Basics of Massage

Advanced Reading:

What is massage? What is bodywork and how do the two differ?

Massage includes a number of disciplines which share the use of pressure, friction and strain upon the muscles and joints of the body for therapeutic or affectionate physical responses. In the book Massage: A Career at your fingertips Martin Ashley identifies several types of massage: massage for preventive general health; massage for relaxation, pampering or `beautification'; sports massage, massage for pain relief; rehabilitative massage (for recovery from physical injury); massage as an adjunct to medical or chiropractic treatment; and massage for personal psychological transformation. The term `bodywork' is often used to refer to therapies that are often combined and confused with massage, e.g. Shiatsu, Trager, Rolfing, Polarity and Reflexology. Some of these therapies are described briefly in question 2.2, there are postings about all of them in the archive (see question 5.1.2).

What are some examples of massage and bodywork?

  1. Swedish massage (which is a proper name, not a reference to Sweden) refers to a collection of techniques designed primarily to relax muscles by applying pressure to them against deeper muscles and bones, and rubbing in the same direction as the flow of blood returning to the heart. The lymph system and veins (which carry blood back to the heart) both rely on muscle action, rather than heart pump pressure, to operate. Many believe it is safe to apply light pressure in the opposite direction.

    Friction is reduced by oil, or lacking that baby powder. Some practitioners claim benefits from vegetable rather than mineral oil while others disagree. (See question 3.4 about oil and the oil.vs.powder file in the archive; the archive is the subject of question 5.1.2) Swedish massage can relax muscles, increase circulation, remove metabolic waste products, help the recipient obtain a feeling of connectedness, a better awareness of their body and the way they use and position it.

    The strokes and manipulations of Swedish Massage are each conceived as having a specific therapeutic benefit. One of the primary goals of Swedish Massage is to speed venous return from the extremities. Swedish Massage shortens recovery time from muscular strain by flushing the tissue of lactic acid, uric acid and other metabolic wastes. It improves circulation without increasing heart load. It stretches the ligaments and tendons, keeping them supple. Swedish Massage also stimulates the skin and nervous system while at the same time relaxing the nerves themselves. As it can help reduce emotional and physical stress it is often recommended as part of a regular programme for stress management. It also has specific clinical uses in a medical or remedial therapy.

  2. Shiatsu, on the other hand, is a system based on the body's energy meridians. Shiatsu massages are normally done fully clothed and involve pressing points on the body and stretching and opening of the energy meridians. Shiatsu is somewhat related to acupuncture, which is a form of anaesthesia and therapy used in Chinese hospitals for surgery. Its proponents view it as a form of treatment alternative to medicine or surgery. (Toru Namikoshi's Complete Book of Shiatsu Therapy -- published by Japan Pubns., Inc. with ISBN 0-87040-461-x in 1981 -- claims to be the definitive work; Zen Shiatsu by Shizuto Masunaga & Wataru Ohashi, also published by Japan Publications Inc, ISBN 0-87040-394-x is also recommended in the archive.) Question 5.2.3 has references to WWW resources dealing with Shiatsu.

  3. This subsection, about Reflexology, is largely based on notes provided by Reflexology expert and author Kevin Kunz. He notes that there are significant differences between foot massage and Reflexology. Any errors are the fault of the FAQL maintainer and no one else.

    Reflexology is based on the belief that there are places on the feet (and hands) that correspond to parts of the body, e.g. internal organs and joints. Manipulating those parts of the feet (or hands) can have direct effects on corresponding parts of the body. Some proponents claim the ability to diagnose and treat illnesses of these organs by appropriate reflexological treatment.

    I haven't seen a convincing explanation of why this is supposed to work but many people cite Reflexology as an excellent technique for holistic assessment and adjunct to other therapies. Although Reflexology is often discussed as part of Zone Therapy this isn't completely accurate. The archive contains some discussion and references to books about Reflexology.

    According to Reflexology teacher Terry Norman <>: a currently accepted theory in the West is that Reflexology works by way of the neuro-reflex points found in the feet & hands. When organs don't function normally the neural signals along the network change patterns. Such changes can be detected and monitored through the reflex points. Chemistry at these points sometimes changes as well -- hard painful spots (said to be uric acid crystals) may form at points that relate to the organ, or area of the body, to which the reflex point corresponds. Occasionally, when rubbing or pressing firmly on these spots you can feel them "pop" or burst apart -- they feel grainy or gritty like sand or sugar. After the spots disappear, the area begins to become less tender and the organ to which the reflex point relates also functions better.

    In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) the points on the hands & feet correspond to the channels & collaterals. TCM has charts dating back thousands of years illustrating the same points on these areas as modern day Foot & Hand Reflexology charts. I believe that the "true" system is some convergence of both systems. Although, I think that what has been called "Reflexology", or "Zone Therapy" is nothing more than a re-discovering of the wheel you might say.

  4. By mixing scents with the oil, various pleasing moods can be created. Aromatherapy is the use of fragrant substances for health and beauty treatment. It is often combined with massage since oils can be used to carry fragrances while also allowing more pressure to be applied to muscles. Its proponents claim that health benefits are associated with specific choices of scent. For example, clary sage can be used to combat depression. (See questions 5.2.4 and 5.1.2 for other sources of information about Aromatherapy.)

  5. `On-site massage' is one name for a short (15-20 minute) massage of a client sitting in a special, portable massage chair. The client remains fully clothed and no oils are used while their shoulders, neck, upper back, head and arms are massaged. On-Site is popular at some offices as an employee benefit and for some conferences, workshops and certain social events.

  6. Erotic massage is really a sexual foreplay technique, rather than a form of massage. Massage focuses on muscles, whereas erotic massage focuses primarily on skin. It's been said that 95% of erotic (or sensual) massage is the same as other massage. There is nonetheless some information specifically about erotic massage in the archive.

