Do you need a therapeutic massage or a relaxing massage? Discover the difference!

What will you find in this article?

Using the therapeutic massage label is a way of indicating that the purpose of the massage is to provide health benefits. In other words, there will not be the famous ‘happy ending’. The other meaning of a therapeutic massage is that both the client and the practitioner have a common goal of achieving structural changes within the body, usually through a series of regular massages or deep relaxation.

It is helpful to have a little history to understand why therapeutic massage is such an important term in the field of massage therapy. In the 1880s, massage therapists and masseuses worked in conventional medicine as physicians’ assistants as well as in private practice.

They were skilled in soft tissue manipulations known as Effleurage, Petrissage, Friction and Tapotement, classic Swedish massage movements, which were developed by the Swedish physician Johan Mezger.

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The growth of massage parlors

In the 1930s, Swedish massage was a complete system of physical therapy that included soft tissue manipulation, movement, hydrotherapy and electrotherapy for general health, disease treatment and injury rehabilitation. Massage therapists and masseurs worked as physical therapists with physicians, as well as in public baths, spas, beauty salons and their own health clinics, sometimes known as massage parlors.

However, they began to open ‘massage parlors’ that provided a different service. In the 1950s and 1960s, ‘massage parlor’ was a euphemism for a place of prostitution. Massage as a legitimate therapy had fallen into disrepute, as had the professions of masseur and masseuse.

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The European salons imitated the famous Hammans of the Orient. Like this one of Jean-Leon Gerome’s painting, The Large Pool Of Bursa – Turkey.

In the 1960s and 1970s, a new generation of people inspired by the human potential movement and the possibility of natural healing became interested in massage therapy again. The Esalen Institute in California, which was established in 1962, developed its own style of massage. Esalen massage, the well-known Californian Massage. They called themselves masseurs and the work they did ‘therapeutic massage’ as a way of restoring massage’s professional reputation.

Even today, male clients call independent massage therapists to inquire about their massage services, hinting that they are interested in a happy ending by asking about ‘full body massages’, ‘full release massages’ or extras. By explaining that it is a therapeutic massage, the practitioner lets them know that they do not expect a happy ending, and will usually quickly disengage, refusing to book them in any case.

Therapeutic Massage to Achieve Structural Changes

The other meaning of a therapeutic massage is that both client and practitioner have a common goal of achieving structural changes within the body, often through a series of regular massages. While any professional massage is therapeutic, with real health benefits, some massages focus more on relaxation.

For example, a Swedish or Californian massage is a more superficial massage that improves blood and lymphatic circulation and relaxes you. While it is good for your body and mind, it is not intended to change the underlying structures of the body that can cause pain and restrictions.

Deep tissue massage or sports massage uses deeper pressure and cross-fiber friction to release adherent or spasming tissue, which is undoubtedly therapeutic.

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A therapeutic massage means that you present to the therapist a specific ailment, for example, pain in the hip, tight shoulders or a spasm in the lower back (or even in all three) and there must be a follow-up, an evolution.

The limitation of a resort spa is that most people get a massage while on vacation. Returning for a series of treatments is generally not practical. But you can always follow up with a private practitioner or a recommended massage therapist at a local day spa if you wish to continue with a therapeutic massage.

If you’d like to meet any good California massage therapists in your city, just leave a comment below!

If you want to go deeper into this Esalen massage technique (Californian Massage) and even become a professional, do not miss the beginning of our basic trainings .

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Translation adapted from Tripsavvy Magazine article: What is Therapeutic Massage?

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