Massage lotions, creams, gels & oils all serve the function of massage lubricants. They meet many needs in a massage therapy, chiropractic or other clinical practice involving manual therapy. In this article, we examine some of the key questions surrounding the choice of massage lubricant.
What To Look For In A Massage Lubricant
In general, there are 3 properties of a massage lubricant that influence its effectiveness. These are “glide”, “friction” and absorption”. Below, we provide a more detailed explanation of what is meant by each of these concepts. We then explain the tradeoffs inherent in the choice of one type of massage lubricant over another.
The ideal massage lubricant needs to provide the “glide” property of an oil in order to give the therapist the freedom to apply deeper modalities when this is the appropriate choice. This would be important, for example, for a massage therapist performing longitudinal gliding therapy on a patient.
“Glide” refers to the technique of long gliding massage strokes in the direction of blood flow (longitudinal gliding). It is done to distribute fluid away from injured muscles in order to reduce inflammation and promote healing. Glide technique is used in many types of massage including Deep Tissue Massage, Swedish massage and deep longitudinal stripping.
At other times, the massage lubricant needs to possess the frictional property of a lotion. An example of this would be the application of transverse friction to tendon or ligament injuries in order to break down thickened scar tissue that may be causing pain to the patient.
This refers to the ability of the massage lubricant to be absorbed deeply in the patient’s tissues.
This property is important when applying massage techniques such as deep tissue massage.
Which Is The Most Important Property OF A Massage Lubricant?
There is no definitive answer to this question, as it depends on the type of massage technique that will be applied.
For example, if longitudinal gliding will be an important part of the therapy, “glide” will be an important property to have in the lubricant. On the other hand, as mentioned above, friction will be more important if transverse friction therapy will be an important component of the massage.
So in making the choice of massage lubricant, the therapist must balance several (sometimes conflicting) considerations.
In the next section, we will discuss these tradeoffs as they relate to the three main types of massage lubricant. We will also discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each lubricant in terms of patient comfort and convenience.
Massage Lotions vs. Creams vs. Gels / Oils
Massage lotions, creams and oils all offer health benefits. The choice of which to use comes down to preferences – both those of the patient and the therapist.
For the patient, the choice comes down to which lubricant is less annoying or distracting and most beneficial to skin appearance and health.
For the therapist, the decision is dependent on which lubricant will allow him or her to most effectively apply the chosen technique. As we have mentioned above, different massage techniques require different properties from the lubricant.
Longitudinal gliding therapy (for example) differs from deep tissue massage where the need for glide, absorbency and friction are concerned. Lotions, creams and oils differ in their abilities to support each of these objectives. Other things being equal, the massage therapist will prefer a lubricant that makes it easiest for him/her to deliver the chosen technique.
Synthetic Components Used In Lotions
If you choose to use a lotion, be careful to ensure that it contains only natural products. Avoid lotions with synthetic chemicals or petroleum products, as many of these are being linked to serious health problems. Instead, go for a lotion with natural products only.
Having made this point, we will now briefly summarize the relative advantages of massage lotions, creams and oils / gels.
Massage lotions offer the following advantages as massage lubricants:
From the point of view of massage technique, a massage lotion has the shortest glide and is highly absorbent. This makes it particularly well suited for deep tissue massages. With a lotion, the therapist can maintain an excellent grip on the patient and apply the most pressure where needed.The therapist can penetrate most deeply into the patients muscles in order to release tension.
As mentioned above, massage lotions tend to penetrate the skin better. They tend to leave it more hydrated and smoother than when using massage oils..
The hydration and softening benefits are even greater when using lotions enriched with nutrients. Many contain elements such as vitamins D and E,aloe vera, shea butter and keratin. Keratin is a protective protein that is a key component of hair skin and nails;
Largely because of the added ingredients (mentioned above), many lotions can repair lost skin moisture. They can also help to heal minor skin conditions and repair skin damage.
However, in choosing a lotion, be careful to look out for the following:
As mentioned above, many lotions available off the shelf contain synthetic chemicals. Many of these chemicals can be linked to long term health problems, some of which go much further than just skin disorders;
Many lotions are supplied in a jar. From the point of view of a massage therapist, this makes them slightly less convenient to use. A jar cannot be easily attached to a belt holster. As a result, the therapist has to keep repositioning the jar on a convenient surface as he or she moves around the patient.
Many lotions feel cold on the surface of the skin, and this can be a distraction to the patient. Therapists can use lotion warmers to counter this problem.
Massage oils have several advantages that are not available from lotions or creams:
The help to protect the patient’s lipid skin barrier. This in turn helps the skin to keep its moisture and avoid drying out too soon;
For the most part, the natural oils used in massage oils are non comedogenic. This means that they will not clog the patient’s pores, nor will they cause “breakouts”of comedonal acne;
Many therapists feel that massage oils have better “glide” properties. In the preceding section, we discussed the importance of this property in the context of longitudinal gliding massages;
Oils have shorter warming up time than creams or lotions. As mentioned above, a lubricant that feels cold on the skin can detract from patient comfort;
However, massage oils also offer some drawbacks and we mention a couple of these below:
They are inherently slippery, so they can cause accidents if they drip onto the floor by mistake;
Some patients are not comfortable with the geasy sensation that oil leaves on the skin at the completion of the therapy. The therapist may find it necessary to offer them a warm towel at the end of the session to remove excess lubricant.
Massage creams are a compromise between the benefits of lotions and those of oils. They are less absorbent than lotions but provide less glide than oils. Generally, they are a good choice for treatment of muscle soreness and soft tissue injuries.
Suggested Massage Lotion / Cream / Oil / Gel Products
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