"What do you have a blood pressure thing for?" A friend asked me Saturday night when he walked into the living room and saw my blood pressure cuff sitting on the Hope chest my Grandpa made for me.
"I have to take my client's blood pressure." I explained. He paused and thought about it.
"You know how to do that?" I was a bit baffled, but then stopped to think about where he was coming from. Up until I moved down here he had not really been exposed to massage therapy and I had to remember that a lot of people's opinion of the therapy is still a bit outdated.
In Ontario, the powers that be, like the College of Massage Therapists of Ontario and various other organisations have been working hard to solidify massage therapy's validity as a scientific and therapeutic practice. In the eighties the word "Masseuse" was replaced with "massage therapist" in an attempt to differentiate massage therapy from massage parlors. Licensing and regulatory boards have also been implemented in order to change the reputation of massage therapy. The curriculum for massage colleges in five out of the ten provinces of Canada was also readjusted in order to address more science related material. It was hoped that by making these changes to the education that perspective massage therapists and the massage therapy industry as a whole, would gain more respect and some over due acceptance as a viable form of therapy.
The program I attended was a 2200 hour program that ran over a course of 18 months. We were bombarded with Regional Anatomy, Anatomy and Physiology, Neurology, Pathology and other such courses all of the way through. In Regional Anatomy we learned everything from what kind of joints our body has, how they move and how they are constructed to the itty-bitty parts that are on a spinal vertebrae. In the second Regional Anatomy course we took we spent half a semester learning the venous system, including what vessels run into what and who they supply. Anatomy and Physiology taught us about each vital organ system of the body, its parts and functions and many other things. We even learned the layers of the eyeball and ear. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be massaging someone's retina, but I can tell you where it is, what it does and all of its neighbours' positions and functions. Neurology was incredibly in-depth as well and Pathology was my favourite course, but probably one of the hardest ones because of all of the information available. In one Pathology lecture we covered the structure of skin cells, five different kinds of skin cancers and their manifestations. Plus, close to twenty different types of skin conditions ranging from common Acne to weird conditions that could or could not be contagious via touch.
Basically, the Anatomy classes we were taught are the equivalent of pre-med. At one point I could tell you the name of almost every muscle in the body, its action, whether it was a helper/mover/stabilizer (with more sciencey names of course), what direction the fibers ran, its attachment points and which muscles worked with or against it. During clinic nights, which was once a week, a supervisor-already licensed massage therapist-would come into your cubicle where you were working on a client and ask you questions. You were graded on your knowledge of the Anatomy of the condition you were working on, your technique and other relevant information the supervisor could glean in a five minute visit. Even with all of the question asking, you were expected to keep massaging your client and ensure your client care was still good. It was an incredibly intensive program, but I'm glad I was educated at that particular college because I know I am well equipped for the real world of massage.
If you walked into a cubicle a common sight would be pens, lotion bottle/holster, clipboards, extra pillows, heating packs, towels and yes a blood pressure cuff and thermometer. Before every new client we were required to take their blood pressure. We were taught what a high blood pressure was and were expected to report it to the supervisor if it was over 130/90. There were times when I had clients whose blood pressure was so high, I had to refuse treatment. I had to suggest that they go to see their physician and have their blood pressure checked and that they could only come back with a note from their doctor when it had been regulated. There was another time I had to tell a client to go see his/her physician because he/she had been experiencing migraine-like pain for a month and a half and nothing was helping-including some very heavy pain killers. I had to refuse to massage someone because they had just taken a high dose of pain killers right before treatment. A classmate had a client walk in four hours after receiving a suspected concussion from a hockey accident. She had to refer him to the emergency room because he was in such bad shape. I also had a client whose Diabetes was so bad he/she could not feel me touching his/her toes or fingers. All of these cases required decisions on my part that I would not have known how to deal with without the extremely detailed education I received. I knew that massage therapy was science based, but I really had no idea until I went through the program. There are different considerations for each client and particular do's and don'ts based on specific conditions. Even within the same condition or situation, techniques have to change in order to benefit the client. For example, I would not massage a woman who is nine weeks pregnant the same way I would someone who was 29 weeks along. The physiological changes in the body require specific attention and again, without the science background I now have, I would not be prepared to make those decisions or understand why I made those decisions.
So, just for future reference, most massage therapists are quite knowledgeable in the sciences, depending on what program they have gone through of course, and NEVER call a massage therapist a Masseuse. :)