  7. Trigger point and Myotherapy are pain-relief techniques to alleviate muscle spasms and cramping. The therapist locates and deactivates `trigger points', which are often tender areas where muscles have been damaged or acquired a re-occuring spasm or `kink' that worsens painfully when aggravated. The major goals are to reduce spasm inducing new blood flow into the affected area. The spasms are partly maintained by nervous system feedback (pain-spasm-pain) cycle. Spasms also physically reduces blood flow to the trigger point area (ischemia), reducing oxygen supplied to the tissues and increasing the spasm.

    Pressure is applied to trigger points, for a short time (between about 7 to 10 seconds per point), which can be momentarily painful but is greatly relieving. It is common to hit the same trigger points several times during a session, but you won't be leaning into a sore spot for several minutes. Often ice or another cooling agent is used to reduce nervous system response, making the area easier and more comfortable to work. Then the muscles are gently stretched to complete the relaxation process, hence the name `spray and stretch'. Myotherapy aims to erase pain and soothe tightened muscles. People with acute or chronic muscle tension and the associated pain are likely to benefit greatly from this type of treatment.

  8. Polarity therapy is a holistic approach to natural health care. It asserts that energy fields exist everywhere in nature, and that the flow and balance of this energy in the human body is the underlying foundation of health. Stress, tension, pain, inflexible thinking, and environmental stimuli are among many factors that can contribute to the restriction of this energy flow in the human body. According to Polarity therapists, such energy blocks can be released by the use of four therapeutic methods: bodywork, diet, exercise and self-awareness. The founder of Polarity Therapy, Dr. Randolph Stone DO, DC, ND, emphasized the interdependence of body, emotions, mind and spirit. Polarity therapy includes gentle body manipulation and holding pressure points (poles) as well as counselling on developing positive thoughts and attitudes, understanding the principles of food combining and easy exercises to increase energy flow. Polarity is often used by care givers in conjunction with many other therapies.

  9. Myofascial release is used to evaluate and treat restrictions in the body's contractile connective tissues (muscles) and non-contractile supportive connective tissues (fascia) by the application of gentle traction, pressures and positioning. Fascia is a complex supportive web throughout the body affecting all components of the musculoskeletal, nervous and visceral (organ) systems. It surrounds groups of muscle fibres, and entire muscle groups and organs. While it is not contractile, it can be passively elastically deformed. That is how it retains tensions from physical and emotional traumas. It is also involved when a person suffers chronic pain or physical dysfunction. Chronically tense muscles restrict blood flow and fatigue the body. Both fascia and muscle tissues can become shortened if they are improperly used. As well, layers of fascia can stick together.

    Myofascial release techniques are used to coax muscles in spasm to relax, and break adhesions in the fascia. Bodies respond to these therapies by releasing tension that has been stored in the fascia, thus allowing more functional flexibility and mobility of the muscles, fascia and associated structures. Another definition of fascia appears in question 2.6 (about technical terms).

  10. Craniosacral therapy can be considered to be a type of myofascial release that is especially suited to addressing tensions in the Craniosacral system: the membranes that contain the cerebrospinal fluid within the head and spinal column, as well as the cranial (head and face) bones to which these membranes are attached. Release of restrictions in these membranes and at the sutures between the cranial lobes is deeply relaxing and may relieve certain types of headache, spinal nerve problems, tempororomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), and stress in the nervous system. Other body functions can also benefit and emotional tension may be discharged through the process of Somato-Emotional Release.

  11. Reiki is a gentle hands-on healing technique to reduce stress, relieve pain, and facilitate healing. Practitioners hold that the vital energy of the universe is channelled through the practitioner to energize the various body systems on levels that promote healing and wholeness. The hands (and intuition) are used to scan a client's body, and to perceive and treat areas of reduced vitality.

    The following subsection, about Reiki, is based on a text provided by Usui Shiki Ryoho Reiki Master Brian M. Carter.

    In English, the Japanese word `Reiki' refers to the teachings of Usui Shiki Ryoho, translated as the `Usui Method of Natural (or Drugless) Healing'. The Method has been known in Japan since the late 1860s. It was brought to U.S.A. in the 1930s and, although it has no Christian roots, it is certainly not a so-called New Age concoction.

    It is based on the same energetic principles as acupuncture, t'ai chi chuan and chi kung. But Reiki is neither invasive, as is acupuncture, nor does it require physical agility and effort to gain benefits, as do t'ai chi and chi kung.

    According to Usui Shiki Ryoho Reiki Master Brian M. Carter: `this adjunct to competent medical care is definitely based on a traditional Oriental model of bodily healing, because it assumes the presence of an imbalance of an energetic nature that is manifesting in the physical body as stress, or, in more serious cases, as a life-threatening disease one may be facing. As Reiki practitioners, we have learned that, in many cases, we can help persons with such illnesses to remove these unseen causes and replace them with robust energy that will have a definite, noticeable, beneficial physical effect.'

    There are two principal aspects of Reiki practice. As one successfully builds a strong practice of Reiki, one also learns how to convey this ki energy to others who need it. One aspect is called practice `for oneself', which is emphasized in First Degree Reiki practice. The other is called practice `for others' and is emphasized in Second Degree and Master level practices.

    For most daily stress, tension, minor illness, trauma, etc., First Degree Reiki practice is very effective. For life-threatening illness -- in which severe physical manifestations have already materialized (e.g. cancer and AIDS) and congenital diseases (e.g. cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy) it is often very difficult for a person to effectively practice `for oneself' therefore help from a more advanced Reiki practitioner is often required for the best results. Second Degree and Reiki Master level practitioners have acquired considerable ability in directing and focusing ki energy through practice and study with persons with severe illness. Such practitioners will have specific, advanced techniques with which to help the ill person.

    Much more information about Reiki is available in the archive's reiki file. Information about the archive is available in question 5.1.2. There are also some WWW resources about Reiki -- see question 5.2.3 for details.

