Every month, I publish a massage therapy newsletter as an educational piece for my clients. (Shameless plug. Send me your e-mail address if you’d like to subscribe.) Last week, I was going through the selection of articles and I came across one about the benefits of massage for cancer patients. It was a very important topic, so I chose it as my feature article. Before sending the newsletter, I decided to read the entire thing through to make sure it flowed together nicely, and I was very disappointed.
The first paragraph mentioned a false but very serious statement – that massage can help eliminate chemical toxins acquired in the body through cancer treatment. I wanted to bang my head on my keyboard. I didn’t, because computers are expensive, but I really wanted to. The implications of this statement are huge. It implies that massage can help eliminate poisons from the body, and it would follow that the symptoms of this poison would also be lessened. For example, a patient going through chemotherapy reading this article would assume that receiving regular massage would reverse hair loss and prevent physical sickness caused by receiving treatment.
This isn’t true. Massage is in no way a form of toxic cleansing, and for massage therapists to claim that it is so is very irresponsible and manipulative. Not only are there no studies that support this idea, but the claim itself does not make sense. Massage is not intensive enough to knock toxins from your tissues. I’m not sure where this idea came from, or why it is still taught as fact in massage therapy schools, but the bottom line is that it isn’t true.
This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered an article that I wanted to include in my newsletter, only to discover that it contained misinformation. A lot of the time I feel like I am the only bodyworker who gives my clients truthful information. In the interest of building a trusting relationship with my clients, I only give information that I know to be factual, and I never claim to know something that I do not. I often times feel like I am in a war against other practitioners to protect the integrity of our field of work. I know this isn’t true. There are other massage therapists out there who think the way I do, but there are so few of us that I often times feel like I am alone.
What’s interesting about the field of bodywork is that there are a lot of claims made that just aren’t supported. It is the only profession where some practitioners have to encourage clients to research claims made by other practitioners before deciding to believe the claim. It is the only profession where practitioners make claims they have no evidence to support. Even primary care physicians sometimes recommend these treatments to patients.
Whether or not practitioners are intending to be manipulative, that is exactly what they are being. Bodyworks also claim to heal “Qi” – or life force energy that surrounds the body. These body works include treatments like reiki, reflexology, and acupuncture, among others. Practitioners continue to assert that these treatments can heal an abundance of pathologies, even though there is no evidence to back that up. You can see how people who have received very invasive treatments would be apt to choose something more soothing if they could be guaranteed the same results. For bodyworkers to perpetuate unproven myths that their services can have all sorts of benefits is manipulative.
Of course, I don’t think that bodyworkers intend to be manipulative. I do, in fact, believe that most believe their claims to be true. But believing something does not make it so. However, the idea of massage releasing toxins and healing Qi are taught as fact in massage schools, so it’s easy to see how aspiring therapists would accept it as so. After all, why would a school teach something that hasn’t been scientifically proven?
It is frustrating for me to know that people are being taken advantage of and lied to. It is my personal opinion that massage schools are irresponsible for teaching their students ideas that are not supported by any scientific study. That doesn’t, of course, mean that what is being taught isn’t true. Anything is possible. However, the fact remains that until someone observes changes in a body as a direct result of this treatment, it shouldn’t be taught as fact.
Massage can have an incredible impact on the body beyond relaxation, and those benefits are what this blog is dedicated to. This is another reason why it is so frustrating for me as a bodyworker to continuously hear these myths being spread by my colleagues. After all, if someone told you that massage could help with X, and you found out that wasn’t true, would you then believe that massage could also help with Y?
It is incredibly important for all massage recipients to understand that massage is a powerful tool in your health care routine. Receiving human contact itself is a powerful thing. It is important for clients to understand that although some massage therapists claim that massage is a form of alternative medicine, it is not. Massage alone will not cure anything. However, massage is a great form of complementary medicine, which means that it can be very useful in helping other forms of treatment.
I encourage everyone reading this to get a second and third opinion always, on anything that involves your health. Always remember that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Cover photo by en.writecheck.com