Massage therapy is much more than relaxation
Story By Samantha Hurst
Photos By Spa One Nineteen and Contributed
Stretching, twisting and scrunching are just some of the everyday movements that can crimp our muscles — and sometimes those kinks stick. But a daydream of a room scented with essential oils, lights dimmed and soft music wafting in the air isn’t always enough to loosen those knots.
Cindy Ritchie of Birmingham realized she needed more than pampering 25 years ago and found her way to massage therapy.
“I have a very high-pressure job, so it really does help relieve tension,” Ritchie says. “It’s for everything: it’s for your sanity, it’s for your physical comfort and it’s really for your overall health.”
Ritchie’s massage therapist is Liz Henry at Azia Medical Spa.
“I try and make it more about wellness and not about pampering someone and pushing them out,” Henry says. “I’ve had clients who didn’t get to the hot towel because I spent more time on their actual issues.”
Henry explained educating her clients on the various techniques plays a crucial role in their overall experiences.
That mantra is echoed at St. Vincent’s One Nineteen. Director of Health and Wellness Services Jacqueline Gardner says St. Vincent’s spa connects patients to massage services as an extension of the center’s physical therapy program, as well as a method of relaxation.
“We see wellness as an integrated approach,” Gardner says. “Our massage therapists work closely with our physical therapists and clients to create care plans that continue the healing process.”
Spa One Nineteen massage therapist Kevin Pitts says there is so much more to what a well-educated therapist can do for his or her client. “As an industry, we haven’t done a good job educating the public on what massage therapists do,” Pitts says.
If someone really loves the hot towels and an hour of quiet, then by all means Pitts encourages them to book a session and relax. For some individuals, especially those living with chronic pain, the benefits could exceed the simple escape from reality. The Mayo Clinic reports massage therapy effectively reduces stress, pain and muscle tension in some patients.
The most common ailments seen by these massage therapists involve head, neck and shoulder issues. Everyday life impacts these areas tremendously because individuals don’t have correct posture or don’t understand the strain they place on their muscles.
Pitts says we all ask more of our bodies than they can sometimes give.
“What we want to do is get the soft tissue, the muscles and back to a more normal resting length,” Pitts says. “Then, the posture can improve, and getting the body to release all the built-up acids and proteins overall makes the client feel better.”
Clients often express pain in one area, but the issue stems from an injury to another part of the body, Henry adds. For example, she’s had patients complain about their shoulders only to later understand they had twisted their lower back earlier in the week.
“A massage therapist wouldn’t figure that out unless they took the time to ask the right questions,” Henry says.
Additional studies show massage therapy could be beneficial for a litany of ailments from anxiety to digestive disorders to Fibromyalgia. Ritchie has relied on massage therapy to improve pain and illness. She’s leaned on it after a serious car wreck and during a bout with Epstein–Barr, the virus that causes mono.
“My lymph nodes and my spleen get really swollen,” Ritchie says. “The therapy she [Henry] does helps to relieve my body of some of the built up toxins and a lot of times she’s able to alleviate some of the swelling.”
Therapists like Pitts caution improvements for chronic health concerns have not been proven to always occur.
“It can be misleading for someone to claim they can cure someone’s problem,” Pitts says. “What we can do is help them deal with their pain and tension.”
People who work desks jobs and people who work out intensely can also benefit, Henry says. Some clients can experience initial soreness after a massage, but massage therapy should never be painful, both Pitts and Henry explain.
Henry encourages clients to let her know if something hurts, especially during a deep tissue massage. She also says it is important for clients to drink plenty of water after a massage. If you get a massage and are sore for two or more days, you should call your massage therapist.
There are some medical conditions for which doctors would not recommend massage therapy. Pitts says anyone with a serious illness or medical condition should consult with their doctor before scheduling a massage.
There are, however, misconceptions about massage therapy during pregnancy. While women should seek their doctors’ advice, Henry says massages can be a tremendous tension release for women who are expecting.
Releasing tension, for themselves and others, is why both Pitts and Henry got into this career field.
“I was the one growing up who always offered to give my older relatives a shoulder rub. I finally realized that this was a job I could wake up every morning being excited to go to,” Henry says. “It feels so good to have someone come off your table who struggled to move before. It is great to know you can help someone in that way.”