  12. Trager Psychophysical Integration (usually just called Trager) uses light, gentle, non-intrusive movements to facilitate the release of deep-seated physical and mental patterns. Each part of the client's body is moved rhythmically so that the recipient experiences the possibility of moving lightly, effortlessly, and freely on their own. A Trager session should help reduce stress from chronic tension, teach more effective ways to recover from stressful situations, enhance conscious awareness and flexibility, improve self-image, expand energy, restore free flowing movement and full self-expression by reducing constriction and rigidity. A Trager session can bring about the experience of peace and serenity -- a high-energy state of well-being beyond relaxation.

  13. The Hakomi method is a body-based psychotherapy using special states of consciousness to help clients probe non-verbal levels where core beliefs direct and influence their experiences. Body-mind awareness and touch are used to explore the body as a deep source of information, empowering the client to change their attitudes.

  14. Jin Shin Do (transl. the way of the compassionate spirit) is derived from acupressure. The technique involves applying gentle fingertip pressure to thirty specific points along the body to release, smooth and balance vital `chi' energy. Practitioners meditate and try to transfer chi to clients by using knowledge of where energy flows and patterns meet. According to its practitioners, Jin Shin Do pervades all aspects of our being by affecting general muscle tension, improving circulation, balancing emotions and raising the spiritual state of being.

  15. Neuromuscular therapy uses advanced concepts in pressure therapy to break the stress-tension-pain cycle. It aims to relax muscle so that circulation can increase and the body will return to normal neuromuscular integrity and balance. The St. John Method is a type of NMT.

  16. Pfrimmer deep muscle therapy was developed by Therese Pfrimmer. Once partially paralysed, she overcame her disability through deep muscle manipulation and spent the next 30 years developing this technique. Pfrimmer Deep Muscle Therapy works across the muscles manipulating deep tissues, stimulating circulation and regenerating lymphatic flow, thus promoting detoxification and oxygenation of stagnant tissues.

  17. A description of Rolfing will appear here soon. [Added 6 Sept. 95]

  18. There are many more types of massage and bodywork than those dealt with here. If you are interested in learning about a specific type that is not mentioned here, look for a file about it in the archive or read one of the books recommended in this FAQL (see question 2.3) or in the book file in the archive (see question 5.1.2).

Where can I read about massage techniques?

The Massage Book by George Downing (and illustrated by Anne Kent Rush) is highly and frequently recommended. It has been co-published by Bodyworks and Random House with ISBN 0-394-70770-2 (paper) since 1972. The trade edition is reported to have ISBN 0-394-48241-7.

Keith Grant recommends The Complete Book of Massage by Clare Maxwell-Hudson (Random House, 1988) and The Book of Massage: The Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Eastern and Western Techniques by Lucinda Liddel with Sara Thomas, Carola Beresford Cooke and Anthony Porter (A Fireside Book published by Simon and Schuster, 1984).

The FAQL maintainer thinks The Back Rub Book: How to give and receive great back rubs by Anne Kent Rush (A Vintage Book published by Random House, 1989/ISBN 0-394-75962-1) and The Massage Book are great.

The alt.backrubs archive (see question 5.1.2) contains detailed recommendations for these and other books as well as much advice for novice and experienced massagers. The archive category Getting Started contains basic advice about massage techniques. The archive also contains suggestions for videos, journals and specific magazine articles.

The alt.romance FAQL contains some advice about giving some basic massages too. You can find that document in the alt.romance newsgroup and at the FTP site in pub/usenet-by-group/alt.romance. See question 5.2 for information about FTP and the site in particular.

Is massage a sexual technique?

It can be, but it need not be. Massage operates in a continuum between physical therapy or say Shiatsu, which is exclusively muscle focused and is highly non-erotic, to Swedish massage, which is muscle focused and includes affectionate but not erotic touch, to erotic massage which is a sexual technique.

Most people's response to a good (Swedish) massage is to fall asleep, not to get aroused. If a massage is focused on relaxing muscle groups, it will not be an erotic experience. The donor will get a major workout and the receiver will be very relaxed. If a massage is focused on touching skin it will be an affectionate experience and a highly intimate and emotional one -- but not an erotic one. If a body rub is primarily focused on touching skin, especially if that focus includes erogenous zones, it will be an erotic experience.

There are some very nice strokes which are used only in sexual contexts, they are quite distinct from the strokes used in other kinds of massage. Some of them are described in the archive.

One of the hallmarks of a dysfunctional family (one which perpetuates a culture of addiction and dependence) is a deep confusion between affectionate and erotic touch combined with a strong yearning for, yet fear of, emotional intimacy. People who have this confusion are likely to experience any kind of touch as erotic or to use affectionate touch as a surrogate for forbidden erotic touch. These same people are likely to view all nudity as sexual, or more properly, to consider touch, nudity and sex, as surrogates for the intimacy vacuum associated with the culture. This forms the subtext for some of the threads that appear periodically in the newsgroup. Because most massage, like most body therapies, is hindered by clothing, and involves touch, this newsgroup periodically attracts the attention of some of these unfortunates.

You will avoid unpleasant misunderstandings if you are clear in your own mind on what you want, and if you are able to clearly discern between a prospective masseur/masseuse/massee :-) and a prospective sexual partner, or someone with a voyeuristic interest in the pseudo-intimacy of nudity.

There is lots about this in the archive (see question 5.1.2 for information about the archive). In particular, see the sections entitled Sex & Massage and Sexual Massage/Foreplay.

Might I hurt someone if I do something wrong?

There are some things of which to be careful. Read a good book, to learn all you need to know. In general, be careful of organs, joints (including vertebrae), and veins. Avoid applying heavy pressure to the kneecap, back of the knee, the abdomen and the front of the neck. There is a right direction (toward the heart) and a wrong direction to apply pressure. (Veins have valves that act to prevent the back flow of blood returning to the heart. You don't want to blow those valves!) Read the toward.heart file in the archive (see question 5.1.2) if you are interested in the discussion of why certain massage techniques do not go towards the heart. Similarly, the abdomen should be massaged in a clockwise direction because of the way the intestines are laid out.

