The Benefits of Therapeutic Massage

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By Kate Anderson

Soothing music, aromatherapy, cucumber water and all the trappings a spa day provides might be on your mind when talking about massage. But therapeutic massage is a different entity. Yes, it can relax you and benefit your mind and body at the same time, but it goes beyond the techniques and experiences of a spa massage. Therapeutic massage can dramatically reduce pain, help with proper body movement, reduce inflammation and lead to great healing of the mind, body and spirit.

The Intention of Healing

You might be wondering, “What is the big difference between a traditional spa massage and therapeutic massage?” Heidi Smith, PT, a physical therapist who specializes in using therapeutic massage in her practice, points to the depth of pressure in therapeutic massage, the specificity of areas worked on and
the intent of healing versus spa massage’s pure relaxation. She says, “The depth of massage might be a difference but the biggest is intention of the massage. Spa massage is more to relax and unwind, which in itself is therapeutic in stress reduction technique. However, therapeutic would be targeting specific areas of the body to stimulate healing or recovery.”

In fact, Johns Hopkins Medicine, the number one rated hospital in the country, incorporates therapeutic massage into its healing and recovery regimen. Their integrative medicine program website states,

“Therapeutic massage can be used as a collaborative, supportive addition to conventional medical treatment of illness and injury, alleviating pain and stress, aiding soft tissue healing, and revitalizing the body. Also, regular massage can enhance health, providing relaxation, release of muscle tightness, relief from anxiety and tensions, and balancing aspects of body/mind/spirit.”

Focusing on Muscles for Proper Movement and Pain Reduction

Incorporating therapeutic massage into a conventional medical regimen with patients often focuses on certain body problem areas, particularly the muscles. Reactionary tightness in muscles leads to increased pain and improper movement that can hinder healing.

As Smith says, “Often times tissues that are recovering from an injury or even from a particularly tough workout will develop trigger points that will affect the ability of that muscle to contract properly, this is a big deal since we are often trying to restore normal movement patterns which require coordination of muscles around a joint. Often times we will use therapeutic massage initially in a treatment session to allow proper muscle firing and then we will train that muscle right away to reinforce the correct firing pattern and movement pattern.”

With ailments such as low back pain, she frequently recommends “to start with therapeutic massage and find a local physical therapist to help restore muscle balance and alignment to prevent the injury from reoccurring.” She additionally suggests that therapeutic massage isn’t always just useful for injury and chronic conditions. “Therapeutic massage is also useful for maintenance when training for an event like a triathlon or marathon in that it helps work out the lactic acid build up after a hard workout and stimulates the body’s reabsorption of these and redistribution of fluid and nutrition to the healing muscles,” Smith said.

Inspirational Success and Your Path to Therapeutic Massage

A recent fibromyalgia patient with chronic back pain and migraines underwent therapeutic massage as part of a hospital stay and outpatient at a physical therapist’s office. The patient found a reduction in pain from a 10 to a three on a traditional pain scale (1-10), and massage lessened the frequency and intensity of severe migraines. The patient also experienced a boost in mood and a relaxation of overall body and mind tension due to their struggle with pain.

In order to get treatment like this, you can visit your local primary care doctor or the specialist you are currently seeing and request a referral for physical therapy with therapeutic massage. They may have knowledge of physical therapists in Prince William who can target your specific needs. Not all physical
therapists use therapeutic massage, and not all specialize in certain conditions, so it is important to ask before committing to a certain physical therapy practice. Also, before going, check with your insurance provider to make sure treatment is covered.

Remember too, as Smith says, “Therapeutic massage is just a small part of what we do as physical therapists, but our job would not be as successful without it.”

Expect a range of treatment modalities specific to your ailment when undergoing physical therapy treatment.

Kate Anderson is a writer, communications specialist, social media expert and home baker. She lives in Prince William and loves to explore all that the area offers. She and her dogs especially love the nature areas found nearby. You can contact her at


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