The term “remedial” implies a targeted process of correction, improvement, repair, and recovery. However, in the context of massage therapy, remedial refers to both specific and whole-body approaches used to remedy particular points of musculoskeletal dysfunction. While the general public often uses the term “massage therapy” as an all-encompassing label, graduates of massage therapy school understand that treatment typically falls into two main categories: Swedish (or “relaxation”) massage and remedial massage.
While Swedish massage uses flowing strokes and gentle manipulation to achieve overall relaxation, remedial massage seeks to alleviate specific painful symptoms and resolve their root cause. Massage therapy courses help students develop a firm grasp of anatomy, physiology and pathology - the essential underpinnings of assessment, diagnosis and remedial treatment. While remedial MT can be applied to a range of disorders that impair muscle and joint function, some of the most common include lower back pain, frozen shoulder and carpal tunnel syndrome.
It’s not surprising that 8 out of 10 North Americans experience lower back pain – an ailment responsible for thousands of missed days of work every year. Lower back pain is commonly attributed to muscle strain, sciatica and herniated discs. Due to age or an injury to the spine, cracks may begin to form around an intervertebral disc, causing the inside of the disc to bulge out. Over time, this bulge (referred to as a herniated disc) may press against the spinal nerves, leading to back spasms and numbness.
A massage therapist may treat herniated discs by first relaxing the muscles through the use of kneading and stroking movements in the spinal area. Depending on the patient and their level of comfort, the MT may then graduate from light strokes to more deep tissue work. The objective is to remediate the specific site of injury by enhancing the patient’s overall circulation - which in turn promotes the removal of toxins, improves nerve reception and relaxes the lower back muscles for better mobility and flexibility.
Adhesive capsulitis (more commonly known as frozen shoulder) occurs when the soft tissue in the shoulder becomes irritated and stiff, causing a painful adhesion of the glenohumeral joint. The condition typically occurs following an injury to the shoulder, or as a complication of tendinitis or bursitis. Due to the debilitating pain, a patient with frozen shoulder often refrains from moving the joint at all, which only promotes further adhesion. Ultimately, mobility is lost, rendering the simplest of daily activities impossible to perform.
Remedial massage therapy techniques such as muscle stretching, myofascial release and joint mobilization can help align the surrounding muscles in the shoulder and facilitate optimal glenohumeral mobility. For many patients with frozen shoulder, MT is a welcome alternative to surgery, or long-term dependence on pain management medication.
Carpal tunnel occurs when the median nerve in the wrist becomes compressed, causing uncomfortable symptoms such as numbness and tingling in the hands. Repetitive wrist movements, such as typing on a computer, are believed to be a major contributor to the growing number of carpal tunnel diagnoses. Massage therapy training helps students develop the deep tissue techniques typically used to release tension along the forearm, shoulder and back, and identify any muscle obstruction along the median nerve. By increasing circulation and reducing inflammation, remedial MT provides relief from the burning and tingling sensations that generally accompany carpal tunnel, while improving sensation in the patient’s hand.
In all of the above conditions, the therapist can also assess for and give attention to underlying conditions that may have contributed to the current presentation, such as postural alignment, neural entrapments and muscle imbalance.
What other applications of remedial massage do you know of?