Assembly-Line Massage vs Quality Massage Therapy

By Mike Metzger


In my 21-plus years in the massage therapy trade, I’ve seen bodywork evolve in a very interesting modality. In this article, I will give an unbiased perspective of the bodywork trade that includes the following:


· Genealogy of massage in Northern California;

· What to look for when selecting a massage therapist;

· Massage-therapy pricing (what’s reasonable for a quality massage with lasting benefits


Genealogy of Massage

I never experienced a massage until I was in my 30s, sometime in the 1980s. I was working in construction. Long hours, heavy lifting, and up and down ladders all day wears the body out. To add to my distress, I was playing in competitive sports and working out at a local health club. Some friends suggested that with all this wear and tear I should consider receiving regular massage therapy. I started looking for a massage therapist to relieve the pain in my tight, sore muscles and overworked joints.

I was able to find a few independent massage practices in Chico. Other places that offered massage were chiropractic offices, martial-arts schools, Chico State University, and a few health clubs. At that time massage prices ranged from $25 to $45 an hour for basic Swedish massage (which was the type of massage therapy most available locally).

Swedish massage therapy commonly involves a general full-body relaxing massage in which lotion or oil is applied to the skin to provide an even glide and to avoid friction.

This type of massage best describes my first massage experience at the local health club I chose. I was impressed with how my general aches, pains, and muscle tightness were eliminated afterward. My only dislike was the oily residue left on my skin.

In 1998, I decided to go to a local massage school and become a certified massage therapist myself. I discovered that Swedish massage was still very popular, but there were many other advanced techniques that were more effective at achieving longer-lasting pain relief and better range of motion.

Realizing that most of their competitors could perform only Swedish massage therapy, more certified massage therapists in the1990s were aware of the importance of continuing their educations in the advanced techniques, not just Swedish massage.

Some of the advanced techniques that were gaining popularity at that time and even today are:


· Neuromuscular Therapy: Trigger-point therapy on specific locations in the muscles that refer pain to other parts of the body.

· Deep Tissue Massage: A technique that allows the therapist to safely work on the deeper muscle and connective tissues of the body. This technique is different from Rolfing.

· Lymphatic Drainage Massage: A lighter, more interstitial massage helping to expedite the lymphatic flow and drainage into the terminal centers, boosting the immune system. Lymphatic drainage massage is also good for clearing allergies and areas of the body that are swollen (in the case of edema).

· Soft Tissue Release: Originating from Great Britain, soft tissue release was used mostly as a faster, more effective treatment on athletes and clients with soft-tissue injuries.

· Reflexology: Using fingertip pressure in specific zones of the feet and hands to achieve pain relief and promote organ health and efficiency.

· Shiatsu: A Japanese technique of working specific points to enhance energy flow through the body, helping to heal health issues.

· Sports Massage: The blending of various techniques, all helping to improve athletic performance and promote the healing of soft-tissue injuries. Results from sports massage include increased range of motion, pain relief, and joint mobilization.


I had the privilege at this time to travel the world to receive more than 1,000 hours of training in these modalities and a few others. The price of massage went up as a result of therapists’ increasing their training in these techniques, which increased the quality of the massage.

From 2000 to the present, more and more types of therapeutic massage and bodywork techniques became popular. Like some other therapists, I added another 800 hours to my massage education. Massage started to become more recognized in the medical community in the beginning of this decade. Some of these medical massage techniques are:


· Orthopedic Massage: Specific clinical massage techniques used to treat muscle strain, sprain, scar tissue, joint mobilization, and so forth.

· Myoskeletal Alignment Massage: Various massage techniques blended with new research used to treat soft-tissue dysfunction.

· Myofascial Release: A technique that has been practiced for years but in which new research and a slightly different approach have made this treatment of fascia (connective tissue) very effective and powerful.


Today massage therapy is accepted more commonly as a viable treatment by the medical community, insurance companies, and attorneys. This is helping to increase the employment rate for massage therapists.

The unfortunate result of this gain in popularity is that groups, from small ones on up to large corporations, are popping up everywhere, offering cheap, assembly-line-type massage to those in the public who are uneducated about the benefits of receiving a quality massage by a professionally trained massage therapist. I suppose that because of hard economic times, people have been lured into these mass-production-type parlors because of their low prices. The results are always the same. Few people in the public have ever experienced quality, long-lasting benefits from these establishments.

Here are a few qualities to look for when seeking out a professional massage therapist:


· Certification from a state-approved school (always ask to see proof of training);

· Additional continuing education;

· Liability insurance specifically for massage and bodywork;

· Display of ethical and professional business practices. There is no tolerance for sensual massage! This type of massage only degrades and cheapens the whole bodywork industry.

· Neat and clean office and equipment;

· Quiet environment;

· Clean linens;

· Respect for any medical conditions and listening to the clients’ requests.


You get what you pay for most of the time, so try to apply that cliché of quality vs. quantity in your search. Please, support your local massage therapist, who has invested the time and money in furthering his or her education to better serve you, the public.