Is your massage practitioner licensed? Should it matter to you?
If you have ever been walking through the mall when your shoulder starts to ache, you have probably laid down $10 to the guy with the massage kiosk. Sitting in the chair, the pressure applied feels wonderful and welcome, but you don’t stop to ask for a license. Looking around from the chair now, you’re most likely not to find one. Why does that matter, though? He seems to be doing a good job. IT FEELS SO GOOOOD!! Besides, you’ve never asked before, seen anyone ask and are SURE it would be weird to ask.
This is very common nowadays. Many people in Western cultures view massage as something that just feels good- as a luxury service to be enjoyed on vacations or special occasions. There are those who just want the pleasure of the touch and don’t care where it comes from. Most people also assume that all practices open are licensed, safe, and if anything was awry, they would be shut down. This is not always so unfortunately and no matter your view on massage’s function, it should always come from someone who has been trained and certified. Let me explain why.
Technically, any touch has a physical affect on the human body, whether you want it to or not. So, you could just as easily give that $10 to a therapist, the guy in the mall, or a random person on the street and have it feel “nice.” Most touch is therapeutic by nature. We bond by it socially, romantically, emotionally and have vivid reactions when it’s inappropriate – as there are many different kinds of touch. However, the specific type of touch in Swedish massage is shown to have many benefits. You will not reap these from unlicensed work. There are anatomically based intentions behind techniques, like the long flowing stroke calming the Central Nervous System – this makes you relax instantly. Kneading, when done properly, breaks up muscle adhesions and increases blood flow. There is timing involved in stretching, knowledge of limits of the body, and immense knowledge of attachment points/functions of muscles so that your practitioner can actually help your body resolve that ache. In addition to benefits to licensed massage, there can be added risk to unlicensed massage.
One of the many reasons a license is required to massage is the risk of injury. You wouldn’t assume anything as innocuous as a back rub to be risky, but without proper education, it can be. If your practitioner doesn’t know to ask about your history of stroke, then he/she won’t know kneading techniques and deep tissue could break loose a clot. Or let’s say he/she doesn’t know to even ask about osteoporosis. Stretching and deep tissue could detach a ligament from the bone. You just had hip surgery? Oh, well good thing no one had you fill out a pesky medical intake. If it’s the guy in the mall, you’ll be paying out of pocket for any damages or going to court because unlicensed workers cannot be covered by insurance.
Let’s say you’re perfectly healthy. Great! Massage is awesome for you! Swedish style massage primarily affects the circulatory (cardiovascular) system. This includes the heart, blood vessels, blood, and lymphatics. Most people know your heart pumps oxygenated blood throughout your body. Did you know that your other muscles pump the blood back to the heart in a system of valves?
This makes it possible for the blood to move against gravity (like from your feet) without putting strain on your heart. It also means that you need to work in a certain direction when working on the extremities. If you work against the valves, you run the risk of damaging the valves, which may lead to problems down the road.
If that is not enough for you, the licensed therapist pays for schooling, pays for insurance, pays a state and national licensing fee, takes continuing education, keeps dutiful records of his/her clients, and is bound by HIPAA laws so nothing in the session can be discussed without your permission. By supporting legitimate therapists you are supporting hard working, passionate bodyworkers who dedicate their lives to the craft. Everyone else is just in it for the money. Please think about your safety and well being the next time you decide to partake in massage. Ask for a license. Avoiding awkward social interactions is nice, but avoiding injury is nicer.
Certificates should be prominently displayed in the place of business at all times. In my practice, which is all mobile, I carry around a miniature copy of my license/certification. You can easily look someone’s Maryland registration # up here.
Wishing you well,
Meredith Lynch, RMP