Over the last few years, some practitioners of so-called medical massage have implied it represents the highest level of our profession.
First problem, most state laws say massage is NOT the practice of medicine. Many therapists persist in blithely ignoring that.
Second problem, assuming the superiority of a medical approach ignores the client. The best massage is the one that meets the need of the client, not the one that the practitioner personally prefers.
In light of that, it is important we resurrect the model proposed a number of years ago by Jeffrey Maitland, former Faculty Chairman of the Rolf Institute. There are three realms of massage/bodywork or somatic education, which some people like to call it.
WELLNESS MASSAGE – spa massage, Swedish, Esalen, hot stone, and other forms that often are more primarily aimed at pleasure than pain relief. This is what most therapists learn first. Let us not forget that pleasure is one of the most important ingredients of health!
MEDICAL OR ORTHOPEDIC MASSAGE – NMT, muscular therapy, etc. The focus here is primarily on the relief of pain and injury due to physical causes. This requires deeper knowledge of anatomy, kinesiology, postural and gait analysis, and effective clinical protocols for musculo-skeletal problems.
HOLISTIC MASSAGE/INTEGRATIVE BODYWORK – Rolfing, Zero Balancing, Cranio-sacral Therapy, Aston Patterning, etc. These approaches recognize that pain may arise for psychological as well as physical reasons. So they combine orthopedic competence with an understanding of the bodymind and how to affect it positively within the scope of massage/bodywork.
Wouldn’t it make sense that a full-range practitioner will respect all three realms and have the capability to do wellness massage, orthopedic massage and integrative bodywork?
It is true that massage/bodywork is an art and a science. As such some of us choose to specialize in one of these realms or it may be our favorite mode of self-expression.
But ultimately we are ethically and appropriately called upon to respond with what is best for each client.