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When I attend social events and people learn I'm a massage therapist, they often like to tell me about their personal experiences with massage, good and bad. Two common expectations I hear regarding massage are:
1. I didn't feel better immediately after the massage so it didn't work, and
2. An hour of massage didn't fully resolve my issue so it wasn't helpful.
Those are pretty high expectations to have of both your body's healing ability, and of the massage therapist (spoiler alert- we're HUMAN!) Focusing on two common complaints- headaches and back pain- here are some analogies I use to respond to the above expectations.
Reviving a Wilted Plant
If you a water a wilted plant, how long does it take until it is fully healthy and vibrant again? Maybe it's only 1 day because it just needed a bit of water and hasn't been wilted for long. But what if that plant has been without water for weeks, was chewed on by an animal (thanks, kitty cat), needs a bigger pot and/or different light? It's going to take a lot longer and more care for it to fully bounce back. The body is the same way. Perhaps you will recover from that ongoing headache after just one massage. Or maybe there are more stress factors causing your headache and it will take more sessions to fully resolve.
Starting a New Exercise Program
When you start a new workout plan, how long does it take to notice results? After a couple of workouts, you likely feel better in some way- perhaps more energized or mentally calmer. But it's unrealistic to expect to meet weight or strength goals within just a workout or two. If you're seeking massage treatment for an ongoing issue, expecting it to be resolved in one session is like expecting a 1/2 mile run to prepare you for a 5k after not running for years.
With a new exercise program it's also common to feel a bit worse initially- more sore, or perhaps exhausted. These are all normal responses for the body with massage as well. The muscle tissue takes a couple days to repair and rebuild in a healthier form after strenuous exercise or treatment massage. Especially after injury, you may feel more sore soon after a massage. (You should not be bruised or in acute pain) But if you feel better within the next day or two than you did before the massage, it is beneficial.
Finding the Ideal Teacher
Have you ever struggled to learn a new concept but never quite got it until the right person explained it and all of a sudden it made a lot of sense to you? We all learn in different ways and connect with different teachers based on the approach that works best for us. Massage is similar in that you may need to try multiple massage therapists until you find one that works well for you. Every massage therapist has their own style and training, so if you don't like massage based on the few experiences you've had, it may mean you haven't found the right LMT for you yet. (Or maybe you don't like massage and that's OK too!) Find an LMT with whom you feel at ease, look forward to seeing, enjoy the massage, and feel *better* after every session (for at least a few days) because that's the person who knows how to communicate with your tissue.
Many of my clients notice significant relief from back spasms and headaches within 24-48 hours. But they also know it may take a few sessions to fully resolve because we've had this conversation. The next time you have a relentless headache or unexpected muscle spasm, give your body a few massage sessions to fully heal. If you feel great after just one visit, that's awesome! If not, notice in what ways you do feel *better* and allow yourself at least 2-3 visits before deciding whether massage is helpful. You deserve it!
* A Note on feeling "Better:"
To "feel better" doesn't mean to feel perfect or how you felt prior to the current pain, injury or ailment you're experiencing. "Better" means noticing an improvement in how you feel. Perhaps you still have that headache, but it's more tolerable because you're breathing more easily and feel calmer. Or maybe your back is still in spasm, but you can move in a greater range of motion with the same or less pain than before the massage. This is the goal I have as a massage therapist- to make a positive change and facilitate improvement in your system as much as I reasonably can within each session.