For many of us, massage is an important tool for managing the aches, pains and muscular tension associated with having a musculoskeletal condition. It complements the other things we do to manage our condition such as exercise, medication and mindfulness.
What is massage?
Massage is a hands-on therapy that involves rubbing and manipulating the soft tissues of your body, especially your muscles. There are many different types of massage including relaxation, shiatsu, sports, deep tissue, hot rock and remedial.
Massage can improve circulation, ease muscle tension and help you feel more relaxed. A massage can also help relieve stress and help you sleep.
In this blog our focus is remedial massage and self-massage.
What’s a remedial massage?
Remedial massage treats muscles that are “knotted, tense, stiff or damaged.” (1) In consultation with the client, a “remedial therapist will assess and identify which areas of the body require treatment, and use a range of massage-based techniques to optimise muscle function”.(2)
Remedial massage helps loosen tight muscles and ease your pain and stiffness. And for many people with musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis or back pain, this type of massage is essential to keep you moving.
Seeing a remedial massage therapist
A qualified remedial massage therapist is trained to “assess and treat muscles, tendons, ligaments and connective tissue and treat injuries and soreness”.(3)
Seeing a massage therapist regularly can help prevent a build-up of muscle tension caused by chronic pain, inactivity and injury. They can also help you manage your pain, maintain joint flexibility and function, and provide you with exercises and stretches to do between visits.
Questions to ask a massage therapist
Before seeing a therapist, you should do your homework and find out as much as possible. Ask questions such as:
- What type of massage do you provide?
- What are your qualifications?
- Are you accredited with the peak massage body in Australia?
- Have you successfully treated people with my condition?
- Do I need to take all my clothes off?
- How long are the massage sessions?
- What is the cost?
- Can I claim this on my health insurance?
When you see the therapist you should:
- Be open with them and communicate your needs and any health issues – whether they’re ongoing or new.
- Make sure you’re comfortable before they start massaging. They may have placed your arms in a position that aggravates a neck or back condition, or have you lie in a way that causes pain or discomfort. If this occurs, explain to the therapist that the position doesn’t work for you. They can then make changes to ensure you’re comfortable and that you get the most benefit from the massage.
- Ask for extra support if you need it. If you need a pillow or cushion to support your neck, knees or back, let them know so they can accommodate you.
- Let your massage therapist know if the pressure is too hard, too soft or if anything hurts. Don’t suffer in silence.
- Ask yourself whether it matters if you see a male or female therapist. Massage therapists are professionals who want to help you. They’ve seen people of all shapes and sizes and will use towels and sheets to cover you. However you do need to be relaxed during a massage, and if you feel uncomfortable or self-conscious you won’t fully relax. So if you think this will be an issue for you, ask for a massage therapist that suits your needs.
- Try not to feel embarrassed if you fall asleep or pass wind during your massage. It happens – especially when your body relaxes.
After your massage
- You may feel a little sore or tender after your remedial massage. This may last up to a day. The massage has worked and stretched your muscles, much like exercise does. If you’re not used to this or it’s been a while since your last massage, you may feel some pain. A warm shower or heat pack can help alleviate this.
- Do some gentle stretches, as you would after exercising. This helps you maintain some of the benefits of your massage – such as increased flexibility and reduced muscle tension.
Giving yourself a massage
You can relieve many of your own aches and pains by giving yourself a massage. You may even find that you do this unconsciously – when you’re sitting at the computer and you rub your neck, when you have a headache and you gently rub your temples, or when you’re applying a heat rub to your sore knee.
It’s a simple easy way to relieve pain and tension. The good thing about self-massage is you can do it almost anywhere and it’s free! Try it next time you feel tense and sore.
- Warm up first – ease some of your muscle tension with a warm shower or by applying a heat pack (warm not hot) to the painful area.
- Use smooth, firm strokes. You’ll feel the difference between strokes that are relieving muscle tension, and those that are adding to it. Adjust the pressure, from hard to gentle, based on your pain.
- Add some massage oil (or lotion) – it can help your hands move smoothly over the skin. This isn’t essential, but can add to the soothing feeling of the massage.
- Don’t massage over bony areas. This can be painful and may cause an injury.
- Try using massage aids – such as a foam roller, massage balls or other massage aids; e.g. use a tennis ball or a golf ball to massage the soles of the feet. Simply place the ball on the floor, place your bare foot on top of it and gently roll the ball along the length of your foot. If you’re unsteady on your feet, sit down while you do this. You can also use the shower to provide a massage, especially on your neck, shoulders and back.
- Massage regularly – this’ll help prevent muscle pain and tension building up.
Get help with self-massage
Sometimes you need help when you’re giving yourself a massage. Reaching a sore spot in the middle of your back is tough. Or being able to apply firm, consistent strokes to your neck and shoulders may be impossible if you have a musculoskeletal condition that affects those areas. So ask for help. From your partner, a close friend or even the kids. Just be sure to clearly explain what you need.
You can remain fully clothed and have them massage those areas over your clothes. Combined with using a heat pack, a home massage can provide some relief from your pain.
Massage during COVID
Many of us are finding our muscular aches and pains are worse at the moment and the need for a massage is even greater. Working from home and not having access to a proper desk or chair, trying to home school kids, not being as physically active as we’d like, and general stress about what’s happening in the world can all add to our pain levels and muscle tension. A massage – whether by a qualified therapist or a self-massage can help.
The good news for people locked down due to stage 3 restrictions, is you can still access remedial massage therapists. Yay!
Remedial massage and other allied health services like podiatry, mental health counselling and physiotherapy are essential to support health and wellbeing. So they’re not a restricted at this time. So wherever you are in Australia, you can get a remedial massage if you choose to.
Just make sure you don’t see a massage therapist if you’re feeling unwell. If you feel at all sick, get tested for COVID-19 and stay home. Find out more about COVID symptoms on the Australian Government website or call the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080.
Take care, stay safe and give massage a go.
Contact our free national Help Line
If you have questions about things like COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealth, managing your pain or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or via Messenger.