Massage Matters

Mindful musings on massage, muscles, and moxie

The Knot Whisperer Rides!

The Knot Whisperer Rides!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Trademarked Massage

The road to fame and fortune—if that’s what it can be called in this line of work—seems to be to “invent” your own kind of massage. “Invent” in quotation marks because, by and large, new types of massage are actually more like songs using sampling—that is, taking a portion (or a sample) of an already recorded sound or song and using it in the creation of another song. So, for instance, Structural Energetic Therapy (SET) is a combination of deep tissue massage, myofascial release, and kinesiology, developed by massage therapist Don McCann in 1983, while polarity massage therapy, created by Randolph Stone, a doctor of osteopathy, chiropractic, and naturopathic medicine, blends energy-based bodywork, diet, exercises, and self-awareness techniques.

Many of these specialized therapies are referred to by a handy acronym/abbreviation: in addition to SET, there are also, for example, NMT (neuromuscular technique), PUSH (power under soft hands), ART (active release technique), and BART (bonding and relaxing technique). Even therapies that aren’t known by their abbreviation use acronyms to summarize their technique, a practice sometimes inelegantly applied as in SCRIBE, which describes the “six guiding principles” of Comfort Touch (created by Mary Kathleen Rose): Slow, Comforting, Respectful, Into the center, Broad, and Encompassing. I say inelegant in that “into the center,” for example, seems rather contrived, phrased in such a way merely to make the acronym come together. “Inward” might have worked equally well and wouldn’t rely on a preposition to make an intelligible acronym. I have other issues with this summary as well (shouldn’t all massage, for instance, be respectful?), but it’s the infelicity of the prepositional device that strikes the most strident chord with me.

Other therapies avoid the confusion of these helpful, easy to remember abbreviations by their creators’ dispensing with modesty and naming their modalities for themselves: the Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Massage (for Dr. Rosita Arvigo), Aston-Patterning (for Judith Aston), The Feldenkrais Method (for Dr. Moshé Feldenkrais), The Niel-Asher Technique (for Dr. Simeon Niel-Asher), and Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy (named for—guess who?), among others. Further, many of these are actually trademarked techniques, lest anyone think to borrow wholesale from them and call it their own.

So I’ve been thinking about jumping on the bandwagon and coining my own therapy. The only thing I can’t decide is whether to incorporate my name into the name of the technique: Zipter Catch and Release Technique or just Catch and Release Technique. CRT is nice and simple, but if it has a ring to it, it’s because it’s also the abbreviation for cathode ray tube. ZCRT avoids that but is rather clumsy. CRMT (for Catch and Release Massage Technique)? Maybe I should leave decisions about what to call it, for now, and work, instead, on describing this astonishing new modality.

An acronym summarizing the technique might be a reasonable place to start. And going with the catch-and-release metaphor, I’m thinking FISH might be a nifty mnemonic: Find, Isolate, Squish, Hold. In other words, Find the area of pain, Isolate the knot, Squish the knot, and Hold it until it releases. If that sounds a lot like trigger point therapy, well, in fact, it is. But I mix in a certain je ne sais quoi. It’s the je ne sais quoi part that troubles me, though, in terms of making this a viable technique that can be taught to others. This je ne sais quoi has something to do with intuition, which I’m pretty sure can’t be explicated in a step-by-step way, thereby making it something hard to pass on. Intuition can be developed, I’m convinced, in someone who is open to it and who has a good foundation from which they practice. I’m just not sure how to tell you how to go about acquiring it.

I have therefore reached the unavoidable conclusion that, sadly, my new and would-be patented form of massage is not quite ready for primetime. And to be honest, I just don’t have the chutzpah to claim that what I do is either unique or better than what’s already out there. This isn’t to say that I don’t think I’m a darn good therapist, with special skills and genuine ability. I’m just not ready to proclaim myself a new massage messiah.

Plus, there are already a lot of good modalities out there, with each having their appeal and benefit for different people for different situations in their lives. For instance, though I’ve made light of Comfort Touch’s SCRIBE mnemonic, that type of massage is actually quite beneficial for those who are frail and/or ill. And its creator has generously answered many of my questions, without knowing me from Adam. I think my point here is—and, to quote Ellen DeGeneres, I do have one—that it’s important to shop around not only for a massage therapist but also for modalities so you can find the one that’s right for you right now.

But with something like 160 modalities currently in use and with an estimated 278,000 massage therapists in the United States as of January 2008, the task of finding that right therapist seems daunting to say the least. That’s a stress producer right there! But for help finding a massage therapist, while nothing beats a recommendation from a trusted friend, a good place to start searching for someone that specializes in a particular modality are the registries of the two professional massage associations and the national certification board.

