Therapeutic Massage Vs. Spa Massage

You just got home from work and you‘re absolutely drained. You need some R&R and a massage seems like just the right kind of heaven you can totally get behind. You search the interwebs for a nearby spa and as you go to call to set up an appointment, you realize that you’re actually in pain – in your shoulder, your back, your neck, your head…you get the picture. Because lo and behold, that stress you were hauling around with you all day was actually a build-up of tension spawning not just from one day’s worth of stress but several days ­- a week, perhaps, or even a month. Like many of us, your first instinct would be to go to the spa for a massage, but what if what you really need is something more medicinal, something you might get at, say, a chiropractor’s office or a physical therapy clinic? Because truth be told, you need something stronger than your average relaxation at the spa – maybe five or six hard core deep tissue massages, plus an army of elbows to work out those knots creeping up along the base of your neck. So what do you do?

Today, we’re going to go over the primary differences between therapeutic massages and spa massages and how, given the scenario, one might be the better fit for you. And we’re not just talking about in the moment, but also moving forward in a life that, let’s face it, isn’t getting any less stressful anytime soon. So let’s get started, shall we?

Spa Massage:

Let’s begin with the area of massage we’re probably the most familiar with. When we think of a spa massage, we imagine stepping into a world of Zen, listening to some tranquil tunes, getting into our comfy robe and walking past the wall of trickling water (you all know what we’re talking about) to the dimly-lit massage room where all our worldly troubles float away in cloud of body lotion and essential oils. Sound familiar?

Elk Ridge Chiropractic & Wellness’ Lead Licensed Massage Therapist, Mona Rowden, would have to agree. “Spa massages are more of an overall relaxing experience,” she explains. “It’s nice, peaceful – a great way to relieve one’s present stress, which is definitely essential, particularly given the nature of most everyone’s busy schedules nowadays. But definitely put an emphasis on ‘present stress.’ Spa massages typically don’t give long term relief to any recurring issues a person may be having. But if stress and fatigue is all they’re dealing with – meaning they’re not in any pain – and if all they want to do is find a nice avenue in which to chill out a bit, a spa massage may be just the ticket.”

With that in mind, what kind of massages would one typically receive when going to a spa to relieve their unwanted stress and receive some much-needed R&R? Mona gives us a fairly good idea. “Spas usually have many different types of massage, from Swedish to hot stone, to sea wraps, etc. – all of which are geared toward soothing the body and the mind.” Because honestly, who ever walked away from the spa feeling anything less than a cherub floating in the clouds with an angelic harp underwing? No one, that’s who.

Therapeutic Massage:

Just like the name suggests, a therapeutic massage is, well, therapy. Therapy for your body, that is. It’s the type of treatment we imagine getting after an injury such as a car accident or a tumble down the stairs. But what about those long-term injuries? Those painful twinges that appear after weeks, months, even years of sitting in the wrong position at your computer, sleeping in that funky ,twisty style that used to be comfortable - that is, until you realized you can’t lay straight anymore; or maybe working that job where you’ve had to lift all the things every single day? Little did you know it, but those are injuries too, just not immediate ones that give you instant pain. Rather, we like to think of them as the slow burn that leaves you feeling sore and achy and in a constant, mild (or maybe not so mild) discomfort which, if we’re being honest, makes you feel like you’re 1,000 years old. That’s where the therapeutic massage comes in. 

Mona describes therapeutic massages as a type of treatment that “focuses on specific problem areas.” She goes on to explain, “If a patient comes in with, say, a lower back pain, the focus is helping the muscles causing the pain to relax and revert back to a healthier state. This could take one session or many depending on if it’s a chronic problem or acute.” In other words, think of receiving continued therapy as a way to treat an ongoing problem. Sometimes, it doesn’t just take a one-and-done massage to make the problem go away. Often times, it takes several before the problem is resolved, and many if the problem is ongoing. For example, Mona tell us, “If the patient has a job that continues to aggravate the problem, a regular massage and chiropractic care may need to be a part of their long-term health regimen in order to find continued relief.”

So if a therapeutic massage is supposed to get to the root of the problem, does that mean it’s going to hurt? Mona has the answer for us. “This type of massage can sometimes be uncomfortable,” she reveals. “But this means the problem is being fixed. The body just isn’t used to going back to normal, so that discomfort feels foreign. However, teaching the client to breathe along with the discomfort helps to release tense muscles and will achieve greater results in the long run. That foreign idea or normalcy will start to feel more natural again.”

We talked about some of the variant massages that one receives at a spa, but what about therapeutic massages? Are there different kinds of these that one can get as well? The answer is, yes! Mona lets us know that “Therapeutic massages use a plethora of modalities to help achieve relief, ranging from deep tissue, trigger point, myofascial release, pin and stretch, scraping and fire cupping (just to name a few).” We’ll go into those modalities in more detail in the next issue of Cascade Business News, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, maybe you’re thinking back on that painful shoulder of yours, that lower back pain, or the giant kink in your neck, and wondering if visiting a massage therapist for a therapeutic massage might be the right way to go. Perhaps you’re thinking about getting long-term results, not just the here-and-now relief of a soothing spa experience.

“At Elk Ridge Chiropractic, we have three massage therapists who range from the lighter touch to very deep tissue, so we can typically find a good fit for each client,” Mona goes on to say. “Communication is also very important before, during and after the massage to ensure that we’re providing just the right amount of pressure that will eventually alleviate the bodily tension. As everyone’s body is different, they take pressure differently as well and respond to some modalities better than others. This constant line of communication helps us to pinpoint how much pressure to apply, which modality is the most effective, and how beneficial the overall treatment is.”

So now that we’ve identified that a therapeutic massage might be a good option, what are some things to know before and after visiting a massage therapist? Mona gives us the ultimate tip on what to do prior to your massage, and also what you might experience after: “Water,” she informs us. “Both pre- and post-massage. It’s so important, as it helps move toxins worked out of the muscles to your circulation system. Getting waste out of the problem areas increases the circulation, which helps the body heal quicker and more efficiently. It also reduces soreness later while also decreasing the likelihood of headaches and nausea post-massage.” So chug all that H2O before and after your massage, okay folks?

Mona also explains that certain exercises and stretches may be recommended as at-home treatment techniques that the patient may rely on in-between sessions. These kinds of activities have a wide range of benefits depending on the patient’s target areas and overall treatment goals, so be sure to speak with your massage therapist on what you can be doing on your own to further your body’s healing process.

Hopefully in this article, you’ve gained a better understanding of the differences between therapeutic and spa massages, as well as how you might benefit from each one. Perhaps you’ve come to the conclusion that a therapeutic massage is the right choice for you, in which case, you’re probably wondering: What’s next? Elk Ridge’s team of massage therapists is currently taking on new patients Monday through Friday during normal business hours. Give us a call at 541-388-3588 or email us at elkridgechiropractic@gmail.com to set up an appointment.

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