Obviously avoid broken bones, acute inflammations, etc. and use caution if the recipient has a medical problem, including infections. Information and advice about massaging bruises, and dealing with chronic pain, is available in the archive. Cancer and plebitis have been mentioned as conditions incompatible with massage.

Beyond that, you're responsible for getting your own expert therapeutic, medical, legal, etc. advice :-)

The warning file in the archive contains some of the more dire warnings posted to the newsgroup. The toward.heart file in the archive contains some more information about the direction in which to apply pressure.

What does this technical term mean?

Below is a short list of technical terms which arise in alt.backrubs. If you would like to see an addition or change to this list please read question 0.3. Expansion of acronyms is in question 1.2. Descriptions of some massage and bodywork techniques are in question 2.2.

Draping: refers to the covering of the client's body while they are being massaged.
Effleurage: is used in Swedish massage. It is a long, gliding stroke.
Esalen: Keith Grant posted this quotation from the Esalen catalogue: `Esalen Institute is a center to explore work in the humanities and sciences that promotes human values and potentials. Its activities consist of public seminars, residential work-study programs, invitational conferences, research, and semi-autonomous projects. (Its been described as being a state of mind as much as a physical place).'
Fascia: A layer or sheet of connective tissue that connects the various structures and organs of the body. Some fascia is simple sheets, others are complex and multi-layered. Fascia is usually divided into two types: superficial and deep. (See question 0.5 for reference source.)
Fibromyalgia: an arthritic condition affecting muscles.
Holistic Massage: treats the body as a whole and does not concentrate on only a troubled area. (compare with Therapeutic)
Petrissage: is used in Swedish massage. They are kneading, grabbing, wringing strokes used to focus on body regions.
Strain/Counter Strain are a set of techniques for relieving musculoskeletal spasm and pain. It is a passive procedure that places the body or limb into the position of greatest comfort. This reduces or arrests the inappropriate nervous system activity that maintains protective muscle spasm. Normalization of both muscle tone and joint function normally accompany the decrease or elimination of pain that result.
Tapotement: are a variety of percussive strokes, hitting, tapping, or pinching strokes used in Swedish massage.
Therapeutic Massage: usually concentrates on a particular area which needs treatment. (compare with Holistic)

Novice Questions

How should I start?

Practice. Practising bad technique will have a bad effect, practising good technique will have a good effect, so do some reading first. Read about technique often as you are starting out to help you correct yourself. The archive (see question 5.1.2) contains recommendations of books to read (in the file books) and techniques to try (in the file technique).

Do not restrict yourself to a few recipients. You will learn much more from giving one massage each to 20 people than you will by giving 20 massages to one person. Even if there is a primary recipient you have in mind, the quality of that one person's experience will be severely limited if your experience is limited to that one person.

Receiving a massage can also be a learning experience. You may better understand variations of touch, pressure, etc. as well as learning new techniques and strokes from others. Caroline Knight adds: you can learn a lot by applying strokes to yourself.

As you massage another person, be aware of the effects that your touch is having both on the person you're touching and on yourself. Temporarily put aside anything else you might have going on, and focus your attention on the massage. What are your fingers conveying about the tension and texture of the recipients muscles? Be aware of how both of you are breathing. Use your body weight to gently and smoothly apply pressure, instead of muscling the pressure. Learning to give a good massage is only partly about learning technique.

Much of what you need to learn is about being present in your body and present in the current moment. You can learn a lot about superficial anatomy just paying attention to what your fingers are feeling.

Question 3.6 is about tired hands, a common affliction among newcomers to massage. You might also find the advice file in the archive helpful. The archive is the subject of question 5.1.2.

Where can I find people to give (or receive) massages?

Such people can be found amongst those who share an interest in massage and among people who trust you. (See question 2.4 about sexual massage.) A list of people willing to exchange backrubs has been set up. See question 5.1.1 for more information about the exchange.

Question 4.3 is about how to distinguish between a proficient, professional MT and someone who just calls themselves a MT, before you pay for their services.


What can I do about ticklishness?

Ticklishness arises from hypersensitivity. Sometimes, but not always, this is due to nervousness or discomfort with being touched, or with being unclothed. (See question 2.4 about sexual massage.) This can be dealt with by massaging first less threatening areas. The back is perhaps the least threatening area to massage, followed by (in most cases) the limbs, neck and head (including the face). By the time you reach more sensitive areas, i.e. legs, chest and abdomen, they will have relaxed from the effects of the massage. They will also have had a chance to develop a level of comfort with you that they feel safe. Note this assumes that your attitude and approach to massage are consistent with such feelings. Increased pressure will also reduce ticklishness, particularly if their sensitivity is physiological rather than emotional.

<> recommended: The easiest solution is to have the person receiving the backrub place their hands on or near the hands of the person giving the backrub... After several times of using this technique the recipient will no longer need to touch the masseuse.

What oil should I use?

There is much information in the archive (see question 5.1.2) about massage oils. Please, read it before posting something like `Hey, I use oil for my massages. Has anyone else tried this yet?'.

Mineral oil and some vegetable oils are thick. If liberally slopped on they will both tend to clog pores. Some people have skin especially prone to inflammation from this. On the other hand many massage lotions have a mineral oil base. When applied sparingly, as for deep tissue work, they don't usually cause problems. There are also a number of lighter weight vegetable oil blends available. They go on easily and produce a much thinner oil film. They also spill a lot faster if you get careless with the cap open. Vegetable oils can go rancid (in the bottle, on clothes, on sheets, etc.) which mineral oils don't. Some massage schools use mineral oil exclusively because of this -- rancid rugs and sheets are not appealing. Also, mineral oils are hypoallergenic.

A convenient squeeze dispenser bottle (i.e., one having a narrow spout with a small opening) can be found in many stores (you might try at a camp outfitting store, a pharmacy or even a cosmetics outlet).

