Going Deeper to Heal

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When Melissa Galli visited my home at the beach this past summer I was limping. My ankle was acting up as it does sometimes. I had had a massage earlier in the month, but the soft tissue and energy work didn’t stick. A few weeks later my gimp returned.

In about 15 minutes Galli, who is a licensed massage therapist, twisted, turned, cracked and stretched my foot and ankle until the bones, tendons, ligaments and muscles became aligned. My limp disappeared and five months later the work still holds.

Galli, who has been massaging me since 2005, applied medical massage techniques to repair my ankle. “I lengthened tendons, worked on range of motion, applied compression and stabilized the structure to realign and adjust the foot and ankle to support the pre-existing medical condition involving the ankle. I improved the structural integrity,” she said, describing my treatment. Because she knows my body, its strengths and its weaknesses, she was able to tweak the ankle structure back into alignment quickly.

Medical massage therapist Melissa Galli

Swedish massage and medical massage may feel similar but their techniques differ. During a Swedish massage, techniques focus on relaxation and improved circulation. When I visited Berkley Springs, WVA I received a massage in the spa that wealthy Washingtonians retreated to in another century. Basic personal information was all that was needed. When finished, I could barely walk because I was so relaxed. The purpose of a Swedish massage was to do just that – release tension and stress.

After a session with Galli, the elation is different. While I feel somewhat relaxed, I mostly feel relieved. I also feel light and fluid. Any pain is lessened or released. A medical massage usually addresses a specific issue. Sometimes the depth in which she probes in order to gain release is not relaxing and is uncomfortable.

“You need a deeper knowledge for medical massage,” said Silvia Edenburg, a licensed massage therapist at Lavender Retreat. “A Swedish massage is superficial and I follow a certain path and protocol. When I do a medical massage I do a totally different treatment with every person. It’s even different treatment with the same person but at a different time because our bodies are constantly changing. I’m always evaluating what’s going on in a client’s body.”

What a Medical Massage Does

Medical massage therapists will use a broader set of therapies for muscle health and recovery. It may include specific follow-up recommendations. A medical massage helps to decrease inflammation and pain. It can deactivate myofascial trigger points. It can help digestion, calm and soothe the nervous system and improve posture and coordination. It also helps to, as it did for me, prevent future chronic pain conditions and improve flexibility and range of motion. Lower heart rate and blood pressure, improvement in immune function, circulation, energy and alertness, and a reduction in muscle soreness and tension can all be had from medical massage.

“I can help a client learn how to use one’s body correctly,” said Galli. “I can also help a client get back to full range of motion without having increased pain after surgery.”

A medical massage, said Edenburg, can also help reduce pain and anxiety for people with chronic illnesses such as cancer and reduce the physiological burden of stress. It can help treat conditions including cancer-related fatigue, sleep disorders, low back pain and depression.

Medical massage is a form of outcome-based massage. It requires a thorough assessment of clients’ condition and needs. It is more detailed that traditional massage. “I often focus on restoring full range of motion, reducing stiffness and unsticking fascia,” said Galli.  “I also notice the health of a client’s joints, I release scar tissue and often teach a client better body mechanics.”

Silvia Edenburg

Galli may use a technique called muscle stripping. “I go from the origin of a muscle to its insertion which may not be the most comfortable feeling,” she said. “When a client has a pulled hamstring I take the muscle back to the length it is supposed to be. It’s deep but effective.” Medical massage therapists may also employ techniques called cross fiber friction or proprioceptive neuromuscular stimulation.

Who is Medical Massage for?

Anyone can benefit from a medical massage, yet not all licensed massage therapists are practitioners. Edenburg, who has been practicing for 28 years, said that as a medical massage therapist she has learned a different set of modalities and expertise. Galli wanted to specialize in medical massage so she, too, focused her continuing educational credits on the technique.

Silvia Edenburg giving a medical massage to a client at Lavender Retreat

Edenburg does medical massage on people who have migraines. “I work at the base of the neck so I need to know how to stretch and support the neck and head as well as alleviate the migraine.” Both she and Galli work with pregnant women, people with tennis elbow, sciatica, rotator cuff injury, fibromyalgia and other long-term medical issues such as scoliosis. They also massage many with chronic neck or back issues.

Often a medical massage client has been evaluated and diagnosed with an injury by another health care professional. “I massage clients with plantar fasciitis all the time” said Galli. “I give them a set course of treatment that includes two massages a week for four weeks and a set of daily stretches.” 

“Massage is a phenomenal tool for preventing disease and becoming aware of your own body,” said Edenburg. “Getting regular massages can affect other areas of your life as well. Medical massage can help you better understand how your body works.”

Massages are great gifts especially this time of the year. It’s also a year when self-care is the new buzz word. For friends and family the gift of a medical massage could be perfect.

To contact Silvia: Lavender Retreat – 202-450-2329 or www.lavenderretreat.com.

To contact Melissa: missygalli@gmail.com or 410-504-7579.

Pattie Cinelli is a health and fitness professional and journalist who has been writing her column for more than 25 years. She focuses on holistic ways to stay healthy, get well and connect with your true self. Please email her at: fitmiss44@aol.com.