The Elephant in the Massage Room

Folks, I’m so sad this morning (and kind of angry).  I often get on my soap box about safe touch, bodily autonomy and respect, I know.

Sexual assault in my industry has become a big topic in the news lately to say nothing of the human trafficking linked with seedy ‘massage parlors’. I’m heartbroken that a profession that attracts people who are genuinely interested in helping people get out of pain, gain a greater sense of how their body performs, and learn about safe touch is going through some growing pains after a few thousand years.

I love what I do and I’ve worked to cultivate an environment where folks feels completely safe and in control of their body. I address the power differential in the massage room with every new client. My goal is that everyone understands that they are the navigator, I’m the driver. My ego has not and will not ever be wounded by a client expressing a hesitation, pain, or fear before, during, or after a session.

I’m relieved that clients feel empowered to speak up when a health care provider has violated a trust. I’m also really disappointed in how my industry has responded. Pretending like a problem doesn’t exist doesn’t make it any less real or damaging to its victims. Pretending that a problem doesn’t exist makes it easier for predators to continue to hurt people. We owe the clients who entrust their body, pain and experiences to our hands more than this.

As A Client, here is what you should know:

Massage should be safe! If someone is causing you pain-tell them. If they don’t adjust to your request, end the session immediately!

Massage should be safe! If someone is making you feel exposed tell them. Your modesty should be respected at all times.

Massage should be safe! When looking for a therapist ask friends and family for recommendations. An experienced, knowledgeable therapist is easy to find this way. Build a relationship with a therapist and insist that they understand your goals and limitations.

There should never be a question about your safety when you are consulting with a new health care provider, but this latest news demonstrates that it is. 

My wish for each and every client seeking massage: May you build a relationship with an experienced therapist that is a true partnership with your goals in mind. May you feel confident that your boundaries are always respected, that you are always heard, and that you always feel safe.

Deep Tissue-That’s Not a Thing

The Problem with ‘Deep Tissue’

When I started working as a massage therapist in 2001, my training was in Swedish massage, anatomy and physiology, pathology, and a smattering of surface knowledge in massage modalities. I spent the first five years of my career studying modalities that I felt were most important at the time. This continuing education was time consuming and expensive, and exciting to be sure.

I have a resume on my desk, at this moment where the therapist claims to be proficient in “Deep Tissue”. For the record, that’s not a thing. Sometimes with better outcomes than others, massage schools started to offer more depth of training in advanced techniques. Yay! Maybe.

How this Happened

Sometime in the last ten years spas and massage franchises started differentiating between ‘relaxation’ and ‘deep tissue’ massage. They charge more for deep tissue and often pay the therapist more. Sounds okay, right?

What seems to have happened is a giant cross-section of massage consumers who equate deep tissue with massive amounts of heavy pressure and undertrained therapists trying to deliver results with inadequate knowledge of pain science risking injury. Not a week goes by where a new client explains to me that they only have the deepest work and I ‘can’t work too deep.’


Truth is, I can. Embarassingly, I have.

All health professions go through periods of great change where science and education trump old myths. Now is one of those times in massage therapy. To do our best as professionals, we have to remain current on research. We know that the human on our table does not give a hill of beans about Neuromuscular Therapy vs Myofascial Release vs Orthobionomy. What they want to know is, “Can you relieve my pain? “, “Is my range of motion or performance increasing? ”

Part of maintaining ethics in any field is transparency, education, and not working beyond our capabilities. Being willing to refer someone to a colleague with more in depth knowledge is not a bad thing. It’s a necessary thing.

Know your healthcare provider, understand their level of education, take a proactive approach to your pain relief. Long term results require planning and partnership.

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