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Giving Massage a New Name and Reputation

Giving Massage a New Name and Reputation
By Paula M. Moerland, LMT November 2009, All Rights Reserved

I love my new profession. I think it is some of the most amazing work I have ever done. I loved my old profession too, but never could I have made such a powerful impact in the quality of a person’s life as a software engineer that I can as a licensed massage therapist. But I have a beef with my new profession: In the words of Rodney Dangerfield, “I get no respect!”

To some degree I blame all of us in the profession who have worked so hard to legitimize the therapeutics of massage for choosing the word in the first place – the connotations are powerful! I’ll skip the erotic and S-word references and just focus on the P-word reference: Pampering. During my six years of work with cancer patients we would sometimes see a lull in our schedule. I could not figure out why until I found out various staff members were telling people to come and get pampered. Excuse me, but if you have known any number of cancer patients in your life (I was one, too) you may have observed what I have observed: these people are about doing things for others, not themselves. Telling a typical cancer patient to come and get pampered is a good way to lose business. I told them to tell the patients that we could help them with their pain and help alleviate the post-chemo malaise and increase their range-of-motion and speed healing after surgery. That’s when business picked back up again; we even had to add another hour to the schedule.

I don’t want to devalue the benefits of relaxation therapies, of which there are many, but focusing on the relaxation aspects and avoiding the therapeutics has been, is, and will continue to slow our progression into the medical profession and the general populace as a serious medical therapy. Mention the word massage to most people, whether uninitiated medical professionals or general public, and I guarantee they are not thinking ‘powerful healing therapy’, nor are they giving the massage therapist standing in front of them the full respect they deserve. In fact, the justifiable claims we make outside of relaxation are labeled as ‘quackery’. Like it or not, admit it or not, the word ‘massage’ evokes powerful images in people’s minds and not necessarily or usually the images in the therapists’ minds.

The number one thing that must change if we are to alter the world’s perception of this amazing therapy – is the name. That task need not be difficult if we look at what is changing in the field:

What is changing is our understanding of the healing mechanisms behind bodywork.

What is changing is that mainstream science is now paying attention, and their work is vital, for it is our passage into the medical arena and into genuine, widespread respect.

The scientists leading the way are those involved in the only two World Fascia conferences ever given: At Harvard Medical in 2007 and at Vrije Universiteit, The Netherlands, in 2009. Everything that the Fascia Congress is about is the fact that everything in the body is about Connective Tissue (CT) – of which fascia is one type. And believe it or not, Connective Tissue has never really been studied before by mainstream science, other than being labeled as an ‘envelope’ and getting dissected away and discarded. Blessedly, this is all changing, albeit slowly as science more-or-less has to go back to the drawing board and start anew!

For example, science has now proved that not only is much of Connective Tissue innervated, but the nerves end there. This is big news. As there is essentially no place in the body that Connective Tissue does not exist, it is highly likely that it is the medium by which everything else is connected and communicates. I believe that CT is about to be discovered as the premier communication system of the body. For not only do the nerves actually end within this tissue, not only has the tissue been found to be ‘intelligent’, but the body’s electrical system runs on it. It is the substance that allows the body to be the super-semiconductor of electricity that it is: Something that will take science time to prove, because it has to be proven with live not dead tissue, but they are well on their way.

As licensed massage therapists we study many things, but primarily: muscles, tendons and ligaments. However, muscles and tendons by themselves barely account for 40% of the muscle and tendon capabilities. Without the associated Connective Tissue, muscle and tendon are essentially mechanical dummies. Remove the Connective Tissue from a muscle and then slice through the muscle and you will feel nothing. When we feel pain, it is our Connective Tissue telling us that there is something wrong.

There is a new model for muscles and it is a muscle/CT model as a single architectural unit – meaning they must be studied together and our textbooks and medical drawings must be updated. Here’s a little tidbit about ligaments, which are described as structures that connect bone to bone: “Ligaments do not exist. The CT was carved away by dissecting anatomists and the remaining structure was drawn by an artist.” Think of that the next time someone says they tore their ACL!

Massage therapy schools, and likely the physical therapy profession as well, will need to alter their focus: It is time to move away from the basic mechanics of muscles and tendon attachments and toward the complex, thermal, electronic, innervated, structural, (emotional and intelligent) Connective Tissue system – and its relationship to and influence on all other organ and endocrine systems in the body, including the entire digestive tract, brain, and central nervous system – none of which would be quite so smart or able to do their jobs without CT!

I think of CT as feminine: it is about communication and relationships. And, CT is the only tissue that has a communicating relationship with all other body tissues. Hence the previous notation of ‘emotional and intelligent’ - this is not meant to be derogatory, it is meant to illustrate that emotional memory is stored in connective tissue. At least that is the understanding across a wide variety of bodyworkers and somatic therapists. Many physical ailments have disappeared after the release of emotional traumas. I cannot imagine anything other than an intelligent system being able to do that.

