Not All Touch is Massage
Updated: Sep 1
Since starting this business, Juvenation, we’ve has an ongoing challenge with naming what we do. The technique we practice is a rare type of therapeutic bodywork called Restorative Muscle Therapy, but there is no category for "bodywork" or even "Muscle Therapy" on Yelp, Google Business, or Facebook Marketplace. This becomes a big deal when people hurting and desperate for help search and search with no hope of finding us or the entire industry of bodyworkers who are ready and waiting to provide care.
Many times I've spoken with customer service representatives who suggested "massage," "physical therapy," "alternative medicine," "wellness center." Granted, "massage" is the closest of these categories, and I've wondered at times if I should give in and just go along with the overall category of massage. But this year, I'm more convinced than ever of the need to distinguish between Massage and Bodywork.
Even though the category listing of massage is the closest to bodywork, my issue in the past has been that it is both inaccurate to call our work massage and highly problematic.
First, it is highly problematic to call our work massage because of stigmas surrounding massage parlors, connecting massage industry to prostitution. Choosing to categorize a business as massage actually creates a red flag with both municipalities and insurance companies who are often unwilling to ensure or permit massage practices, making it difficult to practice. The many legitimate massage therapists (who I would argue are actually bodyworkers) deal with this on a regular basis, both with the higher scrutiny of government and conversely with customers seeking (and at times pressuring) for a more sensual and sexual experience.
Here‘s how bodywork and massage are different, as I see it. Bodywork is the broader category, compared with massage. All massage is a form of bodywork. Not all bodywork is massage, including Rolfing, Bowen Therapy, Active Release Therapy, Schulman Therapy, Acupuncture/Acupressure, Restorative Muscle Therapy. The primary difference as I see it is that these Bodyworks are more corrective by nature, whereas Massage is more for the purpose of relaxation. Massage is about the immediate short-term experience at the spa, Corrective Bodywork is about the long-term quality of life after the treatment. Bodywork is primarily received while clothed; Massage is typically received unclothed. Most bodywork tends to work deep to the skin, within the fascia and deeper layers of muscle, whereas massage (even deep tissue) is primarily working along the surface of the skin.
There is certainly overlap and divergence within the industries of massage and bodywork, yet the need for distinction has become all the more critical in this year, the year of COVID.
During the time of COVID, nonessential businesses were required to close in most places. Massage was generally considered nonessential by governments, a luxury and not a need. However, many forms of bodywork (including some forms of massage) are vital forms of therapy for people with wide ranging conditions including acute or chronic pain, injury recovery and prevention, and stress management. Bodywork therapies very often keep people out of the hospital and doctor's office and off prescription painkillers, not to mention the effect to mental health by having consistent bodywork. The many supports within a community's informal healthcare infrastructure became shut down when massage was called nonessential.
If we had a clearer distinction between Bodywork and Massage, then it would have been easier to choose which practices were truly essential and which were not. I believe it is time that we recognize the essential role of Bodyworkers in the well-being of our communities, and I believe we should distinguish our work from massage. We are experts in calming the nervous system, no one can tend to the muscular system better than we can, and yet there remains a resistance from the medical community to recognize our place.
At Juvenation, I'm on the lookout for partners to begin expanding our own research to show the world what we have to offer. Bodyworkers arise and be found! Who would like to join me?