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  • Karen Stoner, LMT

Aren’t all massages the same? The benefits of massage specialization.

We all know that there are many benefits of massage and it can do different things for different people. Not everyone comes for massage for the same reasons, and not everyone needs the same type of massage. This is where massage specialization comes in. Any massage therapist who is legally licensed is usually trained in several different massage techniques, also known as modalities. Being able to work on a variety of people and conditions is expected and necessary in the massage field. However sometimes there are modalities that certain therapists take extra time and training to really perfect and study well beyond the basic training they get in massage school en route to getting their license. Some areas where you may see specialization are specific modalities such as sports massage, prenatal massage, energy work, etc. You may also see therapists that specialize in working with certain populations such as elderly or geriatric clients, people with cancer, or people who have just had surgery.

But if all therapists are basically trained in all modalities, why do you need a specialist? Well, consider this scenario:

It is a special occasion, a friend is taking you out, and all you want is a good steak dinner. Where do you go? You could go to a fast food place where their “steak” is just a rebranded hamburger patty - the same thing that gets served to everyone. You could go to a happy-hour restaurant that has steak on their menu, but it is one thing on a huge menu of other stuff and the only options for the generic piece of meat are “pink or not pink”. Or you could go to a steak house where the chef can recommend not only the best cut of steak that you are looking for, but also knows the proper way to cook that steak so that it is prepared correctly, is tasty, has the side dishes and beverages that best accompany that cut and preparation of meat, and gives you the best experience of getting a nice steak dinner. Where would you want to go?

So if you have a special condition, you may want to seek out someone who specializes in massage for that condition to make sure that you are getting the best and safest results. The best way to find out if a therapist is a specialist is to research them. If someone has put in the extra training, they will not be shy about advertising it on their web page, in their social media posts, and more. This extra training and specialization is expensive and time consuming so specialists want to make sure the people they specialize in can find them. You can also ask the therapist how much training they have in the specific area you are looking for. If a therapist says "Oh, I know that" or "I do a lot of that", this response isn't quite what you are looking for. Specialists will likely be able to give you a number of hours or a list of multiple certifications surrounding that specialization so you know they have the extra training.

Unfortunately, many massage schools lead new therapists astray on this. Many schools give new therapists a certificate every time they learn a new modality, so the therapist eagerly believes they are masters of each modality they learn. I was in the same boat when I finished massage school. I left with 12+ pretty certificates saying I was “certified” in multiple modalities. It wasn’t until I got into the 'real world' that I realized just how basic the education in each of those modalities was. Today, I can confidently say I specialize in prenatal and infant massage. I hold over 100 hours of training in prenatal techniques, infant techniques, fertility, postpartum, aromatherapy for infants and mothers, pediatric techniques, and more that support those modalities and those unique populations. (But on that note, I am also one of the therapists who, although they have a specialty, also works on everyone whether they need my specialization or not.)

So don’t be afraid to look for a specialist if you have a condition that needs specific work. I always say that if you have a therapist that you trust and you have a good line of communication with, there is nothing wrong with sticking with them. However if you feel like something could be a little more focused or something seems a little more pressing than what your regular therapist can do, it never hurts to look around and see what someone else can do. You don’t have to “give up” on your regular therapist - likely your condition is temporary and you can go back to your regular therapist when the condition is resolved.

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