For those massage therapists who eventually became CT Therapists of one type or another, including those that studied with the brilliant Ida Rolf (who was so ahead of her time), we know that CT Therapy can dramatically alter the body’s ability to self-correct, and the results are astounding in that often decades’ worth of pain can simply disappear within hours. This is the remodeling effect of CT’s Tensegrity system – which is also being studied – and is beautifully filmed in J. C. Guimberteau’s DVDs: Strolling under the Skin and The Skin Passage.

So how does the manipulation of CT result in those astounding changes I have seen? Let’s look at my theory of old injuries and surgeries – where pain continues or appears after-the-fact. Ever had a client come in and say, “I had surgery on that knee 15 years ago, and it’s still giving me trouble”? I have, and amazingly it was fixed in about five minutes. Here’s the theory: The body always tries to protect injured areas and it does so by having the supportive tissue go into contraction. Once the injury has healed, however, the contracted tissues often get stuck into chronic contraction, eventually resulting in adhesions between layers of CT and muscle, which leads to starvation of the tissues, which brings on inflammation, which results in pain. In the case of our knee surgery client, it was the distal quads and their associated fascia that stayed contracted, developed pathology, and kept tugging on the patella, eliciting the pain he felt. CT Therapy was applied, which reset the contracted tissues, ‘melted’ the adhesions, restored circulation, and gave space for the buried inflammation to clear and for the patella to move freely again - and something that looked like a miracle happened: not only was the pain gone but normal movement was restored. This client could not believe that his knee trouble had disappeared – but it did.

A skilled therapist with high palpation and Connective Tissue ‘listening’ skills can identify and locate old injury/surgical sites in the body early on and clear them long before they become a pain that the client points out to us. In fact, this early recognition can do more than just speed the recovery process; it could circumvent any number of health problems including prevent premature aging.

The inflammation part of the 15-year-old-knee-pain story is important for it relates to many other pain conditions that we think of as disease, that are really not disease, per se, like fibromyalgia, which I have and which I believe to be a disorder within the Connective Tissue, probably related to the nervous system. Using the exact same CT Therapy, we can locate isolated areas of adhesions and inflammation and release them, resulting in pain relief for sufferers of fibromyalgia and likely prevent many potential health maladies. One still has to address what caused the problem to begin with – which often turns out to be a combination of stress, dehydration, improper nutrition and exercise – but it gives the body a chance to break the inflammation cycle and restore local circulation which is vital to the body being able to heal itself.

I do not claim to know what name should be given to what I have been calling CT Therapy. As the practitioner methods and approaches appear infinite, perhaps science should decide. Whatever name is chosen, I choose to visualize the future of CT Therapy as a respected medical profession. I would also like to see it used regularly in people’s lives as the best prevention of illness and injury: Think of the drastic reduction in healthcare costs if CT Therapy were tried before drug and surgical therapies, which are valid but harsh on the body. May the enlightened medicine I visualize, materialize in the very near future.

Sarah M. Corey Graduate Program, Department of Neurology, University of Vermont, VT, US
Energy Medicine, The Scientific Basis, Oschman
Jaap van der Wal Department of Anatomy and Embryology, University of Maastricht, The Netherlands

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Comment by Stacey Kent on December 26, 2009 at 5:34pm
A very interesting discussion, thank you all. I use the term "massage therapist", as "bodyworker" often invokes the look of confusion from people unaccustomed to our profession. I am grateful when I work with clients regularly who value my work as part of their healthcare, something that keeps them going and active. I am equally grateful for those I only see for that once a year session, the pampering. It is a blessing to be the hour or so that these people look forward to for months, and a frustration when they ask "how often should I come?"...because I know that even getting them to come twice a year will be a massive success for both of us. I do not stick the word "pampering" onto me or my work at all. I stick it onto them, what they put value on or importance on in their lives in the current moment. In the current economic pattern, the fact that we are able to provide pampering, when they must also choose between generic, organic, or frozen foods at the grocery's a big thing for them to do that for themselves...not an insult to us that they have chosen to come.
I think it may also be confusing to the public that every state has different regulations and abbreviations for our profession: MT,LMT,CMT,RMT...then there are other bodyworkers who don't say they do massage, but kind of really do massage, but because of slippery language do not adhere to state licensure...on most of my printed materials, I now spell out "licensed massage therapist" is worth the space taken up to clarify that I am following the required standards, and keeps me from being asked what all the initials after my name mean...maybe I need to design a bumpersticker that reads "pampering saves lives"...I know, I know...
who wants to start a thread on "masseur and masseuse"???? Ahhhhh!!
Comment by Paula Moerland on December 16, 2009 at 11:12pm
Yes, Lee --- and in this world perception and connotation are what matters. You illustrated my point, beautifully.
Comment by lee kalpin on December 16, 2009 at 8:39pm
To open the discussion again, I do understand Paula's difficulty with the term "pampering". In itself, of course it's not a four letter word or a bad thing to say. I used to encounter clients who thought of massage as "pampering" and to them it meant indulging themselves in something that was pleasant but not really necessary and not of any real value. They associated it with very rich people (movie stars and such) who could afford to pamper themselves. They felt they could not justify spending money to pamper themselves.
The term "relaxation massage" seems to have a better meaning for them. Almost everyone feels stressed at some time, and most people have heard and read enough about the negative effects of stress, so that they see the value in relaxation.
It's really the same thing but a different connotation to the word for some people.
Comment by Mary Ellen Derwis-Balaz on December 16, 2009 at 6:12pm
I'm with Gloria. When did papmpering become a four letter word. Massage. Massage Therapy, Massotherapy.... Touch is Massage is Therapy. I do relaxation massage, medical massage, Chi Nei Tsang abdominal chi massage and have found that as a whole the profession is very well respected. If someone gets off course and expects other than what is appropriate I tell them. They apologize. We all move on. I think the problem may be that Massage is a healing art. And like all arts open to interpretaion. That is what makes it so beautiful and powerful. As a practitioner I personally wear many hats. Part of what keeps me so satisfied with the work is that I have the freedom to do so. BTW. Very interesting debate.
Comment by lee kalpin on December 14, 2009 at 9:35am
Happy Holidays to you Paula!. This has been an interesting and useful debate.
Comment by Paula Moerland on December 14, 2009 at 9:26am
A shout-out and thanks to Stephen who corrected my vetting of the Rodney Dangerfield quote. I don't know what website I used, but it was obviously not a valid one. Correction has been made.

