Effective massage therapists focus on both alleviating pain and identifying its root cause. They assess patients with care before developing a course of treatment, and follow their progress closely, making adjustments and re-assessments as needed. But whether they’re contending with musculoskeletal injuries, overuse injuries, postural dysfunctions, or a range of other pathologies, registered massage therapists understand the importance of integrating therapeutic exercise into their patient’s treatment program – it’s a critical component of recovery and sustainable well being.
Massage courses promote therapeutic exercise as a valuable tool for MTs who are working to correct impairment and improve musculoskeletal function. Ranging from specialized, small gestures to broad and vigorous movements, therapeutic exercise is a natural complement to massage. In addition to helping improve the structure and function of ligaments, tendons and joints, targeted exercise can also:
• Reduce rigidity
• Improve coordination
• Mobilize joints
• Promote relaxation
• Improve muscle strength
• Improve endurance
Typically, therapeutic exercises fall into three broad training categories: endurance, resistance, and flexibility. Depending on the health problem being addressed, building strength and endurance could mean utilizing hand or ankle weights and gradually increasing repetitions over time. Resistance training could entail holding a ball or band in a fixed position, or pushing against a stationary force, like a wall or a table. Flexibility would involve working to stretch and elongate tight muscles, increasing range of motion through measured movements that grow and extend over time.
Effective massage therapy training instructs students on how best to incorporate therapeutic exercise into their practice. First, the MT selects appropriate exercises and teaches them to the patient, overseeing their movements and making corrections as needed. The therapist will take into consideration the patient’s aerobic capacity and overall fitness level when developing a therapeutic exercise regime. If the patient cannot move the restricted or injured body part on their own, the therapist will carefully do so on their behalf – gently supporting the movement until the client is able to proceed independently.
Once the patient has mastered the exercises, the therapist can create a schedule for him or her to follow at home, in addition to the movements performed during appointments. In this way, the client is empowered to continue their journey toward sustainable wellbeing outside of the MTs office. Depending on the treatment plan, the therapist may also encourage outdoor activities like a daily walk or swim, in order to facilitate recovery, increase range of motion, and promote relaxation.
What form of therapeutic exercise have you found most useful as a MT?