Tell Your Story – Guelph Massage Therapy

This post written by Guelph registered massage therapist and part-time stunt person Terri Rowan, RMT.

Does this picture make you giggle? Do you catch yourself flipping through countless pages of internet pictures of faces in everyday things? Believe it or not, there is a name of this phenomenon: pareidolia. If you want to impress your family and friends, click here to hear how it is pronounced. Pareidolia is our tendency to see something familiar in something random. Our brains are pattern making machines and we don’t particularly like chaos, so when we see something that doesn’t really look like anything we will try to make sense of it by seeing something we recognise or understand. We (humans) may be particularly inclined to see faces because being able to differentiate humans from other things is necessary to our survival.

There is also a possibility that this may go beyond making sense of what we see. Those of us who work with our hands may also try to make sense of what we feel, attempting to find order under our fingertips.

Frequently when I am talking to a new patient, discussing how they feel and the things they need help with they will say, “Oh, I’m sure you will be able to find it!” While I appreciate the confidence that my patients have in my skills, the ability to locate troublesome areas of the body through touch may not actually be much of a skill. In fact, studies have demonstrated that health care professionals aren’t all that good at identifying a problem through touch alone. When researchers asked physicians to use palpation (touch) to determine whether the left of right side of a patient’s neck or low back was the painful side…

  • They were correct in 65% of low back pain
  • They were correct in 59% of neck pain

So, they were just slightly more accurate than if they had guessed.

Hopefully this revelation doesn’t diminish your trust in your Massage Therapist (or other Manual Therapist). I share this information with my patients because I want them to know that the information they give me is important. I want to know what hurts, where it hurts, what does it feel like, what movements are painful, what movements are relieving. Your experience of your body matters. It’s easy sometimes to defer to an ‘expert’ but you are the expert on you.

What does this mean to you as a patient? Don’t be afraid to tell your story. Sharing details about what you are experiencing (pain, tension, tightness, loss of movement) helps me to formulate a treatment plan that will leave you feeling that your issue was addressed and leave me confident that I didn’t confuse a purse for a squinting elephant.

Maigne JY, Cornelis P, Chatellier G. Lower back pain and neck pain: is it possible to identify the painful side by palpation only? Ann Phys Rehabil Med. 2012 Mar;55(2):103–11.

Photo used under creative commons license. Photograph by Chris Gladis (

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