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Can massage be effective for people with Disabilities?



In my experience as a soft tissue therapist I have worked with many individuals with various disabilities. These are some of my favourite people!

One thing I have realised is that there is always something new to learn about Disabilties and it most definitely doesn’t discriminate.

I have treated individuals with congenital conditions, acquired conditions, the list goes on. I can safely say that every individual that I see is unique and massage therapy for them is most definitely not a luxury but a necessity.

The type of massage varies, some require deep tissue remedial techniques to assist with mobility and pain control, others will need a more gentle approach to achieve the same outcome. There has shown to be a need for touch therapy or relaxation massage - this can be just as important as therapeutic massage as it can promote a relaxation response within the body which had been shown to help reduce pain levels in individuals. The positive touch becomes even more important for clients who may have many medical appointments, which can lead to some unpleasant touch memories.




When I first started treating individuals with disabilities it was a bit daunting. I had some training but I hadn’t been thrown in the deep end as such.. I remember walking in and realising that this person just wants to feel better and even though they can’t communicate that with me with words, their face and body language say it all. I also realised very quickly that I had better be good at reading these signs and having the conversations with the carers and support workers who are with these individuals everyday to work out what these signals mean was important. Sometimes a smile doesn’t mean they’re happy! I also had to do more research about all these conditions that I had heard and studied about but hadn’t seen and after witnessing some of the effects and the daily realities of these disabilities it gave me a drive to help in any way to make the lives of these individuals easier if only for a short period. Also remembering that if the individual doesn’t prefer me to do their treatments that that is ok too, we all have our preferences and what works for some won’t work for others. It’s important to find the therapist that is a good match for the individual to maximise the benefit

A typical treatment usually involves a conversation with either the individual or the carers and support workers to see how they are and have been since the last treatment. It’s always important to recap to see what techniques and massage pressures were effective or which areas are important for this treatment. Sometimes this isn’t necessary and the same treatment is used because we have already established that is the most effective treatment that the individual enjoys. It is important to build a rapport with the individual and some it is easier than others! Some initial treatments are spent gaining trust and not pushing their boundaries or pain limits and as I’ve found once you are able to gain that trust you are able to provide a more effective treatment and even the toughest individuals will fall asleep during their massage!

Clear communication about what you’re going to do is very important. While some are able to verbalise with you and give consent, it is very important with non verbal individuals that there is a running commentary about what is happening and what to expect next. It doesn’t need to be complicated at all, just a quick explanation of why you have stopped for example so they’re aware and able to continue to relax. It also gives an opportunity for them to react with signals or body language and you’re able to proceed accordingly.


The treatment is tailored to the individual and can vary from day to day. We have access to the massage table and massage chair and are able to utilise the clients bed or own chair if that is easier and more comfortable. It is important to be flexible and have the ability to adapt to the environment presented to you.

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