Clinical massage therapy focuses on treating the muscles and client as opposed to relaxation and de-stressing. A good knowledge of anatomy is needed to perform clinical massage therapy, as the work is done on the individual muscles and groups. It’s important to know where they attach, what their functions are, the pain referrals and how they’re located on the body of the client.
A clinical massage therapist will know what muscles she is massaging in order to treat a client. She will know which muscles work together and be able to analyse a client and recommend a treatment plan to treat the issues at hand. It is a much more medical approach to massage, with focus on treating specific problems instead of general relaxation and well-being.
As result, a clinical massage therapy session will often only focus on one area or part of the body, excluding those parts which has no connection to where the problems are located. An ankle pain might treat foot, legs and hips, perhaps even lower back, but most likely there would be no need to treat arms, shoulders and head.
The techniques in clinical massage therapy are much more focused than in general relaxation massage. In Swedish massage (classical massage, relaxation massage), there are a number of basic strokes including petrissage and effleurage. The techniques in clinical massage therapy seldom uses the strokes from Swedish massage, but instead the following:
- Holding. A muscle is held with the hand. This simple touch can make muscles relax and prepare them for deeper work.
- Compression. By pressing perpendicular into the tissue against deeper tissue or bone, the muscle is compressed. Pressure is kept until the muscle is felt to relax. Is also used on trigger points. Compression can be applied with fingertips, heel of hand, hole hand or even underarm and elbow. Pressure is maintained until a release is felt.
- Pincer Palpation/Compression. Tissue is grasped between thumb and fingers and pressed between them. It’s a variant of compression and used the same way.
- Stripping or Stripping Massage. Firm pressure is used while gliding over a muscle, usually from one attachment to another and in the direction of the muscle fibres. It’s repeated several times until the muscle is felt to relax. Most often the work is done on one muscle at a time, though can be done on groups where the individual muscles can’t easily be distinguished.
- Cross-Fibre Friction. By gliding fingertips, thumb or elbow back and forth across the muscle fibres a muscle can be made to relax and the tension released. This is most often performed on or near the attachments.
- Passive Stretching. Stretching must be done carefully and slowly. A muscle is stretched by moving its attachment points away from each other. A stretch is sustained until a release in the muscle is felt.
- Myofacial Release. Is a stretching of the surface layers. Using palms a slow firm stretch is performed until a released is sensed by the hands. Most often used on back, chest and abdomen. This is merely a supplement to clinical massage therapy and is a whole branch of its own.
Combinations of clinical massage therapy and relaxation massages can provide really good results. If there is time, it’s highly recommended to have the problem area treated and then spend as much time on a full relaxation massage to bring the rest of the body into a state of release and peace, as well as to prevent new issues from surfacing. This will also help the treated area to recover easier and overall give a better experience for the client.