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How to Choose the Massage Therapist That is Right for Your Chronic Pain

Massage has become increasingly more popular over the past two or three decades as the public becomes more interested in non-invasive ways to promote better health and well-being. In general, massage has many health benefits that make it a worthwhile investment in taking care of yourself. Even better, many massage techniques are specifically intended to address particular issues and problems for clients. In this article, I will be talking about a number of specialized types of massage so that you can decide for yourself which method may be best suited to your particular needs.

Massage methods are often referred to as modalities. This article is limited to a discussion of science based modalities. All of these modalities share one thing in common: they are intended to achieve a specific functional outcome for the client. Most of these modalities can be done effectively with the client fully clothed on the massage table.

Therapeutic Massage is based in traditional massage methods and adds a number of specific techniques that are designed to alleviate pain, increase range of motion, and correct function of the muscle. There are many subcategories within Therapeutic Massage, all of them have to do with manipulating muscle tissue to improve muscle tone, release restrictions, and reduce pain.

Sports Massage is a specific modality designed to help high performance athletes stay comfortable and highly functional during athletic performance. Sports massage therapy is used before and after athletic performance and is often used to prepare muscles for work and prevent sports injuries. Sports massage is used after athletic performance to reduce muscle cramping and promote faster recover of muscle tissue after strenuous work. Some sports massage techniques may not be appropriate for a chronic pain sufferer, so if you choose this methodology, be sure to very clearly communicate your health history and pain concerns, and be sure to speak up if anything feels to aggressive or uncomfortable.

Medical Massage is a very specialized type of massage and requires additional certification of the massage therapist. Professionals who have this additional training are certified to work with specific medical populations, such as cancer patients. You will often find certified medical massage therapists within a clinical setting like a hospital, rehabilitation facility, or within a physical therapy practice.

Fascial Release Therapy or myofascial release therapy, directly addresses the system of connective tissue of the body. This method is based on the premise that fascial restrictions within and throughout the body is the major contributor to soft tissue discomfort and/or dysfunction. Actual techniques vary from practitioner to practitioner. Some professionals use a great deal of pressure and or tissue stretching to release the soft tissue. Other practitioners use a more gentle and gradual approach to releasing the tissues.

CranioSacral Therapy (CST) is a gentle, hands-on approach that releases tensions deep in the body to relieve pain and dysfunction and improve whole-body health and performance. Using a soft touch which is generally no greater than 5 grams - about the weight of a nickel - practitioners release restrictions in the soft tissues that surround the central nervous system. CST is increasingly used as a preventive health measure for its ability to bolster resistance to disease, and it's effective for a wide range of medical problems associated with pain and dysfunction.

Now that you have an understanding of the types of massage available, you may have discovered that there is a particular modality that you are attracted to. Often times this is the best place to start, otherwise the options can become quite confusing. It is also important to note that many massage therapists are trained in multiple techniques, so you should always be comfortable to ask whether a particular professional specializes in the modality you are seeking.

It is important to decide how you are going to locate and select an appropriate massage therapist.

First and foremost, almost every state now requires massage therapists to be licensed. This is a protection for you. It means that the therapist has graduated from a recognized, accredited school, has passed a proficiency exam, has passed a criminal background check, and has a history of maintaining skills through participation in continuing educational programs. Many states have a license search feature so you can confirm that a professional is properly licensed. You will also want to confirm that the massage therapist has liability insurance. This is also for your protection.

Often times the best way to locate a qualified massage therapist is through referral from someone whose opinion you trust. This may be your primary care physician, your chiropractor, even a fellow pain sufferer. If you belong to a chronic pain support group, there may be a source of referrals there.

Another referral source is to go to professional massage associations. They often provide locator services that can help you find a practitioner in your area. Here are some links you can use to locate a therapist: allows you to choose a specific modality and geographic area to locate professionals

You should always feel comfortable asking a therapist about his/her education, training, and experience. Basically, you can consider your conversation with the therapist as a type of job interview. Feel free to ask questions about how s/he would approach your health situation or concern. A professional therapist encourages an open dialog so that there is mutual understanding and a good relationship between client and therapist.

Lisa Murray Machala, LMT is the owner/ operator of Michigan Equine Therapy. For over a decade she has been working with riders and horses to help them feel and perform at their best. She specializes in fascial release and CranioSacral Therapy to help clients get out of pain and return to the activities they love. She is the creator of Pain Free Riding in 8 Weeks © and you can learn more about her at her website:

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