What is Remedial Massage?


By Eddie Caldwell, FNAMMT

Massage comes under a variety guises. For example, a group of students at the Northern Institute of Massage were set a task a few months ago: research the local media and find out how many varieties of massage were available within a twenty mile radius of the Institute. They came up with twenty four including: Remedial, Sports, Medical, Deep Tissue, Christian, Esoteric (!), Tu’ina and Ayurvedic massage.

Little wonder that members of the public get confused. The Northern Institute teaches Remedial Massage. That is, we examine patients and discuss the results and the possible treatments we offer with the patient. Mostly we deal with musculo-skeletal (and often neurological) problems, for example, back pain, shoulder injuries, knee conditions. If we find anything of a possible serious medical condition we refer the patient to their GP or, on occasions, to A&E for urgent medical attention.

The Northern Institute, from its inception in 1924 until the early 1980s, taught generations of students the art and science of Swedish Massage which traced itself back to Ling a couple of centuries previously. Swedish Massage, along with Swedish Drill enjoyed world-wide popularity until comparatively recent times but things were changing.

Why Remedial Massage? The use of ‘Remedial’ goes back some forty-odd years. Ken Woodward (NIM Principal for nearly fifty years up to 1995) explained to me personally one of the reasons for the change was to distance our profession from the emerging pornographic industry which, in the 1970s, was becoming associated with Scandinavia – Sweden and Denmark in particular. After much debate and consideration, “Swedish Massage” disappeared from the curriculum and was updated and modified to “Remedial Massage.”

The main effects of massage (Lowe 2003) are, in summary;

Fluid Mechanics – massage enhances the circulation of fluids.
Neuromuscular Effects -helps diminish spasm and helps reduce pain.
Connective Tissue Effects – beneficial effects on tendons, ligaments and the fascia.
Reflex Effects – helps improve the immune system, reduce stress hormone
levels and reduce blood pressure levels. Massage can influence viscero-somatic reflexes and reduce excessive input to the central nervous system
Psychological Effects -the interaction between the patient and the therapist is paramount. This helps reduce stress, anxiety and depression which becomes an important part of the therapeutic procedure.

“Orthopaedic Massage”
(The Physiological and Psychological Effects of Massage)
Lowe (2003) Mosby

There we go: another kind of massage! What do all these divisions of massage do? Are they all so different? Sports Massage is the application of massage techniques to the individual needs of sport people, to their conditions and injuries. A competent Remedial Massage is, on occasions, a sports masseur. I was just that for many years in my practice. In her excellent article in “Massage Today” (May 2017) Laura Allen suggests strongly that all of the 350 types of massage and bodywork trace themselves back to Professor Ling and his development of Swedish Massage.

One of my most influential mentors was the late Stanley Duncombe of Coventry and founder of the Tiny Tim Children’s Centre. Stan was widely travelled and had sought out local or native practitioners in many countries from Alaska and Canada to the Far East and Australasia. He concluded that in the field of massage, as practised in those countries, practitioners were doing very similar movements and techniques whatever they were called locally.

There has been a trend in recent years for some successful massage therapists to modify and personalise their massage techniques and the application of these techniques. The techniques are then adopted by others and eventually we have a “new” massage which may or may not become popular due to word of mouth or business-type promotion. If the “new” massage is successful it becomes the latest fashion; if not, it disappears. Older Northern Institute practitioners will remember Dr Myk Hungerford who travelled extensively in North America during the last quarter of the 20th Century and paid several visits to the UK promoting “Sports Massage”. She did so with great enthusiasm and demonstrated pre-, intra- and post event massage. Her style of massage used all the techniques that were already employed by Remedial Therapists but with different emphases and nuances and she very actively promoted herself and her massage from her base in California.

Remedial Massage is effective and benefits many, many people every day. Along with most other types of massage it is equally effective. Do not have any feelings of inferiority or inadequacy when reading about or discussing the “latest” style of massage. Your treatments will get good results!