Refrigerating oil when not in use and keeping bottles full also helps. If you refrigerate the oil then you might want to warm the bottle of oil in a hot water bath before using it. Some people have allergies to specific vegetable oils. Some people feel that vegetable oils are in some way more natural than mineral oils. Oils containing vitamin E may have a better shelf life, since it's an antioxidant.

How do I get oils?

You don't need special oils, but they can be a nice touch. Make sure you remember to rub the oil between your hands to warm it, never pour it directly on the person you are massaging as it is uncomfortable and distracting.

The file, in the archive (see question 5.1.2) contains lists of places you can order ready-made oils from. The file oil.make contains information about making your own oils.

If you are just starting out, John Cole recommends trying safflower oil. It is a light, odourless vegetable oil available from most grocery stores. Caroline Knight wrote: `I'm still using grape seed oil as my base as recommended by someone from alt.backrubs ages ago!'

Is there anything I can do about my tired hands?

Many people use their hands too much for massage. If you need to apply lots of pressure (see the deep.back and knots files in the archive, which is the subject of question 5.1.2) you should lean into the massage and let your weight provide much of the pressure. The weak.arms file in the archive is also of interest.

Don't be afraid to use other parts of your body than just your hands for variety. I've had great success using my forearms and wrists. The palms and heel of the hand are commonly used for certain light and deep strokes respectively. Some people like to use their feet but must be very careful not to apply too much pressure. The variety of strokes and pressure that can be achieved by using other parts of the body can be a blessing to both the recipient and giver. The with.feet file in the archive contains some discussion of these points.

You can prevent your hands from getting tired by strengthening them through regular exercise (see the finger.excer file in the archive). The archive contains information about massages you, or others, can give to your aching hands too (see finger.excer, hand&neck, wrist.pain to start).

Professional Massage

What about licencing, certification and professional training?

Licencing is, of course, only relevant if you are looking to charge for giving massages. The restrictions and regulations differ from state to state in the USA and province to province in Canada. If you have information about regulation in other countries, please post it to the newsgroup.

Some jurisdictions have no restrictions, some provide two-tier regulation (distinguishing between so-called technicians or bodyworkers and therapists), some just want to make sure massage is not being used as a cover for prostitution. Some even require a level of training level equivalent to what a physical therapist would have.

The rest of this question is in two parts: the first part is about various resource guides that are available; the second part is about the two major organizations that are frequently discussed in alt.backrubs.

  1. Books, magazines and other resource guides

    Two books have been mentioned in alt.backrubs: Massage: a career at your fingertips and International Massage & Bodywork Resource Guide.

    Martin Ashley's book Massage: A Career at your fingertips (published by Station Hill Press with ISBN 0-88268-135-4 in 1992) used to be recommended often in alt.backrubs. It provides a thorough overview of career choices for bodyworkers and massage therapists and a career-planning guide. The extensive section about legal requirements, schools and equipment may be out of date by now. A Table of Contents is in the archive's getting.registered file.

    According to Keith Grant, the International Massage & Bodywork Resource Guide compiled by Robert Calvert and Noel Abildgaard and published by Noah Press (with ISBNs 1-879933-04-7 and 1-879933-03-9 in 1991) contains more than 520 listings of schools, associations, seminars and laws related to the healing arts of massage, bodywork and holistic health along with tips on choosing a school, a glossary of techniques and a book review section.

    Massage magazine (also published by Noah Press, with ISSN 1057-378-X) contains a section for paid advertisements about massage schools and training centres. Because they only accept paid ads I can't tell how complete the listings are. It seems that Massage is aimed primarily at American markets. The magazine publishes a brief list of the most basic regulations for registered massage therapists in each of the United States of America. The list includes telephone numbers for additional information. Noah Publishing's address is

    P.O. Box 1500,
    Davis, CA 95617

    They can be reached by telephone at +1(800) 872-4263 or +1(916) 757-6033. The magazine has e-mail address <>.

    Informative postings about massage schools may be found in the archive's mas.schools and esalen files. More information, and much discussion, is available in part b) below and in the archive (see the category about certification; information about the archive appears in question 5.1.2).

    The AMTA (American Massage Therapy Association), the ABMP (Associated Massage and Bodywork Professionals) and the COMTAA (Commission on Massage Training Accreditation/Approval in the USA) often come up in discussions of massage schools in alt.backrubs. For that reason only, the following address and telephone numbers are included here. They were extracted from the archive's mas.schools file. If you have more accurate information please tell the archive maintainer.

    American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA)
    820 Davis Street, Suite 100,
    Evanston, IL 60201-4444
    +1(708) 864-0123
    +1(312) 761-2682 (for a list of COMTAA schools)
    N.B.: inclusion of this information does not imply approval (or disapproval) of the AMTA, the COMTAA, the USA or any other organization, their policies employees, fashion sense, etc. It is here because it is part of an answer to a frequently asked question.

  2. What are the ABMP and the AMTA?

    Before you decide to join any organization you should read part a) above and possibly the relevant archive files. If you want to know what the various abbreviations used in alt.backrubs mean then you should be reading question 1.3.

    In the USA and Canada, the AMTA (American Massage Therapy Association) and the ABMP (Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals) are major organizations offering malpractice insurance and forms of professional accreditation. It is entirely possible that these organizations also offer these services in other countries, but those are the only ones of which I am aware. If someone from those organizations will supply more information then it will be used to update this document. See question 0.2 for information about whom to contact.

    The AMTA and the ABMP are competing organizations with different approaches to massage, massage and bodywork regulation and many other issues near and dear to the hearts of professional MTs. If you are thinking of getting certified (within or without the USA and Canada) then you might find the discussions in the files in the archive's certification category helpful. The archive and its categories are the subject of question 5.1.2.

    Please feel free to submit an unbiased summary of the posts in the archive files relevant to this question. If such a summary is received it, or some version of it, will replace this answer.

