Keep it Simple

Currently, we are witnessing a lot of very stormy discussions in the massage therapy community about whom among practitioners should be allowed to call themselves medical massage therapists. How many hours of training should be required and is national certification necessary? Many colleagues are calling for at a minimum, a college degree, in order to be a massage therapist and/or the inclusion of hundreds of hours of anatomy and physiology training.

In my opinion, we should keep it simple. I graduated from two professional schools, and like any academician, was overloaded with anatomy, physiology and pathology studies. Being in practice for more than thirty years, I would argue that pure memorization of gross anatomy and physiology (including dissection sessions in an anatomical theatre) that takes place in college and graduate school, is hardly useful in daily practice.

In search of evidence to support my argument, I once asked a well known cardiologist with more than thirty years of clinical experience, to answer descriptive anatomy questions on the names of bones, ligaments, and the muscles of the foot. Not having the answer to my questions he said, “Boris, what do you want? The last time I was involved in this kind of anatomy was when I took the National Board Exam, but in my daily practice, I am dealing with pathologies of the heart.”

Similarly, I asked orthopedic surgeons with many years of experience to name the anatomical composition and electrophysiology of the heart. In most cases, they also had difficulty in completing this task. Again, this is because in daily practice, they do not need this kind of knowledge.

Two of the most difficult pathologies of the support and movement system are sciatic nerve neuralgia and thoracic outlet syndrome. In many cases, these pathologies are treated by performing surgery. However, very often, they are the result of muscular syndromes. For example, thoracic outlet syndrome is the result of over-tensed anterior scalene muscles that compress the brachial plexus as well as the subclavian artery and vein. This evokes a difficult neurological phenomenon, for instance, radiating pain to the upper extremities, and obstructed vessels, which add to the pain, color change, etc. The anterior scalene muscles originate from the transverse processes of C3-C6 and insert into the first rib. The space between the anterior and middle scalene is called the outlet.

As you can see, it takes very little to teach the anatomy and pathology of a condition, such as the one we just covered. It doesn’t take 100 classroom hours to learn. What is important in continuing education training, and the Medical Massage instructional DVDs emphasize this point, is explaining how to perform medical massage protocol safely and in proper sequence. This includes connective tissue massage, muscular mobilization (myofascial alliance release), and trigger point therapy. If the aforementioned protocols are carefully performed, it is possible to achieve rapid and sustained results in pathologies, such as sciatica neuralgia, thoracic outlet syndrome, and many others.

Today, the massage therapy industry is booming. The general public spends $5 billion annually on massage therapy. Many recent surveys indicate that massage therapy is one of the most effective methods in the treatment of back disorders, stress management, etc. Interestingly, all these survey results have been obtained while monitoring massage therapists, who do not have a college degree in massage therapy. They received their training in massage therapy schools.

Make no mistake, I do support profound education in massage therapy, but feel this education must be much more practical than the one offered in college. Massage therapists, who graduate, must have hands-on skills to deliver results, such as, less pain, more range of motion, and less stress related phenomena like anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure. They have to understand the structure, rather than mechanically memorize anatomical names and terms.

It is most important to understand what every second of touch is causing. My grandfather was an MD, Ph.D., and massage therapist. In the Eastern European countries, it was a common practice to find medical doctors with training in medical massage. They incorporated hands-on treatment with other conventional medical treatments. More than once my grandfather said to me, “Boris, look at the simplicity and beauty of these methods. When it comes to delivering results, I have to let my hands make a difference.”

It is because of the simplicity of these therapeutic methods and their significant therapeutic power, that I passionately love massage therapy. When I teach workshops, or while instructing on these medical massage DVD series, I keep it simple and teach the material in a practical way that incorporates my more than 3 decades of clinical, academic and research experience. I hope that as practitioners you will find my instructional material to be a good source of education in the medical massage therapy field.

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