Massage: Misunderstood and Misused

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I have an excellent guest post for you today, but before I hand it over to you for your reading pleasure I wanted to quickly remind people of my Premium Workout Group on

After a 4-month block of a strength emphasis (and people breaking personal records left and right), we’re currently in the midst of a fat-loss block that’s, well, kicking everyone’s ass.  And people are still breaking PRs.

I say “fat loss” with a grain of salt because honestly, I hate that term.  I think most people see the phrase “fat loss” and automatically cringe and assume endless repetitions of burpees, supersets, Prowler pushes, puke buckets and carrot sticks.

Wait! Maybe carrot sticks aren’t Paleo enough?  Celery sticks then?  Crap, now I’m just confused.  Maybe James Fell can help shed some light on that topic?

Anyhoo, while making things more metabolically challenging does enter the equation and helps to expedite the process, a major mistake many people make with their fat loss programming is going  bat-shit crazy with training volume.

The role of a WELL-STRUCTURED fat-loss program should be to MAINTAIN or PRESERVE as much muscle mass as possible.

Most fat-loss programs do nothing but make people a smaller, weaker version of their original selves.  In other words, skinny-fat.

To that end, with my approach to fat-loss, people still lift heavy things, and the overall training volume isn’t egregious.  Ie….assuming you’re not eating like an a-hole, and calories out trumps calories in, training doesn’t have to be too dissimilar compared to regular ol’ strength training.

For more information just click HERE and you’ll see what I mean.

And with that, I now introduce to you Justin Sorbo.  Justin’s a local personal trainer and competitive powerlifter here in the Boston area who’s currently finishing up massage therapy school.

He’s been gracious enough to offer some free clinical hours to both myself and Lisa and I have to say, he’s good.  Like, REALLY good.  He offered to write a post on the massage industry and how it’s often misunderstood and misrepresented.

I hope you enjoy it!

Massage: Misunderstood and Misused

“ Sweet, bro. You’re gonna be a masseuse?  Can I sign up for a rub-n-tug?”

“Oh, that sounds like a nice idea for  some work on the side.  Which spa are you working at?”

“…What do you plan on doing with that?”

As a massage therapy student with a background in Kinesiology, I cringe every time I hear a friend or family member interject with one of the above statements.

Among other specialties like lymphatic drainage, clinically trained LMTs can prescribe and perform movement assessment, soft tissue work, stretching, active movement, joint mobilizations, and corrective breathing drills.  Combined with an exercise background (exercise science, CSCS, etc), we can be capable clinicians with a wide scope of practice.

In the United States, popular culture continues to regard the profession as strictly a form of pampering for the rich and famous, or; a thinly guised romp with a prostitute.

Note from TG: BOM CHICKA BOM BOM (sorry Justin, I couldn’t resist).

In reality, massage can be a powerful facilitator in the healing process and the management of pain.  The cloud of ambiguity surrounding the true nature of bodywork rests largely on the massage community itself.  In no particular order, here are a few of the forces driving massage culture in America today:

-Low Barrier of Entry with Minimum Prerequisites:  In most states, one can acquire a license to practice with a GED and a couple thousand dollars.  Massachusetts requires 650 hours of education, while some states require less.

This is a double edged sword: higher rates of entry mean lower quality students, but the relatively small financial and time commitment allows for a potentially better investment than a typical non-profit university.

-A History of Sex Work: Many of us have witnessed or heard of a local business being raided for prostitution.  The massage setting can be an easy target for shady people and moral-less money makers.  Privacy, intimacy, and trust are easily abused.

-Lack of a Definition of Massage: In reality, massage encompasses many modalities of manual therapy, yet usually seems to be imaged as a picture of a woman lying face down on a table.

-Pseudoscience: To me, this is the most damning of the bunch.  The world of massage therapy abounds with poor logic, uninformed or apathetic educators, and a lack of good research.

Historically, massage theory and technique has been derived largely from anecdote. Mechanisms for its effects have been proposed throughout the years, but very few have stood the tests of research and time.  The embrace of half-truths and lies surrounding soft tissue science further distance the profession from its rightful place as a part of mainstream medicine.

While certainly not a “cure-all”, manual therapy can be a formidable weapon for the treatment of a variety of conditions; some of which are better supported with research than others.

Specifically, massage shows promise as an effective treatment for low back pain in both acute and chronic sufferers.  Massage is an excellent treatment for the relief of anxiety and depression, conditions which are highly correlated with painful physical manifestations.

Mobilizations are effective at improving rehab outcomes, and breathing work can facilitate range of motion changes.

In order to be recognized as a form of healthcare, we need to focus on movement rather than just static palpation on a table.  We need to be testing and retesting our techniques, and documenting the outcomes.  We need to be able to communicate through anatomical language, and recognize our lack of understanding of biological mechanisms.

Most of all, we have to be morally and intellectually honest.

Addition from TG: Much like any profession, the process of learning and continuing to improve one’s skills doesn’t end once you stop paying for a course.  In addition, those therapist who succeed are generally the one’s who understand that not every person fits into one mold where one form of massage or manual therapy works 100% of the time.

While it’s great to have a niche or speciality to help separate yourself from the masses, in my experience those therapists who thrive are the ones who DO NOT pigeon hole themselves into being  SOLELY a deep tissue guy (or girl) or a fascial manipulation guy or a Swedish guy or a Graston guy or a Active Release guy or however many other forms of manual therapies are out there.

Opening up your skill set and adopting other modalities as you learn and gain experience is paramount.  What’s more, just to toss it out there, developing a network and referral system is hhhyyyyyyooooogggge.  This is something a lot of fitness professionals neglect to do, and I can tell you right now that in the future I’ll be referring clients to Justin because 1) he was proactive and reached out and 2) I KNOW he’s good.

It also doesn’t hurt that I know he’s open minded and he actually lifts weights.

For those looking on more insight on how to develop solid referral systems, Dean Somerset wrote a nice post on that topic HERE.

About the Author

Justin Sorbo is a Boston based personal trainer working out of One-to-One BodyScapes located in Newton, MA.  He’s also a competitive powerlifter.

You can find out more information via his Facebook page HERE.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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