Professional issues

  1. The alt.backrubs newsgroup has had many discussions of issues related to massage as a profession and tools and techniques for massage professionals. Copies of many posts on these topics are available in the alt.backrubs archive (see question 5.1.2). For example, the archive contains information about massage tables, professional organizations, exams and draping standards.
  2. Emotional response considerations

    Keith Grant, a massage instructor (amongst many other things), has submitted the following notes about emotional response considerations in professional massage. More information about this topic is available in the archive file emot.release (see question 5.1.2 for information about the archive).


    As a massage professional you should be aware that some clients might suffer strong emotional release during massage. You need to be able to recognize signs of such sublimated emotions and to know how deal with such issues when they arise in your massage practice.

    Unresolved emotions can become anchored in the body as a result of physical and emotional traumas. One can think of the body as maintaining `physical memories' of such emotions in the tension of muscles. The condition is especially common with those who suffered physical or sexual abuse as children. It can be that over time, the body becomes habituated to the unbalanced muscle tensions. Eventually, patterns of body usage and posture are changed in an unconscious attempt to compensate.

    Massage can bring anchored emotions and associated memories back to conscious awareness. Indeed some psychotherapies involve forms of bodywork intended to focus the patients attention on tension in their body (more information is available in the mas.vs.psychotherapy file in the archive, which is the subject of question 5.1.2). While the re-awakening of emotions is a process that can contribute greatly to re-integration and healing, it is important as a massage practitioner not to assume the role of emotional therapist or become caught up in listening to verbal stories.

    It is equally important, however, to bring your focus and awareness to bodywork sessions. A massage professional should be aware of their client's overall way of inhabiting their body. Watch how they hold themselves, walk and gesture. Projections of being overly rigid, collapsed, or inanimate/dissociated can be indications of past abuse.

    Abuse survivors can have trouble `owning' their bodies. They may feel loss of breath or voice. If their physical memories are triggered, such clients may remove all of their conscious awareness from their body. Not feeling able to `own' parts of their body can lead to discernible splits in the use and vitality of their body, e.g. left/right or upper/lower.

    Be aware that a client may verbally agree to a technique while disagreeing with their body language. An example could be saying yes while shaking their head or retreating slightly from your hand. Such incongruence in presentation is a subtle indicator of the incongruence between their conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings. Try to be attentive to subtle changes in breathing, tension level and small movements, that might be early indicators of emotional responses during a session.

    How you should react
    In the event that one of your clients has a strong emotional response to deep tissue work, you may need to forego further work planned for the session. Keep your own centre, stay calm, and remember that your goal is neither to `fix' the problem nor to add your own emotional reaction to the client's process. Instead assume a role of offering the quiet acceptance and support that will enable the client to reach an acceptable level of equilibrium by the end of the session. This may include gentle grounding work around the head, neck, shoulders, or feet and ankles. Remind the client to breathe. Often the most important thing you can do is to quietly convey to the client a sense of connectedness and support.

    Aside: The words people use
    Although many people do refer to storage of memories in the body I tend to avoid referring too literally to this as a mechanism. I prefer to think of memories, not necessarily available via conscious cognitive paths being indexed (hence my phrase `bookmark') or reached by the more primitive and unconscious sensory paths from touch. It's not necessary to understand the mechanism or location of memory storage for the metaphor to useful. I've come to this view, partly from some training I've had in Ericksonion trancework.

    In a similar vein, I try to avoid limiting the bodily causes to habitual tension. The interactions are complex. The original abuse could have been any (or all) of: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect. The abuse or neglect survivor often loses both their voice (in the physical and metaphorical senses) and possession of parts of their body.

    Many times they lose all conscious sensation in parts of their body. The physical outcomes can include tension, disruptions in movement, breathing and speech. However you should not assume that these symptoms are necessarily a direct result of tension. One of the outcomes can be muscular collapse that leads to a lack of normal tonality or tension. On the emotional level, the ability to establish normal boundaries may be lost or never learned. Incongruence between verbal and nonverbal responses (e.g. saying yes and shaking the head no) often indicates the resulting conscious/unconscious split.

Finding a good professional massage

In many jurisdictions, people may advertise as giving massage when do not provide a good massage. Some provide substandard services and others provide sexual services under the guise of massage. Many people post to alt.backrubs seeking advice about how to tell where they can get a skilled massage before they have paid for the services. Three questions are answered here: a) how can I find someone who will give me a massage, or other bodywork treatment, rather than some sexual service; b) how can I tell if they are any good before I pay them; and c) what referral services can I call upon for recommendations?

If you are not sure what to expect from a professional massage you might find some of the information in the archive (question 5.1.2) of interest. The files in the professional category and the and what.price files should be of especial interest. If you'd like to summarize that information for inclusion here, please see questions 0.3 and 4.4.


  1. Either way typical advice is to get a referral from a trusted friend, physician or other health care professional, local massage school, health food store or Chamber of Commerce. Steve Brooks <> suggested (in article <3eco5n$>) that major hotel chains that cater to Japanese tourists should be able to refer you to reputable Japanese style massage therapists. How you're supposed to locate such hotels is left as an exercise to the reader. Some people like to search advertisements in the telephone book and so-called New Age or Holistic Health stores and publications. Other people say this is a terrible way to find a MT. I suppose it depends on where you live and what your local publications are like.

    If all you care about is whether you are going to get a professional massage or sexual services then ask. Be aware however that if they are using massage as a cover for sexual services then they probably won't answer direct questions about whether or not they offer sexual services. Many of the suggestions in this answer come from the finding.a.MT file in the archive. The archive is the topic of question 5.1.2.

