Massage has been around for thousands of years — in fact, drawings in the Egyptian Tomb of Akmanthor dating back to BC 2330 depict two men having massage work done on their hands and feet. But it took until the mid-19th century for it to become popular in the U.S. (early practice was based on learnings from a Swedish physician), and interestingly, massage wasn’t formally included as a medical offering for U.S. Olympic athletes until the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
And even today, massage (at least “medical massage”) isn’t totally mainstream. Despite having a Canadian husband who grew up thinking massage was a normal part of preventive health — especially for athletes — I often find myself avoiding it…telling myself it’s too expensive, too luxurious, too selfish, and resorting to it only after an ugly and painful problem has arisen. I’ve been thinking about this lately because I’ve “resorted” to having some work done both in the clinic and on my own (using a foam roller) to deal with some nagging tendon issues (peroneal + achilles). It’s amazing and has already made a big difference in terms of my muscle tension and tendon stress. And beyond the muscle benefits, any medical site will tell you that massage can help with anxiety, digestive disorders, fertility, fibromyalgia, headaches, insomnia, nerve pain, joint pain, and stress.
So if you don’t get regular massage, take a minute to think about whether it might be something you want to include as part of your broader commitment to well-being. To help answer the most basic questions, here’s a bit of advice from my cousin, Sarah Wilkinson, a massage therapist and owner of Take Time for Yourself Massage in Minneapolis:
- How often do people need to get massage to experience the benefits? Everyone is different, and the answer to this questions really depends on each person’s own personal situation and what they are trying to accomplish. Someone in pain — for example jaw pain or hip pain — may come weekly for a month in order to relieve the pain; whereas someone working with stress relief may come bi-weekly or monthly.
- What’s the most important question for people to ask if they’re looking for a massage therapist? A therapist/client relationship is like any other one — people need to be able to communicate with each other comfortably. The intimacy of massage means that personal referrals/word-of-mouth often work best. Once you choose someone to work with, there are a few important things to be clear about early: how much pressure you like, whether you like to talk during your sessions ,whether you like music, etc.
- Any specific advice for athletes? It’s important for athletes to see a massage therapist familiar with their sport and muscle groups used. I see a lot of bikers and runners, so I’m very very familiar with the leg muscles and gluteus. For athletes, massage is a great way to help maintain their bodies so they can continue doing what they love.
- What do you love about being a massage therapist? I love having a “job” that shifts people into a better state of being. I really enjoy the trust people have during their sacred time with me to just be who they are and talk about issues that are troubling them. One of my clients always tells me she does her best thinking on my table. I have the honor of working with many women on their journey to motherhood, which can be a hard time for some. Helping them is one of my favorite parts of my work. There is nothing better.
So, in Sarah’s words, think about taking some time for yourself this month (and if you’re in Minneapolis, you should go see her)!
Do you think of massage as a luxury, or core to getting and staying well? If you get massage, what do you love about it? And if you don’t, why not?