they work? LMTs that work in day spas and gives facials with massage is likely to help you refresh and unwind but may not be suited for that chronic neck or shoulder discomfort at the gym. For chronic conditions or specific areas of restriction seek out a LMT with Sports or Orthopedic training. They may work in chiropractor office, physical therapy or private practice. For medical conditions seek out ‘medical massage’. They may work in hospitals, doctor’s offices or integrated wellness practices. If your condition requires more advanced care, your LMT should refer you to Physical Therapist (DPT), Chiropractor (DC) or Osteopath MD (DO) or MD.
Gimmick or Treatment? Legitimate spas that offer a wide array of services may be concerned more with profit over care and selling products over hiring experienced LMTs. For example, a very popular massage chain located in the US offers “sports therapy” treatments”. They use the same techniques for relaxation massage, apply hot or cold packs and add “muscle therapy’ lotion to upgrade the sales. These “a la carte” items should be included as sessions can be expensive and the time spent during your session should be spent with them working with their hands, not products.
Before, during and after your session. Before your initial treatment a good therapist will take time with your medical history and understand why you are seeking treatment. During treatment, specific techniques should be used to address your symptoms and recommend self-care techniques to enhance treatment. Experienced LMTs will stabilize weaker muscles before getting off the table (e.g. “bridges” or “pelvic tilts” to help stabilize the pelvis). For deeper or more specific work it is not uncommon to be slightly sore a day or two but expect to feel more relief and better range of motion the following days. A thorough LMT will also follow up with you to see how your body reacted to the session.
Follow your gut. Listen to what your body is telling you. If the treatment doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t. If your therapist is applying too much lotion and it’s not feeling effective you’re probably right: deep work for breaking up muscle adhesions (knots) requires little or no lotion. On the other hand, if any practitioner is going too ‘deep’ and your body is guarding (cringing, wincing) then the treatment is too much. The ‘no pain no gain’ concept should not apply in hands on therapy. Although certain techniques require mild discomfort (e.g. ART or Pin & Stretch) you may feel intense or ‘good’ pain - communicate with your practitioner.
If you have been in chronic pain or repetitive stress allow the time for your body and mind new information to replace old patterns. Sessions are cumulative so like all therapy, being consistent with the right therapist will help you find the relief that you deserve.
This blog is not intended to diagnosis, treat or cure any medical conditions.