The Goal of Massage Therapy

Many people think that the goal of massage therapy is just to perform a series of mechanical movements using their hands in a particular routine. For example many colleges will teach you to do 3 strokes of a massage movement called Effleurage up the leg and then you do 30 seconds of Percussion movements on the back etc. These whole series of movements should then take an hour or so and then that is your massage completed.
To me this is a very superficial way of viewing massage and while there may be some minor benefits achieved through this sort of massage, it can be very boring for both the practitioner and yourself. Many practitioners then think that if they can also name all the muscles in Latin that somehow this makes them a professional. But good massage therapy is actually an art form not just a series of routine movements.
The real goal of massage therapy should be two things according to the two traditions of the East and the West. The first should be to find and get rid of any tension that exists in the muscles when they are not being used. This can be termed Residual Muscular Tension. The second goal which is actually interrelated to the first is to find any blockages in the meridians, or subtle energy channels and to unblock those blockages or stagnant channels. These two goals have been the most important aspects of massage since the dawn of massage therapy and it is very important that these are not forgotten otherwise students may not “see the forest for the trees”.
This is why I say that learning Latin medical terminology is largely irrelevant to the practice of massage therapy. There have been thousands of excellent massage therapists throughout history who operated by feel rather than intellect with massage. For example in ancient China they never used to dissect the human body because they said that once the Chi or life force had left the body then the body was no longer of any interest to them as the whole goal of their massage and health systems were designed around the healthy flow of chi in the body. Similarly in Japan it was blind people who were the best shiatsu massage therapists as their sense of touch was so much better than most other people’s and it was the sense of touch that made an excellent massage therapist.
So, if we establish that getting rid of muscular tension and opening up the subtle energy channels is the goal of massage, then massage training should focus on these areas. The training should focus on things such as how tension in the body is interrelated. For example, many people get a tight area behind their shoulder blades. But did that tightness come purely from the movement of their shoulders? No, generally it came from the use of their hands or the posture of the person. So one tight spot (knot) relates to another tight spot, just as the acupressure points on a meridian channel all relate to each other. So if we are to release the tight spot behind the shoulder blades we may need to work somewhere on the hand before we release the shoulders.
The same principal can apply to lower back pain. Most lower back pain can be traced to tension in the feet and legs that travels up the body to the lower back. Headaches similarly are often caused by tension in the neck but this tension also comes from tension in the legs, feet or the hands. This is the most important aspects of massage therapy to learn. This is what will keep you happy with your massage treatment and will encourage you to keep coming back for more treatments to maintain a state of health.

By Brandon Raynor