Trager Massage Therapy: What it is, How it Works, its Benefits and Risks


Trager Massage Therapy is a form of gentle bodywork that re-teaches your body how to move and hold itself when relaxed. The inventor of Trager therapy is Dr. Milton Trager, who developed this alternative form of therapy during the 1970s, based on massage and body manipulation he began working on while he was a boxer.

Your body was designed so each part – skeletal and muscular – should work together without putting too much stress on any one area. When you undergo some kind of trauma, whether emotional or physical, you may respond by putting and holding your body in particular positions. Once your body becomes accustomed to “freezing” itself in this position, your back, legs, arms, feet, neck or hands may respond with pain and limited, or no movement. Dr. Trager happened on his theory when he observed one of his patients who was so stiff that movement was almost impossible. When Dr. Trager administered anesthesia to his patient, the man became completely limp. When he woke up, his body returned to its former stiffness, leading Dr. Trager to the theory that his patient’s stiffness was actually a learned psychological response. Dr. Trager’s therapy is formally called psycho physical integration therapy because it incorporates both physical and mental work.

What Trager Massage Therapy Is

Trager bodywork has two parts. Before he even begins the physical movements, your doctor will assist you in preparing for your therapy session by teaching you mental techniques to clear your mind. This is a meditative state that both you and your doctor enter into. The theory is that, once you have undergone a “mental cleansing session,” you are more open to allowing your body to relax as you go through the prescribed range of motion movements. This mental cleansing session enables your doctor’s mental energy to hook up with your mental energy, enabling the two of you to work together and allowing you to physically and emotionally relax. As you relax more fully, you receive stronger benefits from the physical movements you will then go through.

In the second part, your doctor has you lie, fully dressed, on a massage table, where he helps you progress through a series of gentle movements. He works within your body’s current range of motion, not pushing you so hard that you feel pain. Instead, his work is rhythmic and very gentle, which allows you to relax sufficiently so you’re not stiff as your doctor puts your body through its different movements.

During the entire session (meditative and physical movement), your doctor’s state of mind is peaceful and calm, which encourages you to be just as calm. The movements he uses are smooth and light; he lengthens and shortens specific muscles, flexing and rolling them. He never uses force to work with your body. As the two of you work together, you should begin feeling a relaxation that actually begins to invigorate you.

Once the office session is complete, he teaches you techniques you can use at home to keep you aware of your body and its state of relaxation or stiffness. This portion of your therapy is called Mentastics. Your doctor will ask you to either dangle or swing your limbs, depending on your diagnosis. You may be prescribed movements that require you to shift from foot to foot or to move your body in broad, dance like motions. Your doctor will explain to you that it’s important to allow your body to relax and “let go” completely – in other words, you’ll need to allow your body to move freely and not control its movements. Mentastics is designed to help you integrate your body and mind.

How  Trager Massage Works

Trager therapy works by helping you to integrate your mind and body so that they begin working together so you aren’t stiff and in pain. Because Trager therapy uses the power of your mind, you learn how to become more aware of the state of your body, learning when your emotional state is leading you to become physically stiff or when you are limiting normal body movements in response to your state of mind or from a fear of pain. Because of Dr. Trager’s encounter with a patient who was nearly unable to move, he began to develop his theory that physical stiffness is a learned behavior which can be unlearned, leading to a healthier state of being, both physically and emotionally.

Benefits of  Trager Massage Therapy

How might you potentially respond and benefit from Trager therapy? Dr. Trager began his work with polio patients and patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, strokes, multiple sclerosis and psychiatric conditions. Trager therapy can benefit you if you suffer from severe, intractable pain (RSD or CRPS). Patients with carpal tunnel syndrome or emphysema and asthma may also benefit from this therapy. Patients with sciatica and those who are trying to prevent injuries can benefit from Trager therapy. You are not required to exert physical effort during a typical Trager therapy session. One session can last from one hour to about 90 minutes. You may experience immediate relief or you might need additional sessions before you notice a change. It is non-invasive and its effects can be long-lasting, as intended by Dr. Trager.

Should Some Patients Avoid Trager Massage Therapy?

If you are in the first trimester of pregnancy, if you have a hist ory of blood clots or if you have undergone joint surgery, do not undergo this therapy. If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), your doctor should stay away from inflamed joints during therapy sessions. If you experience continuous muscular tension, you may feel mild muscle soreness for 24 hours after your therapy.

If you experienced psychological trauma and you become anxious during the relaxation phase, tell your doctor – anxiety symptoms may require the treatment of a psychologist before you begin undergoing massage/Trager therapy, allowing you to receive the full benefits of treatment.

Mara Gerke

References: http://www.infodaily.org/Topics/Massage-Therapy/Trager-Work-Description-and-Benefits.asp; http://www.wholehealthchicago.com/361/trager-approach/