As for me, fame and fortune may not be in the cards but—and I apologize for sounding like a sap—the thought that I will have an opportunity to help make people feel better, every day, for years to come, is a reward in itself. And I’m sure that’s how the bank that holds my mortgage feels as well.


On the number of modalities, see

For numbers of massage therapists:

The registries for the professional associations and certification board can be found at,, and

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Contents under Pressure: Massage for Hypertension?

All manner of assertions are made about the benefits of massage. But are they all true? And how do we know?

It used to be that everything we knew about massage was based on anecdotal evidence and observation. As scientists have learned more about the how the human body functions, however, and as interest has grown in complementary and alternative therapies, researchers have started to examine some of the claims made for massage. It is frequently alleged, for instance, that massage can reduce blood pressure.

This claim is, of course, relatively easy to test. Blood pressure can be checked, using a blood pressure cuff, before a massage and then again afterward. If someone’s blood pressure is lower for the after measure and there were no other variables, it seems pretty clear that massage was responsible for the change—especially when these results are replicated numerous times with numerous subjects.

And, in fact, a variety of studies have shown that massage lowers both diastolic and systolic blood pressure. (Diastolic, as you may recall, refers to the pressure between beats, or when your heart is at rest, whereas systolic is the pressure during a heartbeat and is higher than the diastolic pressure.) A study that looked at the effects of a relaxing back massage on hospice patients found not only that blood pressure was lower following the massage but that it actually continued to decrease when they measured again, several minutes later. Even a five-minute hand massage has been shown to lower blood pressure significantly.

It appears, however, that not every kind of massage has this effect on blood pressure. For instance, researchers at the National University of Health Sciences in Lombard, IL, examined the effect of different types of massages on blood pressure and found that recipients of trigger point therapy (in which sustained pressure is applied to a knot to help it release) and sports massage (a vigorous massage using a variety of techniques) had, in fact, higher blood pressure just following treatment. This is not surprising when you consider that intensive therapies such as these can sometimes create temporary discomfort and, further, when you consider that acute pain has been shown to lead to a surge of adrenalin, which in turn increases heart rate and blood pressure. But as soon as adrenalin levels fall back to normal, so do heart rate and blood pressure. Assuredly, though, neither of these types of massage would be good choices if your goal was to lower blood pressure. Then again, relaxation and stress relief are not the intent of such massages.

For something like Swedish massage, though, which does lower blood pressure, how does it do so? Massage, as it turns out, causes a decrease of the hormone arginine vasopressin (AVP)—which constricts blood vessels and raises blood pressure. The test subjects for the research demonstrating this submitted to having blood drawn numerous times before and after the massage via catheters inserted into the arm for the duration. This fact makes the results even more impressive, given that getting a forty-five-minute massage with a needle poking into your arm is not an entirely stress-free circumstance.

While lowering blood pressure is, in and of itself, a good thing, when you take into consideration that high blood pressure is linked to elevated measures of stress, anxiety, the “flight-or-fight” hormones known collectively as catecholamines, depression, and hostility, reducing blood pressure levels takes on even greater importance. Massage may not be “just what the doctor ordered (yet)—but it should be! Massage: it does a body good!


Aourell, Moa, et al. 2005. “Effects of Swedish Massage on Blood Pressure.” Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 11:242–46.

Cambron, Jerrilyn A. 2006. “Changes in Blood Pressure after Various Forms of Therapeutic Massage: A Preliminary Study.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 12:65–70.

Cloud, John. 2011. “The Lab Rat Gets Petted: How Massage Works.”, January 19.

Fraser, Joy, and Janet Ross Kerr. 1993. “Psychological Effects of Back Massage on Elderly Institutionalized Patients.” Journal of Advanced Nursing 18:238–45.

Hernandez-Reif, Maria, et al. 2000. “High Blood Pressure and Associated Symptoms Reduced by Massage Therapy.” Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 4:31–38.

Kaye, David Alan, et al. 2008. “The Effect of Deep-Tissue Massage Therapy on Blood Pressure and Heart Rate.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 14:125–28.

Kim, Man Soo, et al. 2001. “Effects of Hand Massage on Anxiety in Cataract Surgery Using Local Anesthesia.” Journal of Cataract and Refractive Surgery 27:884–90.

Meek, Sandra S. 2003. “Effects of Slow Stroke Back Massage on Relaxation in Hospice Clients.” IMAGE: Journal of Nursing Scholarship 25:17–21.