Why Clinical Massage?
Massage has long been accepted as an effective and accessible self-care tool. In fact, it's known for:
Addressing muscle tension
Offering a luxurious experience
This type of wellness massage allows you to be a passive recipient as you relax on the table and let your stress melt away. It is a wonderfully healing experience and offers a multitude of health benefits.
However, clinical massage can offer far more for those who:
Have highly active lifestyles
Participate in sports
Are dealing with pain or injury that is keeping them side-lined from the life they want,
Clinical Massage offers a more specific and results-oriented therapeutic approach, focused on:
Changing patterns of dysfunction
Restoring balance to the body.
Receiving Clinical Massages from a highly trained therapist opens the door for a more collaborative style of treatment - just like when you are working with a personal trainer, nutritionist, or running coach. This means it is essential to:
Know how to become an active participant in your wellness journey.
Learn how to get the MOST out of your massage sessions.
Morgan Leavitt, a Clinical Massage Therapist in River North who has also wrestled with her own chronic pain, guides you through a few key components to elevate your massage experience.
Before Your Clinical Massage Session: The Big Picture
Intake Form: Often your Massage Therapist will send you a form prior to your appointment. This is an opportunity to detail your health history, areas of tension, past injuries/surgeries, and any special conditions. Do not skip over this. The more details you provide, the better informed your therapist will be.
Body Awareness Scan: Being able to describe your experiences within your own body is helpful in creating a clearer picture for your therapist, as well as furthering your own understanding.
Things to think about:
How active you have been vs how active you would like to be?
What is keeping you from the level of activity and wellness that you prefer?
Where do you hold stress and tension in your body?
If you have any pain or dysfunction, ask yourself:
Where is it located?
What does it feel like (quality) and how often is it experienced (frequency)?
When is it at its worst?
Are there times when pain is not present?
Are there other components such as weakness, tingling, and fatigue?
Your therapist will ask you variations of these questions, so it will be helpful for
you to have a general idea of how you might answer them beforehand. It’s ok to
not have all the answers. It’s more important to simply be thinking about the
functioning of your body in greater detail, and have a baseline to compare to in
Goal Setting: Having some general ideas of what you would like to accomplish during your session will help your therapist develop a plan, provide realistic expectations, and give you both a way to measure progress.
Reducing pain is a very common first step. But based on your personal body awareness scan, other goals could be increased joint mobility, better coordination between breath and movement, improved stability, less anxiety, and more restful sleep. Your goals can be big or small, and achievable in either one session or a series of sessions.
During Your Massage Session: Exploring the Unknown
Settling in: Once your therapist explains the plan and procedure for the treatment ahead, and you are situated on the table, take a moment to settle in. Ask for adjustments or accommodations to make you more comfortable. Take a few deep breaths and a quick assessment of how you feel at that moment. Allow your therapist to do the same. This sets the stage for exploring the musculoskeletal and nervous systems and figuring out the best way to create positive change.
Provide Feedback: Communication will be your most important tool during the treatment. Letting your therapist know what you are experiencing will help them navigate your body structure, and apply the most appropriate techniques and pressure. This does not mean you have to talk the entire time. Just when it feels necessary or useful. Common bits of feedback include observations regarding areas where you feel unexpected pain or soreness, referral sensations to another part of the body, and if you require a change in pressure (harder or softer). This is also a great time to engage with your therapist by asking questions regarding a particular muscle they are working on, a movement you typically have trouble with, or simply why something feels the way it does. This helps build your knowledge base and understanding of the overall functioning of your body, and why dysfunction occurs.
Don’t Forget To Breathe: It is not uncommon for aspects of the massage session to feel uncomfortable. Especially if you came into the session already in some pain. Our human tendency is to hold our breath and resist. This tenses up our muscles, keeps us in a sympathetic “fight or flight” state, and can interrupt the treatment process. Slow, deep breathing activates a parasympathetic “rest” response, allows you to feel more relaxed, and increases the effectiveness of the treatment. And please communicate with your therapist if you have difficulty taking a relaxing breath or if you need a little break during the treatment.
After Your Clinical Massage Session: Measuring Your Progress
Self-Assessment: When the session is over, take your time sitting up and reconnecting with your body. Any type of massage creates change within your nervous system, and it can take a moment for your brain to process it all. Allow yourself to acclimate and take note of any changes, new sensations, or improvements you may feel as you sit on the table, stand, and then move around. You may or may not feel some soreness, or even a little sleepy or woozy. All are normal post-massage effects that will fade quickly.
Provide Feedback: Just like prior to the session, describe how you are feeling and offer any observations you may have noticed from your self-assessment. Your therapist might conduct their own reassessment based on your feedback to compare to your pre-massaged stage. It’s also worthwhile to share what you may have liked or disliked during the massage to inform future sessions. And ask any questions that you may have regarding the treatment itself or the next steps. Your therapist can provide some self-care tools and techniques for you to practice between sessions.
Monitor The Changes: Once you leave the treatment room, it’s important to follow any instructions given by the therapist and to continue assessing the effectiveness of the massage session. What changes do you notice in the following days…Pain relief? Reduced muscle tension? Better sleep? More effective workouts? Pay attention to how long the changes last, and be prepared to report back at your next appointment.
As your body awareness becomes more fine-tuned, the connection between
mind and body will be much improved, you become more skilled in differentiating between temporary pain and actual dysfunction, and will be able to expedite the recovery process in more efficient ways.
Physical & Mental Well-Being
Clinical Massage is just one of the many tools at your disposal to heal from injury, reduce pain, and improve overall physical health. Each session will be different, and every therapist will apply their unique set of skills and expertise. But with this interactive mindset and approach to your treatment sessions, you will have an extra advantage in building your knowledge and understanding, and elevate your entire mind-body healing experience.
And, since it is currently Mental Health Awareness month, it’s important to also highlight the extremely positive effect that increased body awareness has on mental and emotional well-being. The daily pain of chronic illness or injury takes a huge toll on a person’s mental health by impacting:
Quality of life and sense of self.
Movement and mobility
Physical activity and social interactions
It is simply physically and mentally exhausting to be in pain all the time.
But research has shown that when massage reduces stress and anxiety by lowering cortisol “stress” hormone levels and increases the “feel good” hormones like serotonin and dopamine, it can reduce the risk of depression, and elevate one’s mood and inner sense of calm.
The education, comprehension, and self-care tools that massage provides to heighten body awareness also helps people combat negative feelings associated with chronic pain, as well as gives them back a small sense of control over the healing process in general. The mind-body connection becomes strong once again. And all of these factors add up to much happier, healthier, more fulfilling lives.
Morgan Leavitt, LMT provides Clinical Massage treatments for acute and chronic pain management. She loves educating and empowering people who choose to be active participants in navigating their own wellness journey. Her clinic is located in the River North neighborhood, inside Movement Physical Therapy and Wellness.
For more information and to follow her on social media, click here.