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  • Writer's pictureKirby Clark, MMT

Massage Goals & Effects

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

Why are you here? And what do you want from your massage? These are important questions I want you to consider before you schedule an appointment, to focus on during the treatment, and contemplate throughout this week’s discussion.

Some clients tend to book a massage service somewhat thoughtlessly. I find that to be a disservice to your therapist and yourself. If you recall my massage philosophy, I am of the opinion that YOU hold the power your own peace and healing. I am a firm believer that the results or energy you get out of your massage is dependent on the energy you bring into the session. You can’t just mindlessly be booking appointments, not wanting anything- no intentions. Why are you here? What made you book the massage in the first place? It is important to set intentions for your appointment. If you don’t share what you want, how will you ever get it?


I know why I’m there- to support your peace and healing. I set that intention with every client. But I can’t support undefined goals. Even a goal that seems redundant is an important goal- “I just need to relax”. Great! I think that is a worthy goal, especially given the world today. Having a goal, however specific or simple, provides me with insight on how I can support you in achieving that goal.


Massage Goals

In Massage Therapy, we are taught there are three major categories of Massage Goals: Therapeutic Change, Condition Management, & Palliative Care.


Therapeutic Change describes a goal of a beneficial change in the client’s physical, mental, or spiritual condition as a result from their massage treatment. Physical changes are often the most vocalized goals provided by clients- and these days, the major focus of the profession as a whole. It’s great to have a physical checklist of conditions or body regions that must be addressed to make the massage worthwhile. Emotional challenges also tend to get a fair amount of requests. Everyone needs a rest, a reset, or a refresh from the emotional toil of their daily lives. Emotional releases are not uncommon- and I’m of the belief that emotional trauma can manifest in the body as physical dysfunction. The Physical and the Emotional can be closely related or even inseparable. However, in recent decades, the spiritual aspect of massage has been all but abandoned by the profession. And I can understand, spirituality can be a deeply personal and even uncomfortable topic. I know the last thing I ever want to do is make anyone feel uncomfortable with spiritual discussion. But I also think it is a mistake to ignore or discount the spiritual side of massage therapy. It can be a spiritual experience to have another person hold safe and beneficial space for you on their table. I take the spiritual very seriously, I greet you by calling you Sacred Clients- you are a sacred being, worthy of our shared space and time. As the profession has made moves to be more accepted by the medical community and market ourselves as healthcare (which we are), we’ve also abandoned or outright denied our roots in ancient spiritual practices and the contemporary counterculture movement of the 1960s & 1970s. I think it takes an approach to all these spheres of humanity- physical, emotional, spiritual to get the most from your massage sessions and address Therapeutic Change Goals.


Condition Management is any goal where massage therapy supports a client that cannot undergo therapeutic changes but wishes to live their fullest quality of life within the limits of their condition. There are some things in this life that cannot change- at least not with massage intervention alone. That doesn’t necessarily mean that massage is useless or inappropriate. Chronic pain or conditions tend to fall under the goal of Condition Management. What can we do to provide the best quality of life for you between your appointments? Just because massage has its limits, doesn’t mean there aren’t ways that it could support or improve the quality of life within specific conditions. And this can go back to the physical, emotional, and spiritual facets. If a condition cannot change, can we improve the way we FEEL about the condition? Even if we can’t change the overall condition, are there associated symptoms that can be reduced?


Palliative Care is provided for the relief or reduction of intensity of uncomfortable symptoms that either cannot change or are expected to worsen. Palliative Care is often associated in with chronic or terminal conditions and provided largely in hospitals, hospices, or assisted care facilities. However, in a broader sense, palliative care could also include those who are just in need of being soothed or relieved. Again, I think massage can approach the physical, emotional, and spiritual struggles associated with these goals.

I think it’s important to point out that these goals shouldn’t be thought of as fixed or linear. Life changes. The goal category that you are in today, won’t be the goal category you’re in for the rest of your life.


Effects

There are also two major ways to think of the effects of massage; Mechanical and Reflexive.


Mechanical describes force directly affecting the soft tissue of the body. Literally applying pressure to skin, fascia, and muscle. This is perhaps the most obvious effect of massage. Massage directly where the body is in discomfort to achieve your goals.


Reflexive effects are achieved when force is used to stimulate the Nervous, Endocrine, or Chemical systems of the body. Touch sends signals to the brain through the central nervous system which can help relieve muscle pain and tension. Massage has also been proven to help release endorphins, hormones that can provide a feeling of pain relief. The reflexive effects of massage are indirectly responsible for reaching your massage therapy goals.

The effects of massage shouldn’t be thought of as mutually exclusive, rather they work together simultaneously.


Peace & Healing,

Kirby Clark, MMT, BCTMB

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