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Benefits of medical and relaxation massages vary, but equally effective

Many people think of massage as that treat they give themselves as a luxury, but massage therapy is also becoming more and more common in medical applications, whether it’s for chronic pain, pregnancy or diseases like cancer. Washington state, in fact, requires insurance providers to cover medical (also known as treatment) massage.

“Washington has been very progressive in terms of recognizing massage as a medical modality,” says Julie Poston, owner of Manette-based Rejuv Massage & Spa, which has seven massage therapists. “It’s such a great way to manage pain without prescription medication and invasive procedures. It’s a natural way to reduce pain.”

Kerry Murray, a licensed massage practitioner at The Doctors Clinic whose patients range in age from 16 to 90-plus, says the difference between relaxation and medical massage is that treatment massage is focused on a specific condition and it’s based on a physician’s prescription. The session has to follow the prescription in order for it to be covered by insurance (which doesn’t pay for relaxation massage). She says while it’s not beneficial for certain things, such as kidney disease, high blood pressure and acute illness (such as flu/fevers), it’s especially helpful for people with conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic headaches or pain, and TMJ (jaw joint) syndrome.

“I have the privilege of working for The Doctors Clinic and it’s huge to be validated in a medical setting,” she said. “The fact they’re forward-thinking and are getting the word out to physicians shows it’s a valid modality in managing chronic pain and other medical conditions.”

A major benefit of massage is the increased circulation, “getting good nutrients to the tissue,” said licensed massage practitioner Blake Warner, who works at Harrison Medical Center’s space in the Haselwood Family YMCA center in Silverdale. Medical massage focuses on things such as lymphatic drainage and myofascial release and it feels different from relaxation massage, he said.

“It can get a little edgy and take you into a higher pain tolerance, so in the short term it can be very painful but when you get off the table, you have increased mobility and range of motion, and decrease in pain,” Warner said.

Massage has been proven to decrease recovery time after injuries and surgery (many hospitals now incorporate it before and after operations), reduce stress and anxiety, help with occupational-related pain (such as lower back in the case of firefighters), carpal tunnel and various other conditions. Poston noted that it can also increase productivity — even a 15-minute chair massage can boost alertness.

“Even if your intention is to get a massage to relax, you’ll get the medical benefits because we’re moving the fluids and the muscle tissue,” she said. “Your heart rate drops and breathing slows, reducing anxiousness and giving the body a break.”

While medical massage has to follow doctor’s orders, when you’re paying out of pocket for a relaxation massage, you can customize the session.

“When you go in for relaxation massage, you have complete control … It’s your time so you can make requests,” said Emily Treakle-Chase, licensed massage practitioner at the Multicare MedSpa in Gig Harbor.

She notes that there are different types of relaxation massage and every session is different not only because of requests but because one person may benefit from light strokes while another from stretching, for example. Treakle-Chase usually starts every relaxation session with Swedish massage to get the tissue ready, then moves to deep tissue or hot stone, based on the person’s preference.

“The deep tissue massage is to address the deeper muscles in the body. You go slower to make sure you’re getting through the superficial layers,” she said. “Hot-stone massage helps relax the muscles even more.”

She said that relaxation massage is for everybody, both men and women, children and elderly. It not only promotes relaxation and increases circulation but can help with body awareness (improved posture) and overall improved well-being.

“We all live in a world where we sit with our arms in front of us, whether we’re at a computer, texting or driving, and our muscles weren’t intended to do that,” she said. “Massage helps undo some of those things you’ve done to yourself.”

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