What is the difference between a spa massage and an orthopedic massage? Well, the differences are quite numerous and I’m going to outline a couple of them here. Most people are familiar with them, the spa massage, and very often somebody will get one in order to relax. Quite simply it feels good and it reduces some of your cortisol levels so that you feel better when you leave. Your body has been relaxed somewhat and it has been manipulated to somewhat and the overall feeling is good and it is pleasant in orthopedic massage does have the same goal of relaxation. However, the improvements that we want to see are quite significantly different. Let’s take shoulder pain for an example. During a regular on massage, a client might have their shoulders rubbed and some of the muscles may be relaxed during an orthopedic massage, the client will first of all be assessed. What position are the shoulders in? Is one shoulder higher than the other shoulder? Is?
Are the shoulders being pulled forward? Is there also a neck forward or head forward posture that goes along with it? And then of course we want to know what sort of trauma the person has had in the past. Things such as surgeries or car accidents, tailbone falls, these sorts of things are going to play a big role in knowing what sort of tension needs to be released most particularly, has there been a shoulder injury? Has there been a rotator cuff tear? Has there been an old sports injury?
What was the original cause of the shoulder pain? Once these are assessed, then the massage therapist can go about relieving some of that tension. Very often there is tension in the front that is keeping the shoulder pulled forward. That tension often comes from a muscle called the pectoralis minor muscle. This muscle is a breathing muscle and it has the job of pulling the shoulder up and forward so when the shoulders are pulled forward like that, when the Pec minor is tight and strong, then the muscles in the back are having to hang on very, very tightly in order to keep the shoulder in place. So when we’re working with a shoulder, we want to know which muscles are actually causing the problem. And then go about releasing those muscles in the correct order. Another thing that a personal experience during an orthopedic massage is shoulder capsule work. Very often it’s the shoulder does not move into the places that it ought to move because there are some adhesions in the capsule itself. It is not only muscle problems that are going to cause shoulder pain, but it can also be fascial adhesions in the shoulder capsule, so the massage therapist will then start to gently work with the shoulder capsule as well. This can be done via compression.
There are, when compression is done to the shoulder capsule, what will happen is that the Fascia in the capsule will have a chance to relax. When that Fascia relaxes, then the massage therapist can give some gentle traction to the shoulder and stretch out that capsule itself. This often feels quite good to the client. It’s something that their brain knew needed to be done, but they didn’t know how to do it. So first of all, we have to turn off the autonomic nervous system. Sensations of pain that are going to the brain. When the brain is afraid that something is going to hurt, the brain is going to keep tension on that area so the therapist needs to make the client feel very comfortable and in a position of security and in a position of safety. When this is done, the brain will let go of the tension that is in the shoulder because there is a relationship of trust. When this relationship has been built and the client is convinced that this is good for them and this is not going to hurt them, then the brain will relax and the brain will allow that capsule to be stretched out. It will allow it to be mobilized and it will allow some of the bones of the shoulder to be put in their correct place. After this shoulder capsule has been released, the massage therapist will also pay attention to the muscles and this sort of work is often a dance between releasing tension that is in the capsule and releasing the muscles. We do one a little bit and then we do the other a little bit. It’s not so much that we do a complete capsule release and then a complete muscle release, but we do a little of one and then a little of the other. This allows the body to incrementally get back into position. Sometimes the lack of movement in the shoulder is caused by a muscle restriction and sometimes it is caused by a factual restriction. So first we work with whatever is causing the restriction. Perhaps it’s the Fascia. We released the Fascia a little bit and then we find that now it’s not the foster restricting them, the movement, now it is the muscle. And so we release the muscle a little bit and then we find that the muscle is released enough, but now the Fatia has some additional additional attention that has shown up.
And so we released one and then the other in a kind of a dance in order to get the mobility back into the shoulder. So this is one example of a big difference between a spa massage and an orthopedic massage. If you’re looking for a momentary relaxation and something that feels good, this is not a bad thing. You can go for a regular spa massage. If you have a real problem and your muscles and your ligaments and your Fascia has tension that needs to be released, then an orthopedic massage is going to be a much better option. A more orthopedic massage therapist needs to have a very good and comprehensive understanding of the body’s anatomy. He needs to know how the muscles and the bones and the ligaments and the tendons are all working together in order to create the whole person, and even more than this, we find that sometimes the origins are actually a big player in the tension that is in the body, and a good orthopedic massage therapist will be able to address these issues as well.