Popular all over the world and in many different cultures, massage is an important tool in the relief of aches and pain, injury recovery and prevention and stress and well-being management. There are however, some misconceptions, misunderstandings and myths out there about massage and today I’m going to delve into a few of them…
1) No pain, no gain!
Many people believe that in order for massage to be effective, it also needs to be painful and that more pressure means better results. It’s true that there is a certain level of discomfort in some types of massage, especially where there are injured or tight tissues. Trigger point therapy and some of the techniques used in sports and remedial massage can feel a little uncomfortable. However these, techniques are best used where the tension you’re experiencing is already causing you pain.
Any manipulation of tissues will have an effect on the muscles – increasing circulation, reducing tension and increasing flexibility don’t require brute force, and often gentler but more sustained work can have a more dramatic effect. Each person has a different goal in mind for their massage. For the purposes of well-being and stress relief, overly firm pressure can make it difficult to relax, which is counter-productive. Allowing the mind to relax, also allows the muscles to relax too.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying firm pressure in a massage and many people (myself included) really like to feel that something is happening during the massage. The most important point is communication with the therapist. Pressure should never feel so uncomfortable that you have to brace against it, hold your breath or wince in pain. Pressure is a personal preference and whilst a therapist can feel the pressure they’re using, we’re not psychic and need you to tell us how it feels to you. Communication is key so always be sure to tell your therapist how it feels for you.
2) Men only have deep tissue or sports massage
There are still a lot of out-dated perceptions floating around about massage and the unfortunate connection between sex-workers and their “massages" means that some men feel uncomfortable enquiring about massage. Luckily, there are many legitimate therapists like myself who treat massage as a serious profession and tool for better health and well-being. No “extras” here!!!
Massage, of course, is a wonderful tool for reducing muscular tension, relieving stress or anxiety and gaining a general sense of well-being. These benefits obviously apply to everyone regardless of gender and men can benefit just as much from the relaxation element of massage as they can from muscular work.
A lot of male clients come to their first appointment requesting deep tissue or sports massage because they believe that this is the “manly” option only to find that actually gentler pressure is more suitable to their needs. For some there is still a societal stigma attached to men allowing to care for themselves and look after their mental well-being as well as the physical but the benefits of relaxation and hot stones massage are just as applicable to men as they are to women and no therapist who believes in the improvements massage can make to health, is going to judge you for asking for a relaxing massage.
3) Pregnancy massage is dangerous in the first trimester
Whether it is your first pregnancy or you’re a veteran momma, the first 3 months of pregnancy can be an anxious time for lots of women. Changes in hormones, feeling tired, anxious and sometimes in need of some care are actually all reasons why massage can be so helpful in the first trimester.
Yes, it’s true that statistically miscarriage is more likely in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The majority of early miscarriages are caused by chromosome or placental problems. Massage which is essentially manipulation of soft tissues cannot cause these issues and in fact the physical effects of massage in terms of calming the nervous system, reducing muscular tension, promoting the release of feel good chemicals and promoting relaxation can actually help women to feel better in what can be an anxious couple of months. Many women are also feeling unwell, tired and in need of some extra care at this time and massage is the perfect way to do this. Many women prefer not to tell anyone about their pregnancy before their 12 week scan, however, confidentiality is a key part of massage therapy and just the same as any other personal information you provide, no professional massage therapist will share your news.
So long as you are generally healthy and your midwife hasn’t raised any concerns about your pregnancy or test results, there is no reason you can’t enjoy a massage during the first trimester.
4) Massage releases toxins into your body
This is a common phrase to hear but what does it mean? What are these nasty toxins and where have they come from?
So, this one is a bit of twisting of the processes that occur in your body during and following a massage. The word "toxin" implies some sort of dangerous chemical but there are no mysterious “toxins” magically released by the body following some secret combination of massage moves. There is however, some underlying truth to this idea.
Massage, of course, increases circulation, not just of blood but also lymph. Lymph is fluid containing white blood cells which fight infection and which circulates our bodies collecting waste, bacteria and foreign material and passing through our lymph nodes where the waste is filtered out and clean fluids are returned to the body. It’s part of our immune system which helps us to fight infection. Unlike blood which has the heart to pump it around the body, lymph has no such pump and instead relies on suction and muscle contraction to move it around. So, when we have a massage, the flow of lymph is stimulated.
Very tight muscles can sometimes suffer with restricted blood flow and hold lactic acid and calcium deposits and massage can also help to release these back into the body’s circulation.
So, massage does stimulate circulation which helps to circulate and clean waste products, but there are no nasty dangerous toxins at play!
5) All massages are the same
In the UK, massage is a self-regulated therapy, which means that there is no one set standard of training and qualification that all massage therapists have. Instead, there are many different training providers offering a wide range of different styles of massage and courses can vary in depth and length from a couple of days to a year or more.
Some therapists study massage as a part of a more varied course in complimentary or beauty therapy where the training makes up a module or two of the entire course, and others study massage exclusive courses that offer in depth training into anatomy and physiology of the body and muscles and many different massage techniques and styles. Some courses also offer training into the emotional and mental impact of massage, or look at how the body is affected by sports, injuries or other medical conditions. There are so many different factions of massage originating from countries all over the world – India, Thailand, China, Japan and many more.
All of this means that when you go for a massage here in the UK, each practitioner will be offering something different and even two practitioners offering “Swedish Massage” or “Hot Stones Massage” may provide completely different experiences. A massage in a spa can be very different to one offered by a solo practitioner depending on their training and experience. This brings a rich variety of choice to those wanting massage and it means that if you’ve tried something you didn’t enjoy, there’s always another therapist out there who may offer a different experience of the same style of massage that you would love.