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February: Emotional Health

Massage Therapy

Aches. Pains. Stiff muscles. At the end of any given week – whether you’ve spent them doing physical labour or stationed behind a desk – your bodies have endured a lot. Massage therapy is a hands-on method of reducing the discomfort caused by occupational stresses, over-exercised muscles and chronic pain by manipulating soft tissue: muscles, tendons, ligaments, connective tissue and joints.

Benefits of Massage Therapy

A therapeutic massage can improve quality of life by enhancing both your physical condition and your emotional well-being. It works to treat the ill, the injured and the stressed, but also acts as a preventative measure against all three maladies.

A massage can:

  • Reduce or eliminate pain and tension
  • Improve your circulation and joint mobility
  • Combat anxiety and depression
  • Provide a boost to your immune system

Different massage methods are used to treat different conditions, such as sports injuries, pregnancy, headaches and gastrointestinal disorders. See the entry on popular types of massage to read about the many kinds of massage available, from relaxation to deep tissue.

What happens during a massage?

Before your massage, expect a brief discussion about your lifestyle, general health and any specific symptoms you hope to have addressed by the session. On your first visit, you might want to arrive 10 minutes early to fill out any necessary paperwork.

Your massage therapist will leave the room while you undress (leaving your underwear on is okay) and lie face down on the massage table, with a sheet covering you. If you’re bashful, don’t worry – during the massage, only the part of your body being massaged will be uncovered at any time.

When the therapist returns, they’ll adjust the table, face rest and room temperature to make you more comfortable. A light oil or lotion can be applied, and the massage will begin. Usually the back is massaged first, then the legs. Then you’ll turn over and the massage will continue with your arms, legs, neck and abdomen.

After the massage, the massage therapist will leave and you can dress.

Most people feel calm and relaxed after a treatment. Occasionally, people experience mild dizziness upon standing or temporary aching for the rest of the day. Drinking 6-8 glasses of water will help the body flush out any materials and toxins released during the massage and reduce soreness. See Stay Hydrated, Stay Healthy (PDF) for more information.

It’s also a good idea to avoid heavy meals before your appointment.

Is massage therapy right for you?

Massage therapy is for everyone. A massage is a great way to unwind, even if you aren’t suffering an injury or a chronic condition. Infants, children and the elderly can see benefits from having their soft tissue massaged.

Of course, there are always exceptions. Massage therapy generally isn’t recommended if:

  • You’re recovering from surgery
  • You’re fresh from a chemotherapy or radiation session
  • You have open wounds, rashes or an infectious skin disease
  • You’re prone to blood clots

If you have heart disease or are pregnant, consult with your doctor before seeking a massage. It’s not advisable to massage areas where you have bruising, inflamed skin, unhealed wounds, tumours, recent fractures or abdominal hernia.

See Emotion, Psychology and Massage (PDF) for more information.

Booking Your Appointment

It’s tempting to book your massage at a place convenient to your home or work. Before you do that, you should consider that there are many different types of massage, and not all locations offering massage are equally qualified to treat you.

To avoid disappointment, and to ensure that your massage is covered by ASEBP, call ahead and ask the massage therapist if they're a member in good standing with the Massage Therapist Association of Alberta (MTAA). Membership is a seal of approval from the MTAA that a therapist has met the following requirements:

  • Diploma or certificate from a recognized training program
  • Successful completion of the MTAA admissions exam
  • Valid First Aid/CPR certificate
  • They have disclosed any criminal convictions

When you know that a therapist provides a quality, MTAA-approved service, you’ll want to determine if they can address your specific needs. Massage therapists may provide a broad service, addressing a variety of conditions, or they may specialize in treating certain conditions (cancer, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s) or a certain group (pregnant women, athletes, children) with massage therapy.

If you have questions or concerns about your visit, asking over the phone is the surest way to find out, before you go.

ASEBP Guidelines for Massage Therapy

Good news! ASEBP’s Extended Health Care is designed to complement the Alberta Health Care insurance plan, and provides some coverage for massage therapy:

  • Maximum of $50 per treatment
  • Maximum of $400 per person per calendar year
  • Maximum of one treatment per day per person

No doctor referral is required for reimbursement but services must be provided by a massage therapist who is registered with the Massage Therapist Association of Alberta. Services provided by students of massage therapy are not covered.

More detailed information is available in our Extended Health Care Benefit Guide.

Sources: Alternative Medicine

Massage Therapist Association of Alberta

Massage Therapy Canada

The Registered Massage Therapists’ Association of Ontario

University of Illinois, Department of Educational Psychology