To all of you: Your participation in this writing project has been most valued. I tweaked a few more areas based upon the input here, and feel that this article is now ready for publication.

We may not all be in agreement about my opinions, but all opinions have been respectfully submitted and received. Thank you.

Happy Holidays!
Comment by lee kalpin on December 12, 2009 at 10:56am
Added comment to my last post, Paula mentioned that "massage" is too generic a term, and anyone can do a massage. True. That is why in Ontario, only people registered with the CMTO (our regulatory body) can call themselves Massage Therapists or Registered Massage Therapists, or say they do Massage Therapy.

Other bodyworkers can say they do Massage, but cannot use the term Massage Therapy.
Members of the public know the difference. When prospective clients phone me they ask if everyone who works at my clinic is a Registered Massage Therapist.
Comment by lee kalpin on December 12, 2009 at 10:54am
I appreciate Gloria's comments. I think we can approach this in two ways. The first is to use a different terminology. For example, many therapists are advertising themselves as A.R.T. therapists (Active Release). This is just one modality of massage or physical treatment. It's an excellent technique, and for many it sounds more "professional" and impressive than "massage", so that's one way to go.

The other is for each therapist to build respect for his or her own work, and therefore for the work of the whole profession. We educate one client at a time and they spread the news when they refer their friends to us.
That has worked for me.

I am just reading an interesting novel (an old one) called "The Physician" by Noah Gordon. In medieval times, the "surgeon" was held in very low esteem. Surgery was usually done by barbers! (they had the sharp tools needed) . Physicians were slightly more respected - often called "leeches" because they mostly tried to cure by blood-letting. The Bonesetters were more respected because most of them really did know how to set broken bones and dislocations.
How times have changed! Physicians and surgeons were able to change their image by first becoming more educated themselves, and then educating the public. Public awareness and attitude can be changed, and I trust it won't take us centuries to achieve it.
Comment by Paula Moerland on December 12, 2009 at 10:26am
Thank you for the great comments! To have a place where so many opinions can come together is great. It also helps me to see the weaknesses in my own writing and bring forth clarifications. I see that we all want the same thing, and sometimes the path to getting there can vary. In the case of legitimization as a profession, I am hoping to find the most efficient and logical path.

The lack of respect aspect of the article was meant to be a bit tongue-in-cheek. Individual therapists are going to have different experiences. What I have looked at is not the opinion of people already in-the-know, but the opinion of the vast majority who are not. I also recognize that country-to-country and region-to-region the opinion changes. I've traveled fairly well and have had too many cringing moments when I see how 'massage' is interpreted and applied.

Massage is too generic of a term. It's almost like deciding to license 'writing' and saying that only journalists and authors with a 'writing license' can describe themselves as writers. In reality, learning to write and learning to massage are often givens and being licensed does not indicate an acuity. In some cultures, children learn at an early age to massage their elders and learn health secrets that are far beyond what someone with a massage license in the states would ever learn. To spend time and money educating the public. medical, and insurance industries to view such a generic term as massage in a specific light, is like trying to swim upstream in a strong current. I'd like to see our path smoothed, flowing with the current, by naming our profession something that does not require altering centuries of connotation. And I suppose it goes without saying that it should be a single name, not one for each method.
Comment by Gloria Coppola on December 11, 2009 at 11:36pm
I enjoyed your article Paula as well and I have always believed the CT to be the communication system. I have also been in the massage industry for nearly 25 years and like Lee, I have never had a problem and always received respect. I even set up a whole unit in a hospital within a physical therapy department. Most of my referrals came from the medical community.

I personally feel if we respect ourselves and continue to educate ourselves we don't come across these issues. Massage is not a bad term. Unfortunately there may be some who don't understand exactly what it refers to and pampering may not be the appropriate word for certain situations. However, why is it that we feel so guilty to pamper ourselves? If we pampered ourselves more, perhaps we'd live with less stress and massage in my opinion is not pampering alone. To pamper is to treat with excessive care and attention - sounds good to me.

I do get respect and I hope you do too! Much Success !

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