Massage Therapy 101: How It Works and What to Expect From Your Visit

March 10, 2021
Wellness

More than self-indulgence—massage is a powerful tool for preventative care. Expert massage therapists from WellQuarters answer your most frequently asked questions.

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An ancient practice with deep history in many cultures throughout the world, massage was one of the very first treatments developed for pain relief. Contemporary research, however, has helped us come to understand that the benefits extend far beyond treatment of existing medical conditions and symptoms. Massage has also proven to be a quite valuable tool in preventive care. At WellQuarters, the wellness arm of HealthQuarters, we believe that preventive care is essential to reduce the potential for illness, injury, and other health emergencies. Our focus is to provide holistic care that not only gets you healthy, but keeps you healthy.

Massage is more than self-indulgence—it’s powerful self-care.

What is massage?

Massage is a manual treatment which manipulates the muscles and other soft tissues of the body, often in order to reduce pain, tension, and stress. Throughout the course of a massage, a practitioner implements varying physical techniques—primarily with the use of hands, forearms, and sometimes elbows—to support the body in its healing process.

What conditions has massage been shown to benefit?

Massage therapy is commonly used to treat any muscular, joint, and nerve pain—especially in the lower back, neck, and shoulders. Studies show that massage can effectively accelerate the body’s natural healing process and increase range of motion and flexibility, making it an ideal treatment for acute soreness and injuries, as well as chronic conditions—including sciatica, fibromyalgia, scoliosis, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Patients suffering from autoimmune disorders—such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis—experience improved quality of life as a result of enhanced immune function, reduced inflammation, and increased circulation. Massage has also and has proven to reduce the duration, intensity, and frequency of headaches.

In addition to pain relief, massage treatments can decrease blood pressure, heart rate, inflammatory markers, and levels of cortisol and other stress hormones, rendering it quite effective in the reduction of stress and anxiety. It also increases oxytocin—an important hormone linked with improved physical and emotional relationships, increased memory and optimism, reduced inflammation, and healthy digestive function—and it stimulates the release of endorphins and serotonin, which could explain why it has been found to benefit patients with depression and sleep disorders.

Because massage typically lacks serious risk of side effects or interactions with other treatments, many people enjoy this form of therapy as a safe addition to other treatments. However, massage can be quite effective as a standalone treatment. With an increasing amount of pregnant patients seeking natural remedies, studies show that massage is not only safe during pregnancy, but beneficial in a number of surprising ways! Pregnant patients who receive regular massage treatments experience all of the aforementioned benefits, as well as more restful sleep, reduced nausea, lower incidence of prematurity, and labors that are both significantly shorter and less painful.

What does it feel like? What should I know?

Massage therapy encompasses a wide variety of types and styles, with different methods being best suited for different purposes. For this reason, every massage is a bit different! At WellQuarters, we prefer to custom tailor each massage to the patient, often utilizing multiple techniques in the same session. But let’s touch on some basics.

If relaxation is your goal, your practitioner will likely use longer strokes and kneading movements, applying light to moderate pressure throughout. This technique helps to increase circulation, release tension, correct posture, and improve energy levels and quality of sleep. It also releases some of that serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin that we mentioned above.

If you’re wanting to address a specific area of tightness, pain, injury, or medical condition, firmer pressure might be used in more targeted areas. This allows the practitioner to focus on deeper layers of tissue in order to release contracted areas, increase blood flow to the soft tissues of the body, and reduce inflammation. It is possible to feel some discomfort while your practitioner is manipulating deeper tissues beneath the skin, but this discomfort should not veer into pain. Always be sure to communicate your levels of comfort with your massage therapist and don’t be afraid to speak up if something hurts!

Following a deeper massage, it’s possible to continue to feel some light soreness. This should dissipate after a day or so and can be soothed by a warm bath, shower, or sauna. Regardless of the type of massage you receive, however, the result should always leave you feeling relaxed, refreshed, and content.

What is the experience like? How long will it take? 

When you arrive and check in at HealthQuarters, you will be welcomed by one of our Care Guides. At this point, we recommend using the restroom if you need to. Your Care Guide will lead you into the WellQuarters area, where you will meet your massage therapist and be shown to your treatment room. 

Once you get settled in, your practitioner will go over your medical history, treatment goals, and preferences for your session. It is important that you be open with your practitioner about any medical conditions, injuries, current levels of pain, sensitivities, and areas that you don’t want to be touched. You are always encouraged to communicate preferences about pressure, comfort levels, or any concerns that you may have, before and throughout your treatment!

