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In a nutshell:
A typical massage therapy session consists of
- Intake & Health History update (new patients & new complaint)
- Follow-up on progress (ongoing patients)
- Treatment Plan
- Treatment (the hands-on massage)
- Take-home self-care.
Massage therapy is a regulated health profession in the province of Ontario. As such, Registered Massage Therapists (RMT) must follow a strict standards of practice set by the College of Massage Therapists of Ontario (CMTO). So, what happens during a massage therapy session?
The truth is, an effective massage therapy treatment relies on the Assessment done by the RMT--and of course their experience, skills, and knowledge--which basically the RMT trying to pinpoint or narrow what likely is the cause of your pain/discomfort/dysfunction, and rule out things that likely doesn't cause it. How? By doing various observation and tests to determine the condition of your muscles, joints, function, and general well-being. This brings us to the importance of Intake and Health History.
Initial Intake and Health History
If you are a new patient, the RMT must obtain an up-to-date health history and personal information before the start of the session, and before the you can be considered a patient. Then is Intake interview & Health History discussion, which is where you describe your complaints, your concerns, and your goals from the treatment. Whenever you have any update to your health, please tell the RMT, as modification or adjustment may be needed to tailor the safest treatment for you.
Once you have agreed on a treatment plan proposed, subsequent sessions will begin with a short reassessment to see whether your symptoms has improved--which will take a much shorter time than the initial intake.
The RMT then will ask your permission to do the Assessment (see above). You are free to stop the assessment at anytime if you feel uncomfortable. The goal of this stage is to find or narrow down what is likely causing your complaints. The RMT may do orthopedic tests with the aim to illicit the symptom you have been feeling.
After a likely cause of your complaint is found, you together with the RMT will formulate the Treatment Plan (game plan!) for that session, and whether follow-up sessions are necessary. The RMT must get your consent to work on any part of your body, whether directly on skin/over clothing, explain how the work will be done, what you will likely feel afterwards, all the while respecting your concerns and privacy throughout. You should not feel forced to say "OK" anytime, and you can withdraw your consent anytime.
Why do I have to go through this? Isn't it a waste of the time? Why can't I just get on the table?
These first stages are important to ensure massage therapy is safe for you, and whether it can help to treat your symptoms. Without figuring out (or at least narrow) what causes your pain, your treatment can't be focused, and is less likely you will see the result you want.
How long will it take? Depending on the complexities of your symptoms and the discussion, Initial Intake and Assessment can range from 15-20 minutes on average. I have had only very few patients where the initial intake and assessment took almost 30 minutes, because their symptoms and health condition were advanced. So, when you first book your appointment, please put this into consideration.
Next, the RMT will leave you to wash their hands, so you can get ready to get on the treatment table as discussed. Your permission will be asked before re-entering the treatment room. After making sure every treatment setting is comfortable for you, the hands-on treatment can start. Your RMT must check-in with your comfort regularly
Reassessment & Take-home Self-care
After the hands-on treatment ended, you will the time to get off the table in private. If you need assistance in getting off the table/dressed, I am trained to do that. The RMT will re-assess your symptoms, whether any improvement happens, and listen you your feedback. You will be sent home with self-care instructions (i.e., what you can do at home to further improve/maintain your condition) such as therapeutic exercises, hydrotherapy, and general care. I really suggest you follow these instructions at home, so you can further heal, maintain, or improve your symptom.
So that is what happens during a typical massage therapy session in Ontario. I hope this clarifies on what you can expect when you book a massage therapy appointment.
On top of all of these, what is most important is that you feel involved, empowered, heard of, and respected throughout the process. Please feel free to ask questions, voice your concerns no matter how small, and ask for elaboration should anything isn't clear enough for you. After all, I became a healthcare practitioner to help people :).
Siti Sulma Zahedi, RMT
Sulma is a Registered Massage Therapist (RMT) in Toronto, Ontario. She works with women and children, focusing on prenatal, postpartum, pelvic health, anxiety/depression, and general health. She is a practicing muslim, a mother, and a lifelong learner.