Expectations, Misconceptions, and My Journey With Massage Therapy

Let’s talk about the power of expectations.

Specifically my experience with people’s expectations of my massage therapy and the ways those expectations can be altered and managed. Firstly, my own expectations used to be that I could fix anyone that walked through my door and they’d think I’m a godsend.

However, I was swiftly humbled when I realized that people were leaving my office still experiencing pain.

With that lesson learned, I changed my entire approach to treatments.

I started to learn that pain is MUCH more complicated than I had been led to believe and any treatment protocol that doesn’t take this into consideration is ultimately shortsighted. I also had to understand what exactly my patients expect from me and realizing that I could not make everyone happy.

The Expectation to be “Fixed” Forever

In my experience, people expect you to fix them by “releasing” or stretching or pounding on something to make the pain go away. I understand that most people expect to leave with no pain and be “fixed” forever; when in reality it’s much more complicated than that. There’s little evidence to support that massage has any long lasting physical changes to anatomy or biomechanics. Most subjective improvements simply come from the very belief that you can move without pain. This is why the power of expectations are so important as well as the patient’s need for developing self-efficacy and lack of fear avoidance surrounding movement patterns and exercise.

This all lead to me recently adopting a biopsychosocial approach to treating pain (fancy way of saying that pain is dependent on many factors and isn’t necessarily directly related to a physical/mechanical dysfunction). I want to understand your expectations for coming to see me and from there we can make the best choice for treatment and manage your expectations accordingly. It is my job to work with you to teach you what is possible through massage therapy using my own expectations of what I can accomplish through treatment.

Look at the Days In-Between Massage:

One of my favorite things to preach has always been that you’re not getting a massage everyday, so what are you doing for the days in between? Did you make any changes? Did the manual practitioner show you exercises? Are you doing them? Or are you not doing them because you think that person read your mind and fixed everything and you’re good forever and don’t need to change?

That being said, while you just need to find something that works for you (ie. personal training, chiropractic, psychotherapy, physiotherapy, stretching, shoving a lacrosse ball into every nook and cranny) you also need to understand that no one will/should care more about your body than you do.

If you expect something to be painful EVERY TIME you move an inch then it’s most likely going to stay painful. If you start thinking that your body isn’t fragile and you’re not broken and you may start to believe it and you may have less pain in the process. Hopefully that turns into an endless circle of more pain-free movement resulting in more confidence with movement.

Change Your Expectations:

So, how can you manage this? You could try changing your expectation of what is happening to you when you’re getting a massage by asking questions and trying your best to analyze what the therapist is saying to you. Another way is the power of expecting that what the massage therapist (or whatever manual therapist of your choice) is actually going to have an effect while also understanding that it may take more than one treatment.

In my opinion, we have become too comfortable with instant gratification. So I ask you, please don’t expect that the pain that you have been feeling for 10 years will be fixed in 60 minutes, but certainly hope for it.

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