Imagine your physician prescribes a medication before performing an examination or conducting an interview – or your mechanic begins ordering expensive new parts for your car before verifying the source of its rattle. It can be counterproductive, costly, and even dangerous to proceed with a corrective strategy without a full understanding of the problem at hand.
As it is across several disciplines, effective assessment is a key component of any reputable massage therapy training program. Without the necessary expertise required to identify the key factors contributing to the patient’s condition, MTs are essentially lost in the dark, relying on hit-or-miss strategies that rarely result in long term patient health.
A registered massage therapist who employs the techniques of assessment does much more than control patient symptoms. Rather, he or she looks at symptoms – perhaps pain, reduced range of motion, or illness – as starting points of a larger investigation. They are important evidence that can be used to uncover the root source of the problem, and help determine the very best approach to treatment. Therapeutic massage may provide a temporary sense of relief for many patients, but without a clear assessment, pain and discomfort are bound to return. Like syrup that eases a cough without treating the cold, poorly targeted massage therapy may offer comfort but yield no cure.
One way to avoid the pitfalls of symptom management is the MT-patient interview. Whether the therapist has another practitioner’s notes to consider or is building the client’s file from scratch, asking strategic questions is the first step toward determining an accurate diagnosis. The MT should ask about when pain occurs, its level of intensity, aggravating and alleviating factors, and whether the discomfort is localized or referring. The answers to these questions serve to complement the findings of physical assessments.
After carefully documenting the patient’s own account of their condition, MT’s can use a range of physical tests to assess the condition of the patient and correspondingly develop an effective treatment plan. Massage therapy education includes an in-depth review of the body’s musculoskeletal systems and how soft-tissues function in health and injury – so therapists are well equipped to perform and analyze postural and orthopedic assessments. Tests like these are integral to determining problems associated with alignment issues, reduced range of motion, specific pain points, and soft tissue damage.
Although it may be necessary and useful to provide immediate relief from debilitating pain, an effective MT always looks beyond the mere soothing of symptoms. Assessment is truly the backbone of any successful practice, and in addition to applying established best practices, therapists should continue to educate themselves on industry advances and emerging techniques.
In your opinion, what is most effective assessment tool for the massage therapist?