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What is remedial massage? Here's everything you've ever wanted to know.

There’s nothing better than having your creaky muscles eased with a great massage, is there?

Only problem is: there are so many different types of massages to choose from. Swedish, hot stone, reflexology, lymphatic drainage… how are you meant to choose the right massage for your needs?

One of the most useful styles of massage available is remedial massage.

Remedial massage, otherwise known as medical massage or sports massage, is somewhat misunderstood, but performed by a qualified remedial massage therapist, it can help with a whole host of injuries and ailments.

From relieving chronic pain and releasing tension to increasing mobility and flushing your muscles, the list of remedial massage benefits is a long one.

For more information, we asked two experts to explain: what is remedial massage, who remedial massage can help, remedial massage health fund rebates and how to find a good remedial massage therapist.

Before we get into all things remedial massage, check out PT Sam Wood’s banger office workout tips to improve your posture at work. Post continues after video.

Video by MMC

What is remedial massage?

The short version?

“Remedial massage is used to aid treatment of medical conditions, for someone with an identifiable medical problem,” South Australian Sports Medicine Centre physiotherapist Dr Andrew Clarkson told Mamamia.

Different to other forms of relaxation massage, remedial massage is performed by a trained remedial massage therapist and can be classified as a therapeutic, or healing, massage.

“Remedial massage is used for the prevention and management of injuries, including soft tissue injuries, and can be performed in guidance with other health professionals as a part of a patient’s treatment plan,” John Stamoulos, founder of Somatic Massage Therapy Services and SPORTSMED SA’s Senior Remedial and Sports Massage Therapist of 25 years, told Mamamia.

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“Foremost, it’s a therapeutic massage, but there can be a relaxation element to it, too.”

Remedial massage benefits:

When people think of remedial massage, many think of AFL players having their legs rubbed down on the side of the field.

Yes, remedial massage is widely used in the treatment and prevention of sports injuries, but there are so many other benefits to this form of massage.

According to Stamoulos and Dr Clarkson, remedial massage benefits include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Decreasing pain and alleviating chronic pain conditions.
  • Prevention and management of sports and soft tissue injuries.
  • Releasing tension and tightness in the muscles.
  • Increase blood flow and oxygen to treatment area.
  • Faster recovery time for athletes or people who train rigorously.
  • Flushing chemicals out the body that cause muscles to tighten.
  • Breaking down and healing of scar tissue post-surgical operation.
  • Assisting the flow or draining of lymph fluid in patients with cancer and/or lymphedema, which can decrease swelling in the treatment area.
  • Can improve problems such as headaches, abdominal pain, low back pain and sciatic pain.
  • Can be used in treatment for muscle cramps, whiplash, muscular atrophy, fibrositis, spondylitis, and arthritis.

Mia Freedman spoke to Aussie comedian Wil Anderson about the reality of living with chronic pain in an episode of No Filter, post continues after audio.

Difference between remedial massage and other types of massages.

It’s easy to confuse remedial massage with the types of massages offered at spas, beauticians or wellness clinics, which are primarily used for relaxation.

The biggest difference between remedial massage and other styles of massage is the training needed to become qualified and certified.

“It’s the training. Remedial massage isn’t a weekend course, it’s a detailed, lengthy training process – that’s why remedial massage is sets itself apart from other forms of massage. Massage therapists are well respected and well regarded in the medical industry,” Dr Clarkson said.

Stamoulos added, “In remedial therapy training, you learn a lot of physiology and pathology. Our knowledge of anatomy needs to be more advanced, as well as pathology and clinical experience”.

“It’s different to someone who goes into a beauty salon for a massage because they want to relax – relaxation is essentially pampering, there’s nothing wrong with that and some people only need that, but with remedial, there’s more of a physical/medical benefit.”

Stamoulos also said remedial massage isn’t always very fun, and patients will often have a recovery period.

“Depending on the type of session, there could be pain or discomfort up until 24 hours or 72 hours afterwards. People feel like they’ve done a workout because the treatment is deep in the tissue.”

We should also note – there’s nothing sexual about remedial massage. If a ‘rub and tug’ is what you’re after, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Who is remedial massage good for?

Put simply: anyone with a medical condition that could benefit from elements of massage.

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Remedial massage is widely used in sports medicine and professional or high-level athletes will use it as a part of their preparation and recovery efforts. That said, Stamoulos explained the majority of people who come to see him do so more stress or tension-based pain.

“A lot of my patients come in because they’ve got upper back, neck and shoulders – stress is one of the biggest reasons people get remedial.”

“The bottom line is stress, stress manifesting in the body. Your body will tighten up, and lifestyle factors like pore posture, sitting at an office desk, that’s what keeps us busy.”

Other examples of patients who would benefit from remedial massage include:

  • Patients with back spasms and disc problems.
  • Cancer patients who have lymphedema as a result of their cancer treatment.
  • People with chronic pain.
  • Post-surgery for patients who’ve had arthroscopies or a joint replacement to manage the healing of soft tissue and scarring.

Remedial massage techniques:

Remedial massage therapists use a variety of techniques to manipulate the muscles and soft tissue – it’s a bit more advanced than karate chopping someone’s neck.

Stamoulos said some of the most common remedial massage techniques are:

Trigger point therapy. 

Trigger point therapy is used to treat high stress areas with taught muscle fibres in the body. A lot of people have these in their back, neck and shoulders, and in the buttocks, glutes and calves.

Trigger point therapy can be painful, and involves a therapist applying pressure to a trigger point for six to 12 seconds before stretching.

Petrissage movements.

Remedial massage therapists use deep petrissage movements for deep manipulation of the soft tissue. Petrissage movements are similar to a kneading movement using the thumb and palm of the hand.

Other common techniques include: soft tissue and deep tissue massage, Swedish massage techniques, gentle joint mobilisation and assisted muscle stretching.

person-getting-a-massage
Remedial massage techniques aren't always relaxing, but they get the job done. Image: Getty.
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Remedial massage and health fund rebates:

Both Dr Clarkson and Stamoulos said remedial massage patients can come through referrals from other health professionals - doctors, physiotherapists, podiatrists, psychologists, orthopaedic surgeons - but you don't need a referral to book a remedial massage appointment.

Medicare doesn't cover the cost of massage therapy, the Department of Health's Health Direct website reports.

However, if you have private health insurance, you may receive up to a 30 per cent rebate on some treatments such as physiotherapy and massage therapy. Ask your health fund what is included in your 'Extras' cover.

Thanks to an increase in the number of alternative 'pop up' massage clinics, the government is reviewing and cutting back on what types of massage therapies can be covered through private health insurance.

The bottom line: check with your health fund if they cover remedial massage. Alternatively, patients can pay out of pocket.

What to look for in a remedial massage therapist.

Again, both experts listed training as the number one thing to look for in a remedial massage therapist.

"Be wary of pop-up massage clinics offering remedial massage, it's something to be aware of," Stamoulos said.

"You want them to have a diploma in remedial massage, and you want to make sure they're registered with an accredited association like the Australian Association of Massage Therapists so you know they are properly trained."

Another great tip: always ask how long the remedial massage therapists studies were.

"Length of study is really important... a 10-day training isn't enough. Less than one year also isn't enough, look for someone who's done at least one year full-time, this will have involved practical experience."

"Remedial massage therapists that work in multi-disciplinary health clinics are a good place to start, too."

Word of mouth is another great way to find a reputable remedial massage therapist. Ask friends, family, colleagues or your health professional (GP, physiotherapist, chiropractor) for who they know is good in your area.

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