The Skeptic’s Massage: Thoughts on a Near-Decade of Therapy

I have a lot of faith and confidence in my massage therapist. I’ve been going to her on and off for the past eight or so years now. Which says a lot already.

Much of that confidence stems from the (obviously) great work she’s done on me. She has in all sincerity been a miracle worker in a few key instances.

Example: About five years ago I attempted to learn street skateboarding. Nothing fancy, just wanting to master some cruising balance and some decent ollies (jumps) on and off of sidewalk curbs. An alternate form of transportation as much as a pleasure. Unfortunately, after only a couple weeks of practice, I ended up landing on my tailbone and doing something to my upper back, possibly compressing some vertebrae. Either way I spent the next month having difficulty sleeping. I would wake in the middle of the night with the same pain and trouble breathing I experienced when I first fell.

A few sessions with my chiropractor wasn’t helpful. My massage therapist, however, had me all but fixed after just two sessions over two weeks. Having never attended a proper doctor for the skateboarding incident I can’t say what the science was. But if a deep tissue massage helped where a spinal adjustment didn’t, that tells me it could have been an upheaval of muscle tension rather than compressed bones.

Either way, it’s not science that I was grateful for – it was my massage therapist. And her work on the fruits of my skateboarding naiveté did a lot to cement my faith in her and her skills as a practitioner.

Second key example: Have you ever strained your neck while doing pushups? I have/did, a few years ago. A home DVD workout routine had me struggling to keep up one night, and instead of pausing and rewinding the thing so I could get some water and breath, I decided to drop right into the cued pushups. Rushing to drop down into position and push back up, I felt my upper spine just below the neck do a little tapdance. A tiny, swift series of tugs, pulls and pops along the edges. The adrenaline of the workout carried me through the rest with little pain. By the next morning, I could barely move my upper body. Most any movement, especially rising or falling from sitting or laying, was excruciating. This persisted for a few days with no sign of easing up.

Luckly (very luckily) I was able to nab a cancelled spot with my therapist just a coupled days after the pushup incident. We joked about it at least not being skateboard-related this time, and she set to work. An hour later I felt remarkably better. Unfortunately, the results did not last – halfway into my public transportation ride home the pain was almost entirely back.

Luckily (again, very luckily), if only due to my already long and positive history with my therapist, she was able to help again almost immediately. A second session just two days later saw me sitting on the edge of the massage table with my therapist’s elbow deep in my back – we had to go advanced to solve this one, as she predicted. I was borderline nauseous from (this time necessary) pain as I stepped out into a dry, breezy but sunny Saturday. I don’t remember much after that. But I don’t remember pain. That is, after just two (albeit difficult) sessions, I was all but fixed. Again.

And my confidence in my massage therapist was cemented harder than the thumbs she skillfully assaults me with.

This is not to say that she’s perfect. Neither has her work been. By no means should it be – nobody is. But it’s worth noting, given my skeptical nature. I’m not sure what makes me a skeptic – fear, cynicism, a general predilection towards doubt, who knows. It’s not that I question everything. But by in large once a seed of doubt is planted in me, it’s hard to shake it. Sometimes it grows to an undeniable weed; other times it remains a mere sprout, a little green voice in the background. It chimes in now and again during my massages, questioning the work at hand, wondering with snide attitude if this isn’t all just a ruse. A placebo with warm hands and some oil.

Ultimately I don’t listen. I wouldn’t have kept coming back for the past near-decade if I honestly doubted the validity of it all. Chiropractic I do doubt now – I went semi-regularly for a few years (just before finding my massage therapist), but now I go once a year at best, if I’m desperate.

But I don’t doubt my massage therapist. We may have had a less successful session just a couple weeks ago for a nagging low-back/hamstring problem, but it shook me not. In fact I saw her again today, and there was/is vast improvement. It’s not perfect – her work isn’t, and my back isn’t. Nothing is. But that’s to be expected, especially as I age. There will always be more work to do – no doubt about it.

© AndrewHallWrites 2016

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