After your brief intake session, you will be left alone to undress (underwear can remain on, but let your practitioner know if you would prefer to wear more clothing and we can work to accommodate your comfort levels) and relax beneath the fresh sheet on the massage table. When your practitioner returns, lights are typically dimmed and soft music is played to optimize relaxation during your treatment. Feel free to let us know if you prefer quiet. Warm massage oil is often used to reduce friction on your skin, so make sure to mention if you have any allergies!

Massage sessions at WellQuarters generally last 50 or 80 minutes, depending upon your booking. If you have any additional treatments included in your session, those may be done simultaneously or after your massage, which could add to the duration. 

When your session is complete, your practitioner will review methods to amplify your results at home, as well as provide recommendations for ongoing treatment, should you prefer to continue your therapy. 

How are treatments created for each person? 

At WellQuarters, we prefer to assess each patient individually in order to custom tailor the best treatments to fit their unique goals. As mentioned above, you will first speak with your practitioner about your medical history. If you have had prior appointments with any of our other wellness practitioners, notes from those sessions may be reviewed in order to best meet your needs. It’s a good idea to let us know in advance if you are pregnant or have any specific requests for your massage, so that we are able to prepare the most optimal accommodations for you.

With your medical details in mind, you will discuss your objectives for your session. These could include relaxation, pain relief, improved sleep, increased energy, or any other specific goals. You will also go over any personal preferences, such as levels of pressure, areas of your body that you don’t want to be touched, or sensitivities to certain smells or massage oil ingredients. 

After your assessment, your practitioner will talk with you about the best way to realistically meet your needs. This may include follow up sessions, home stretches, or recommendations for other integrative wellness treatments—such as acupuncture or cupping. Don’t be afraid to be specific and ask questions! This will help your practitioner customize the very best treatment for you.

How often should I be treated?

Just as each person’s treatment plan is unique, so is the recommended frequency of sessions. If you like to have an occasional massage, that’s perfectly okay. If you are suffering from an acute injury, your practitioner might recommend that you come in more frequently for a brief period of time. If your goal is to manage a chronic ailment, maintain relaxation, or support your body during pregnancy, a longer term plan could be more ideal.

If you choose to continue treatments, your practitioner will work with you to formulate a plan that fits your needs, preferences, and schedule. Ultimately, we are here to support your individual needs.

What should I do before and after?

While no special preparation is necessary for a great massage, there are some simple things you can do to boost your experience. Before your appointment, we recommend that you drink plenty of water, have a light snack, and avoid stimulants and alcohol. Some patients like to take a warm shower or bath in order to loosen muscles and tension in preparation for their massage. When possible, wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing and, if you prefer to wear underwear, try to choose a pair that doesn’t impede areas of treatment. We find it beneficial to arrive a few minutes early so you can take some deep breaths and relax (and turn off your phone!) before getting started.

After your appointment, we always recommend that you take your time getting up and allow yourself to move slowly as you reintegrate into the outside world. It’s a great idea to have another healthy snack and drink some extra water to support continued healthy circulation. It’s best to avoid both caffeine and vigorous exercise, immediately following your massage, which can cause tension in the muscles that were worked on during your session. If you’re feeling active, you can do some light stretching or take a mellow walk to keep your muscles loose. If you are experiencing any soreness, we suggest a warm shower or bath followed by some rest and relaxation to assist your body in its healing process.

Any risks to know?

Though massage typically poses very minimal risk, it is recommended that certain patients consult with a doctor prior to booking an appointment. You should speak with your doctor if you are pregnant; if you have had recent surgery; or if you have cancer, a heart condition, liver failure, diabetes, a bleeding or clotting disorder, osteoporosis or fractured bones, or an autoimmune condition. It is generally recommended that you avoid massage treatments if you have an active skin rash, open wounds, or skin infections. Certain skin conditions, including psoriasis and eczema, should not prevent you from receiving a massage.

If you are unsure about the safety of massage or if you are hoping to remedy a specific medical condition with this treatment, it is always a good idea to talk to your doctor first. Though it has many benefits, massage therapy should not be considered a replacement for other medical care.

After you are cleared to receive your massage, be sure to communicate all health conditions and allergies with your practitioner in order to ensure that any necessary precautions are taken for your safety. Patients sometimes feel a bit sore during or after certain types of massage, but your massage should not be painful. If something doesn’t feel right or hurts, let your practitioner know right away!

And if you're interested in trying massage therapy for yourself, click here to book an appointment with a WellQuarters expert massage therapist.
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