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  • Writer's picturePaula VanBaalen

What's in a word?

Because words matter, we want to share some more accurate massage terminology.

Have you heard these terms?

If you’ve spent much time in our office or followed our social media, you may have noticed that we think words matter. We believe the words we say to ourselves influence our health and wellness tremendously. The words we use to communicate with clients can offer hope or cause harm. And when we choose our words carefully, we can communicate effectively.

In the massage industry, if there’s one thing that confuses the public more than anything, it’s the wide range of terminology used to describe seemingly mysterious concepts. Let’s go over three of them today.


Yes, it might feel like it, but no, your tissues aren’t coiled, wrapped, or tied up into a knot.  I’ll try to be concise with this one. The term knot is completely inaccurate and can be used to describe many phenomena in the body. 

Remember fascia? It’s the gel-like connective tissue that surrounds, permeates, supports and inter-connects every structure in the human body. When fascia has been injured, stressed, or traumatized, this gel-like substance starts hardening or solidifying. Like play dough that’s been left on the counter for too long. Sometimes what we’re feeling as a “knot” is the injured fascia. But that’s not all it could be. Sometimes it’s the myofascial tissues (myo=muscle + fascia=connective tissue) stuck in a semi-contracted or shortened state (often from misuse or overuse). Sometimes it’s a trigger point (a chemical spill in the neuromuscular junction). Sometimes it’s a tender point (a heightened nervous system response in a muscle). Sometimes its scar tissue build up. What’s it’s not, is a knot. A more accurate term would be “densified or restricted fascia”. That’s a nice umbrella term to describe that the tissues are not as soft and supple as they were designed to be.

"Removes toxins"

This one is a pet peeve of mine. A massage therapist DOES NOT REMOVE TOXINS from your body (Were the shouty caps emphasis enough?? I can state that again for the people in the back if you want…). 

That doesn’t mean that we don’t support an effective immune response in the body. It means that we don’t go into your tissues with our little sieve and filter out the toxins from your tissues. That’s your liver, gallbladder, skin, kidneys, and lymphatic system’s job. Not your massage therapist’s. A better way to state this effect is that we “improve fluid dynamics.” Not as catchy, I know. But we’re aiming for the truth here. Depending on how the massage is provided, it can help encourage new fluids to travel to your tissues or remove excessive fluids from the area. It would depend on what your goal is for the session.

"Break up scar tissue"

This one is a work in progress for us at the office. Largely because the alternative is more of a mouthful and not well understood by the public.

Your massage therapist does not go into your body with a little chisel and hammer, breaking up scar tissue. Rather we lean into the therapeutic properties of your fascia to “improve fascial gliding”. Without going too deep into the science of this… when we combine gentle, sustained pressure to a scar it triggers some natural chemical reactions in the body. Combine that with the fluid dynamics benefit of massage equals scar tissue that operates independently from the tissues around it.

One last thought on word choices.

If you go back and read the commonly used, yet inaccurate terms, you notice that they all have a somewhat negative or hopeless connotation to them. They’re implying something is broken or there is something wrong with you. 

Now if you go back and re-read the new, more accurate terminology, notice the space for hope. We are using more neutral, scientific terms. This gives an opportunity for change and growth, to improve upon the current state of the tissues. That’s a message we’d like everyone to receive ~ there is hope.

Massage therapy, in my opinion, is one of the best things you can do for your health and wellness. It brings you back into your body in a safe and loving way. It gives your body the space, tools, and resources to do what it was designed to do ~ heal itself. And it’s one of the most enjoyable ways to bring your body back into a parasympathetic state (rest and digest). When we can take some of the mystery out of it and we properly educate the public on its benefits, massage can be a major player in a healthier, happier world.


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