Massage therapy has been a protected title in Canada for only a couple of decades. However, massage as a therapeutic approach had been around for much longer…probably, well, forever.

Humans intuitively know that when you rub something that hurts it feels better. Some of us are lucky enough to get someone at home to do a little bit of work for us when we need it; getting at a knot in the shoulders, a kink in the neck or the forever-appreciative sore feet. Other times that won’t quite be enough, so that’s when we’ll pop in to see a professional — a bona-fide RMT.

Yet, even though knowing that a massage could help, there can be some reluctance to approach a spa or clinic for the first time due to misconceptions about the way a massage treatment works. Even people who have had professional massage may not be completely sure about certain elements of the treatment. Here’s an opportunity for me to dispel some commonly (or not so-commonly) held ideas.

  1. Massage has to be painful to work.
    Not entirely so. There is such a wide range of pain-sensitivity in people; what is heavy or deep pressure for some is light for others. So, there is always a conversation regarding pressure preference before the treatment starts. Maybe you don’t know what you prefer, and that’s fine too. The pressure should be gradually increased until you are comfortable. Yes, there are techniques inherently painful such as frictions and tendonitis treatments, but even these can be adjusted for pressure and duration — to keep you, the client, comfortable. A good therapist will check in often until an appropriate pressure is achieved.
  2. Deeper is better.
    This can be the case for many people and there will always be a place for deep massage techniques to relieve stubborn and deep-set issues. However, many techniques rely on gentle pressure and palpation to work. Manual lymphatic drainage for example is best applied with the pressure of a dime otherwise the lymphatic channels are closed. Cranial Sacral therapy, which falls under the massage therapy scope of practice, uses only a feather-like touch to treat cranial plates. Clients are often shocked by the effectiveness of such light-handed treatments thinking that deep is the only way. The approach depends on the condition — patience and gentleness are often more useful.
  3. The clothes must come off.
    In a work place setting it is much more convenient to treat over clothes even when there is complete privacy. But, even in a professional massage clinic some clients may prefer to leave certain item or all of their clothing on — and, yes, it is totally okay! It is all about comfort. Massage directly on the skin allows a wider range of techniques, but lots can be done through clothing. And of course, it’s worth mentioning, massage therapy federal guidelines prohibit contact beyond the bikini line (though breast massage is valid with informed consent before the treatment begins).
  4. Longer is better.
    It is possible to over-treat, so sometimes shorter is better. A 30-minute treatment is perfect when pain tolerance is low or certain health conditions require it.
  5. One massage should do it.
    It may take more than one treatment. Some conditions have been in the making for years and it can take some time to get them worked out. Once the condition is understood, your therapist can usually give you an idea what that issue may require, in the form of a treatment plan. Then again, sometimes one treatment is just enough!

Any concerns should be voiced to your therapist so the treatment can be tailored to suit your needs and expectations. Remember, it’s your hard earned money, so don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions. Consent to treatment can be withdrawn at anytime if something is not quite right.

You should understand your treatment, and feel comfortable with it. In an ideal treatment you should be relaxed and happy — and not have to settle for anything less.

Ryan Kimmich

Ryan is  passionate about using massage therapy to improve quality of life and perception of personal well-being. He is trained in many massage therapy techniques.