Massage: Clarifying some Myths & Rumours Surrounding Registered Massage Therapy

Massage:  Clarifying some Myths & Rumours Surrounding Registered Massage Therapy

Mike McGiness, RMT

Massage in one form or another has been around for over 4000 years. The earliest documented record according to Wikipedia, coming from the Tomb of Akmanthor (also known as "The Tomb of the Physician") in Saqqara, Egypt depicts two men having work done on their feet and hands, presumably massage.

Massage is defined by the College of Massage Therapists of Ontario (CMTO) as “(t)he assessment of the soft tissue and joints of the body and the treatment and prevention of physical dysfunction and pain of the soft tissue and joints by manipulation to develop, maintain, rehabilitate or augment physical function, or relieve pain (Massage Therapy Act, 1991). It has been a registered healthcare profession in Ontario since 1919, when the Ontario Board of Regents first regulated the practice.

Despite being around for such a long period of time, and being regulated in Ontario for almost 100 years, there is still much confusion and misunderstanding regarding modern day massage therapy and the therapeutic role it plays in the eyes of the general population. I will discuss some of the most pertinent misconceptions below.

1.  Massage is only for relaxation

When asked about massage, many people are only aware of it being offered as a relaxational tool at spas and resorts performed by estheticians.  When first receiving a treatment by an Registered Massage Therapist (RMT), these people are often surprised to learn the many health benefits of massage besides that of just relaxation, including but not limited to:

  • An increase of circulation to muscles and surrounding tissue
  • Reducing or eliminating pain caused my musculoskeletal dysfunction
  • Aiding in on-going stress management
  • Improving lymphatic drainage
  • Improving joint mobility
  • A reduction in myofascial trigger points (knots) and muscular tension

With massage being available at spas and similar establishments, the differentiation between therapeutic and relaxational treatments have been blurred greatly.

2.  Massage helps in detoxifying the body:

There’s plenty of talk and rumours being discussed that massage helps to “squeeze” toxins out of the fat and muscle tissue into the bloodstream for elimination. There is no scientific evidence available to support this claim. Any waste created by your body will not miraculously be “flushed” from your body as the result of a massage. In any healthy person, the natural process of expelling the body of such waste is performed and carried out by the liver and kidneys.  In addition to eliminating such toxins, some waste is recycled and is then used to provide additional nutrients to the body so any “flushing” could be counter-productive to your overall health.

3.  Massage may cause miscarriages:

This myth is one that is commonly discussed amongst expecting mothers and one that should be clarified and dismissed.  With the chance of miscarriage being highest during the first trimester or first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and with so many possible triggers contributing to this unfortunate outcome, it is believed this myth has more to do with legal liability than any physiological phenomenon.  So many factors come together in spontaneous miscarriage that it is nearly impossible to pinpoint any one distinct cause.  If massage was the last thing done before miscarriage, blame can be put on the massage treatment itself, rather than any of the other numerous possible contributing factors.

Massage is quite beneficial for expecting mothers and should not be avoided due to fear of legal liability.

4.  Massage must be painful to be effective/the more pressure the better:

Mention the term “Deep Tissue Massage” and most people will automatically associate it with painful treatments followed by days of soreness.  When performed correctly by an experienced RMT, deep tissue massage should only be slightly more painful than regular Swedish massage.

Living in such a fast-paced society, people often want the quickest results possible and might think that if a trigger point or knot isn’t fully released in just one session that the therapist simply didn’t push hard enough.  It needs to be understood that many knots and fascial restrictions have been in place for such a long time that fully eliminating them in just one treatment is not possible. Using too much pressure can result in broken blood vessels, bruising, swelling to the over worked area and more pain or discomfort than was initially felt by the client.

It is important to maintain constant open communication between client and therapist to achieve a level of pressure which is beneficial without being detrimental to the client.

5.   Massage spreads cancer cells:

It is a common belief that massage treatments can “break off” cancerous cells from existing tumors or that the increase in circulation will aid in the proliferation of cancerous cells throughout the body.  As little as 20 years ago, cancer was taught as a contraindication for massage because not enough scientific studies had been conducted to confirm the effects of massage on cancer.

The increase in circulation caused by massage is no more than the increase achieved by moving around, walking and exercise; resulting in no higher chances of spreading cancer than the activities of daily living.  Special modifications and techniques are used when undergoing massage of clients currently receiving cancer treatment, like limiting pressure to avoid bruising and limiting the application of vigorous techniques to prevent increased nausea in those undergoing chemotherapy.

However, it is always important for anyone with cancer to consult with their oncologist before considering massage.

In closing, there are numerous benefits associated with receiving regular massage treatments.  Hopefully, this article has clarified some of the common myths floating around this profession.  Remember that massage is never intended to replace regular medical care from your physician.  When considering massage, always consult your primary healthcare provider to see if it’s the right avenue for you. 

Mike McGinnes is an award winning massage therapist, whose practice is focussed on deep tissue massage therapy. You can read more about Mike on his profile page.