    Someone suggested some questions that might help you detect whether the prospective masseur offers such services as `relief massage' (often a codeword for masturbation). You might also ask what professional organizations they belong to as members of the AMTA (American Massage Therapy Association) and ABMP (Association of Bodywork and Massage Professionals) are strictly forbidden from sexual involvement with their clients. Not all professional MTs belong to either of these organizations -- you can read some of the arguments in the archive (see question 5.1.2) if you're really interested. Those arguments appear in the `certification' file. The medical.model and other files in the Professional category may also be of particular interest.

  2. When you're satisfied that you have found an above board MT you should try to find out if they will be suitable for the type of treatment you want. Be clear about what your needs are and tell the MT. Perhaps you want massage for relaxation or you have a specific area that needs attention, for example. A good MT will help you pinpoint what it is you want from the session, often just by talking about it with you.

    If you are at all uncomfortable with the thought of being unclothed, then discuss draping with the MT before the massage begins. Absolutely no professional MT will demand a client remove any clothing that the client is not comfortable removing regardless of what impact this will have on the massage. Are you comfortable with a male (or female) MT, or would you prefer a MT of the other sex?

    Please note however that just because a MT graduated from a professional school they aren't necessarily going to give you a great massage. It has been said many times in alt.backrubs that some MTs have the technical knowledge of what to do but lack the sensitivity to detect what clients really need. Corrina Perrone has written that, in her experience, it almost always takes at least two years of practice after graduation for MTs to a develop a truly professional calibre of massage.

    Once you have a short list of MTs you want to consider, then you should ask questions to determine what services these unknown massagers really provide, and how skilled they are in the type of massage you want (see question 2.1). You could ask about their professional education, e.g. how many hours of training have they had (this varies from about 250 to 2000), which massage school did they attend, what their favourite course was and what types of massage they prefer.

    Corrina Perrone <> recommends:

    If you still have doubts about the qualifications ask direct questions about the types of bodywork they do -- and expect some technical answers [such as those in question 2.2]. Ask them to describe these techniques, and how they use them in a session. You'll get a lot of `it depends' answers, but a good therapist will be able to give you an example, such as, `I warm the muscle tissue up using mostly Swedish massage strokes, and then use deep tissue techniques to work out tightness. If there is limited movement I might use NMT [neuromuscular massage therapy] work on the muscle attachments, and some Trager techniques to integrate the work.' Find out how long they have been in practice.

    If you are screening the therapists by phone, look for qualities that indicate they would be a good person with whom to work:

    Do they listen to what you are saying and respond to it?
    Do they ask questions about your needs?
    Do they impress you as professional?
    Do you feel like you are being listened to, or do you feel like you are getting a lecture in physiology?

    Take some time to consider those questions strategically. You want something from the bodywork, and you are picking the best partner to help you achieve that goal. You should also be clear in your mind about what you want. The MT's answers will tell you something about them and their massage practice.

  3. In the finding.a.MT file mentioned above Brother Bernard Seif <> noted that the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP) offer a free referral service. To use the service call +1(800) 862-7724.

    Please note that the inclusion of information about a commercial organization (the ABMP in this case) does not indicate in any way approval or disapproval of the organization in any way by anyone responsible for this document. The information is included because it is deemed useful to the readers of alt.backrubs and is part of the answer to a frequently asked question. If you have corrections to the telephone number or additions (e.g., the number of another referral service) then please inform the FAQL maintainer.

Advice for a recipient of professional massage

Much information about what you should expect as a massage client is available in the archive file The archive is the subject of question 5.1.2. In addition, Corrina Perrone <> recommends: If you aren't comfortable with the MT touching you the treatment isn't going to help you regardless what techniques they use. Be sure to tell them if something makes you uncomfortable, and feel free to ask questions about anything they do. You should feel respected and honoured, and the session should provide opportunities for you to relax and get back in touch with yourself.

Remember that any MT needs to know if you are seeing another practitioner, in order to make sure the massage won't interfere. Many people don't know for instance that if they are taking drugs, even for chronic illnesses, their dosages will often need to be decreased if they regularly receive bodywork treatments.

What follows is adapted from some advice that MayaWay <> posted the following advice for the Maine Massage Guild:

How To Enhance Your Treatment Experience

How much will it cost? Should I tip? Can I get it cheaper?

There are no definite answers to the first two questions. The answers vary by location and culture. The what.price file in the archive (see question 5.1.2) contains a record of some of the discussion of these points that has taken place in alt.backrubs.

That file also has suggestions for where to seek less expensive professional massage than usual. Some of that advice is presented here, but is not meant to replace a thoughtful reading of that file. Some MTs will accept trades of good and services in place of money. Some are listed in the exchange file (see question 5.1.1). MTs-in-training often need to practice :) -- local massage schools can often put you in contact with the trainees. Question 3.2 is about where to find people to give (and receive) massage.

I've got the following symptoms. What do you advise?

The symptoms could be the result of something serious. A health care professional should be consulted for a diagnosis. This newsgroup is read by many people with great talent, however none of them can diagnose or treat ailments or injuries solely over a network connection. If there is a serious problem then it should be dealt with promptly by a health care professional.

Richard Karasik advises:

If you insist on asking for advice then you'll have to provide some details. For example, have you ever been diagnosed with any osseous deformities, e.g. 6 fingers on one hand, arthritis or any ligamentous tears? Do you exercise regularly? If so, what exercises do you do? When was the first time you noticed the pain, what were you doing in the 24 hours prior to that. Do you have headaches associated with the pain? Describe the pain in detail -- is it sharp, radiating or local?

The description you give may suggest muscle tests you can do yourself to isolate the areas of dysfunction -- the causality you will have to puzzle out further than that -- but even isolating the muscle groups affected and determining how they are affected will help you when you consult (in person) with a health care professional.

Terry Norman advises:

Soft tissue massage may be only one of several types of modalities necessary to bring about a complete rehabilitation of an injury. You can't tell exactly what the appropriate therapy is to pursue without a complete physical exam by a competent physician. It's not always a waste of time and money to consult one before starting on a course of physical rehabilitation.

