Are Massage Tools Valid?

Ask a Therapist

By Art Riggs

Originally published in Body Sense magazine, August/Winter 2005.

Q. I see a variety of massage tools advertised. Don’t massage therapists just use their hands?

A. According to deep tissue massage expert Art Riggs, tools have their place in the profession. He comments: “I think it is safe to say that no mechanical ‘tool’ will ever replace the effectiveness and personal contact of human touch transmitted through the hands or other tools such as knuckles, fists, forearms, or elbows.

“But the hands have some limitations, especially with finger or wrist strength and joint stability. If therapists must work too hard to attempt to compensate for these weaknesses by working beyond their capacity, then they risk injury and the quality of their touch can be harsh and unpleasant as well as sacrificing effectiveness.

“Some mechanical aids actually provide a more pleasing and effective touch by stabilizing compromised fingers and wrists and enabling therapists to work within their limits while still offering the advantages of human contact. Other devices, rather than stabilizing joints, are tools that are held by the therapist to manipulate tissue or bony articulations, or to stimulate trigger points or meridians with a precision and power that isn’t possible with the hands alone.

“A third type of tools are electrical devices that, although by no means a substitute for massage, may vibrate with a speed that is impossible to achieve with the hands and can be effective at relaxing spasmed muscles by overriding neurological holding patterns.

“These tools are no guarantee the massage will be more effective, and only you, the client, can determine if they are a benefit or if they disrupt the continuity or personal connection of the massage. Just like many other tools, they are as good as the skill of the person using them and should never be utilized to just provide more power in order to force tissue to respond. A therapist who has an excellent touch may be able to convey the subtleties of touch through these aids with even more effectiveness.

“There will never be a substitute for the magic of human touch, but the use of tools need not sacrifice the personal contact of bodywork. Ultimately, the decision to use such devices may depend on the client’s definition of massage rather than the quantifiable benefits of the tools.”