Massage as Science

The SOAP chart is what doctors and medical professionals use to document and organize information about their clients. Each letter stands for a different note section:

Subjective – what the client tells you (health history, current problems);
Objective – what you observe/find;
Assessment – what you do during the session (type of massage, areas worked on, etc) (this section is used differently in other healthcare professions);
Plan – what happens after the session.

I use the Plan section to note my recommendations – if the client should apply ice to a particular area, for example, or if I taught the client any stretches. I also note goals for the treatment, that is, what I’m working with my client to achieve. I can be pretty specific here, determining how many sessions it’ll take for the trigger points to be released or the muscle adhesions to break down.

I couldn’t make these kind of goals if I wasn’t acutely aware of the effects that massage has on the body. Increased circulation (through vasodilation, improved cardiovascular function), reduced lactic acid in active muscles. Massage can affect the nervous system – stimulating it (as with a sports massage) or calming it (thereby activating the parasympathetic functions). Massage at a particular muscle or around a joint will lessen inflammation and swelling, which can alleviate pain and improve range of motion. A relaxing massage can decrease cortisol (stress hormone), and increase serotonin and dopamine (happy hormones). All of these effects have been scientifically proven.

And beyond the research, on a more practical level, muscle tension and pain are easily measurable. Muscles feel different, respond differently to touch, when they’re causing problems. As I massage, the tension decreases; as the tension decreases, the problems decrease. Funny how that works.

But you’ve heard all of this before; you know there are biochemical and physiological effects of massage (and if you didn’t know, you should!). The point I’m trying to make is simply that there are these measurable, provable effects. The science of massage.

A client has been coming to me for the past month to treat whiplash symptoms after a car accident, and recently her muscles have begun to show improvement. Last week I was able to spell out my goal for her: by the end of next month, her muscles would be back to where they were before the accident (that is, minimal tension and no pain). There was a moment of disbelief, but then she smiled. And then she beamed; she glowed with excitement at the mere prospect of being pain free. My reassurance was enough for her to trust the progress she was making.

Maybe it’s unusual, being so confident about something I don’t have complete control over. But I know – through scientific research and through practice – that massage gets results.

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