If you are seeking advice about treatment not diagnosis then you might find useful information in the archive. At the time of this writing (April 1995) there are files about: back pain, fibromyalgia, wrist and hand pain, massaging bruises and knots, neck aches, scoliosis, massage as an adjunct to cancer treatments, headaches and chronic pain. There may be much more by now. Information about the archive is in question 5.1.2.

Other Network Sources of Information

Other Frequent Postings to alt.backrubs

The backrubs exchange

The new backrubs exchange programme is a list of people from around the globe willing to exchange backrubs. The list maintainer has written that the list will be posted on or about the first of every month.

There are two files in the archive (see question 5.1.2) about the backrubs exchange programme: the announcement, exchange.prog, and the most current update, exchange.update.

If you want to be added to the list: please read the announcement before sending mail to Paul Selkirk <>.

The archive also contains information about other exchanges held in Chicago (exchange.chicago) and Seattle (exchange.seattle). There was once another backrubs exchange programme but it disappeared without a trace long ago. Paul Selkirk is the third person to maintain the new list.

The alt.backrubs archive

There is an FTP- and WWW-accessible archive of alt.backrubs postings organized by topic.

Before you post a question to alt.backrubs you are advised to check in the archive to see if it has already been answered. You might be pleasantly surprised by the breadth of topics and depth of detail.

World Wide Web access to the archive is also available from either of the addresses below. Currently the WWW interface consists of hypertext versions of the category index and the file abstracts.


The archive is maintained by J. Blustein <>

Other Network Resources

Please note that this list is almost certainly not complete and none of the materials listed here are maintained by the person responsible for this document. If you have any corrections or possible additions to this list please send mail to the FAQL maintainer.

If you are new to the Usenet then you will probably find question 5.2.4 the most useful.

Related FAQs

List of medical FAQ postings

This file is a list of 'frequently asked questions' (FAQ) and other periodical documents on medicine/health-related topics posted to Usenet newsgroups on the Internet. FAQ-type documents elsewhere (such as on the WWW) are also included. These medical/ health-related FAQs are of value to both patients and health professionals, as they highlight the most common concerns held by sufferers, and help to fill the health information void. Some are genuinely frequently asked questions from Usenet discussions; others represent the efforts of individuals to share information they have collected. Please remember that the information found in these FAQs may not represent general medical opinion, and should not be a substitute for consulting your doctor or other healthcare professional.

Stretching and Flexibility FAQ

This document is a modest attempt to compile a wealth of information in order to answer some frequently asked questions about stretching and flexibility. It is organized into chapters covering the following topics:

  1. Physiology of Stretching
  2. Flexibility
  3. Types of Stretching
  4. How to Stretch

N.B.: The archive's self.mas file has information about stretching.

Typing Injury FAQ

The Typing Injury FAQ is a multipart document targetted at computer users suffering at the hands of their equipment. You'll find pointers to resources all across the net, general information on injuries, and detailed information on numerous adaptive products. The full documents are posted on a number of newsgroups such as as well as available via FTP and WWW servers across the globe.

Related World Wide Web Sites

The w3.sites file in the archive may contain references to some WWW sites not listed here.

Lee Hancock's Health Resource List

Lee Hancock <> has compiled an extensive list of network resources about health.

Massage Therapy

Mark Sincock <> maintains a WWW document about massage. Of particular interest are the full texts of some articles about massage and massage therapy.

Internet Resources on Alternative Medicine

John Makulowich <> has written a short (229 lines) list of references to network resources about alternative medicine.

A basic guide to Aromatherapy

Graham Sorenson created and maintains a basic guide to Aromatherapy and massage oils. It includes a guide to how to use oils and detailed information about some oils. [This entry updated on 17 Sept. 1995.]

Australian Tea Tree Oil

Tyler G. Nally has a large document about the history and uses of Tea Tree Oil as part of a commercial enterprise. This may be of interest to you.

The Reiki Page

This page is intended to be a resource collecting lots of information about Reiki, its practice, benefits (both proven and otherwise), and anything else which people wish to have here. If you have something to offer please contact David Herron <>

Spirit-WWW: spiritual consciousness on the WWW

This document contains information about Reiki and Shiatsu as well as many other related areas. There are currently two sites:
Spirit-WWW, Spiritual Consciousness on WWW (Australia)
Spirit-WWW, Spiritual Consciousness on WWW (Europe)

AMR'TA sites about natural medicine

Natural Medicine, Complementary Health Care and Alternative Therapies
IBIS: the Interactive BodyMind Information System

Presented by AMR'TA,
the Alchemical Medicine Research and Teaching Association

Dr. Bower's Complementary Medicine Home Page

This page is intended to cataloge and assist in the research being carried out worldwide in Alternative and Complementary Medicine. No endorsment is implied by the presence of any particular topic or practitioner linked from this list. Likewise, any material you may wish to contribute or URL of interest that you don't already find here, please email the information too : Peter J. Bower, M.D. <>

Aesclepian Chronicles

`The Chronicles are an electronic journal published using the WWW. Here is an expert from the journal as it appeared on 30 April 1995: The editorial policy of Aesclepian Chronicles is to publish informative and inspirational articles about the many new complementary and allopathic treatment modalities that are emerging. These modalities may be approached from both a personal and a clinical perspective. The editorial goal of Aesclepian Chronicles is to critically evaluate the role, usefulness and applicability of complementary alternatives within the mainstream of medicine. We are interested in both the clinical and philosophical implications of the interaction of complementary and allopathic medicine. Equally of interest are the structural and economic issues as they relate to the attempts to reform the national [U.S.A.'s] health system.' (Quoted from the editorial policy)

The Chiropractic Page

This page has been created primarily as a pointer to health related subjects with a focus on information for chiropractors, students, other health care practitioners and interested laypersons. As with most sites The Chiropractic Page is continually under construction. The Page is organized into sites and documents related specifically to chiropractic and, further, into sites of general interest to the health care practitioner.