Can You Fix Me?

The other day I received a phone call from a man I had never met inquiring about the price of a 30 minute deep tissue massage. He had hurt his shoulder playing racquetball and wanted a session where the therapist “goes deep, real deep, even if it hurts.” In short, he wanted to know if I could “fix” him, in 30 minutes or less, and do it first thing in the morning so that it wouldn’t interfere with his plans for the day. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t believe that aggressive bodywork is effective. Once the nervous system perceives the potential for pain, the fight or flight reflex kicks in, and the muscles tense. Tense muscles are counter-productive to massage and essentially eliminate the possibility of any healing benefits.

The short answer, I told him, was: No. I cannot fix you. I explained that I didn’t know enough about his situation or physical condition to promise any specific results. I have repeatedly witnessed the power of bodywork to alleviate pain and support recovery from sports injuries. Softening the tissues allows increased circulation and relaxation, both of which are key to healing. Yet, this process takes time and a gentle approach, especially for deep work. I’ve found that most people are only beginning to relax at the 30 minute mark and that the real benefits of a session happen after that. I don’t offer a 30 minute massage, and certainly not a deep tissue one, because time and time again, I have observed that the body reacts protectively, thereby preventing the desired results.

Since this is obviously not the answer he wanted to hear, he did not book a session with me. I’ve come to realize over the years that I’m not a good match for all clients, especially the type A/ no pain, no gain folks, and it’s better for everyone if we figure this out up front. I have no doubts that he found another therapist to work with, and suspect that if anything, he is in more pain today. What I regret most is that I didn’t have the opportunity to explain that no one can “fix” anyone else. Massage facilitates healing when clients are ready and willing to allow it. Yet it is ultimately up to them to receive the healing benefits and integrate them into their daily lives. Posture, habits, repetitive motion, sports, and the myriad of activities in life that create imbalance or injury easily outweigh the hour spent on the table. I can help people feel better. 98% of my clients  report improvement after a session. Yet once they walk out the door, the “fixing” is up to them.

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