Massage Therapy is one of the oldest healing arts; it has been practiced for thousands of years to promote relaxation and well-being. The benefits of massage are far-reaching, having proven beneficial for many chronic conditions including: low back pain, arthritis, fatigue, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and more. According to a 2007 American Massage Therapy Association survey, almost a quarter of all adult Americans had at least one massage in the previous year. More and more people recognize the health benefits of massage. They choose from among many massage styles to get relief from symptoms or to heal injuries, to help with certain health conditions, and to promote overall wellness.
Massage, bodywork and somatic therapies are defined as the application of various techniques to the muscular structure and soft tissues of the human body. Massage is the application of soft-tissue manipulation techniques to the body, intended to reduce stress and fatigue while improving circulation. Bodywork uses various forms of touch therapies such as manipulation, movement, and/or re-patterning to affect structural changes to the body. Somatic, meaning “the body,” is used to denote a body/mind or whole body approach distinguished from a physiology-only perspective.
There are over 250 variations of massage, bodywork, and somatic therapies and many therapists use multiple techniques. These all involve pressing, rubbing, or manipulating muscles and other soft tissues with hands and fingers. Sometimes, even forearms, elbows, or feet are used. This may include non-forceful passive or active movement and/or application of techniques intended to affect the energetic systems of the body.
- Alleviate low back pain and improve range of motion
- Assist with shorter, easier labor for expectant mothers and shorten maternity hospital stays
- Ease medication dependence
- Enhance immunity by stimulating lymph flow – the body’s natural defense system
- Exercise and stretch weak, tight, or atrophied muscles
- Help athletes of any level prepare for, and recover from strenuous workouts.
- Improve the condition of the body’s largest organ, the skin.
- Increase joint flexibility
- Lessen depression and anxiety
- Promote tissue regeneration, reducing scar tissue and stretch marks
- Pump oxygen and nutrients into tissues and vital organs, improving circulation
- Reduce post-surgery adhesions and swelling
- Reduce spasms and cramping
- Relax and soften injured, tired, and overused muscles
- Release endorphins – amino acids that work as the body’s natural painkiller
- Relieve migraine pain
There’s no denying the power of bodywork, regardless of the reasons to seek out massage therapy, it can be a powerful ally in your healthcare regimen.
Experts estimate upwards of 90% of disease is stress related. Perhaps nothing ages us faster, internally and externally, than high stress. While eliminating anxiety and pressure altogether in this fast paces world may be idealistic, massage can help manage stress. Which can lead to decreased anxiety, enhanced sleep quality, greater energy, improved concentration, increased circulation, and reduced fatigue. Massage can often provide vital and valuable emotional balance in addition to the tangible physical benefits.
Please Note: massage, bodywork, and somatic therapies exclude diagnosis, prescription, manipulation or adjustments of the human skeletal structure, or any other service, procedure or therapy which requires a license to practice orthopedics, physical therapy, podiatry, chiropractic, osteopathy, psychotherapy, acupuncture, or any other profession or branch of medicine.
**The services of a bodywork professional may be covered by health insurance when prescribed by a chiropractor or osteopath. Therapies provided as part of a prescribed treatment by a physician or registered physical therapist are often covered.**
Which massage styles are best?
You may have noticed that different massage styles are popular at different times. And you may have wondered whether each was just part of a passing fad or the latest, greatest massage technique? Even more important is how can you tell whether the latest style will actually help you?
Styles used in massage therapy range from long, smooth strokes to short, percussive strokes. Some massage therapists use oils and lotions; others do not. Most massage therapists have clients unclothe for a massage, but some do not. A massage can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 hours.
Before you can decide which massage style is best for you, you need to ask yourself a question. Do you simply want a massage for relaxation and stress control? Or do you need symptom relief or help with a certain health condition? Before booking a massage, let the therapist know what you’re looking for and ask which style the therapist uses. Many use more than one style. Or the therapist may customize your massage, depending on your age, condition, or any special needs or goals you have.
The most common type of massage is Swedish massage therapy. It involves soft, long, kneading strokes, as well as light, rhythmic, tapping strokes, on topmost layers of muscles. This is also combined with movement of the joints. By the relieving muscle tension, Swedish therapy can be both relaxing and energizing. And it may even help after an injury.
The four common strokes of Swedish massage are:
- Effleurage: a smooth, gliding stroke used to relax soft tissue
- Petrissage: the squeezing, rolling or kneading that follows effleurage
- Friction: deep, circular movements that cause layers of tissue to rub against each other, helping to increase blood flow and break down scar tissue
- Tapotement: a short, alternating tap done with cupped hands, fingers, or the edge of the hand
Neuromuscular therapy massage
Neuromuscular therapy is a form of soft tissue manipulation that aims to treat underlying causes of chronic pain involving the muscular and nervous systems. This medically-oriented form of massage addresses trigger points (tender muscle points), circulation, nerve compression, postural issues, and bio-mechanical problems that can be caused by repetitive movement injuries.
Deep tissue massage
Deep tissue massage is best for giving attention to certain painful, stiff “trouble spots” in your body. The massage therapist uses slow, deliberate strokes that focus pressure on layers of muscles, tendons, or other tissues deep under your skin. Though less rhythmic than other types of massage, deep tissue massage can be quite therapeutic, relieving chronic patterns of tension and helping with muscle injuries, such as back sprain.
Developed to help with muscle systems used for particular sport, sports massage uses a variety of approaches to help athletes in training, before during, or after sports events. You might use it to promote flexibility to help prevent injuries. Or, it may help muscle strains, aiding healing after a sports injury.
Ever gone to a county fair, music festival, or conference and envied other people getting chair massages? Passed by the chair massage section in an airport? Or, maybe you’re lucky enough to work at a company that offers 15 to 20 minute massages as a regular benefit. Onsite, chair massages are done while you’re seated fully clothed in a portable, specially designed chair. They usually involve a massage of your neck, shoulders, back, arms, and hands.
In Japanese, shiatsu means “finger pressure.” For shiatsu massage, the therapist uses varied, rhythmic pressure on certain precise points of the body. These points are called acupressure points, and they are believed to be important for the flow of the body’s vital energy, called chi. Proponents say shiatsu massage can help relieve blockages at these acupressure points.
During a Thai massage, the therapist uses his or her body to move the client into a variety of positions. This type of massage includes compression of muscles, mobilization of joints, and acupressure.
Hot stone massage
For this kind of massage, the therapist places warmed stones on certain areas of the body, such as acupressure points. The stones may be used as massage tools or be temporarily left in place. Used along with other massage techniques, hot stones can be quite soothing and relaxing as they transmit heat deep into the body.
Reflexology uses hand, thumb, and finger techniques to stimulate certain areas of the feet. These areas are believed to correspond to different parts of the body. The massage, then, is expected to promote health and well-being.
During pregnancy, your body goes through major changes. Pregnancy massage can help with these changes by reducing stress, decreasing arm and leg swelling, and relieving muscle and joint pain. Massage may be particularly helpful during a time when medication and other medical options may be more limited. Using specially designed massage pillows, the massage therapist will help get you into a comfortable position for this type of massage.
What are the health benefits of massage?
Many types of massage offer benefits beyond simple relaxation. Here are just a few of the health problems that may benefit from massage. Ask your doctor before using massage for any health condition, though.
Back pain: more than one study has shown the effectiveness of massage therapy for back pain. In fact, one 2003 study showed it worked better than acupuncture or spinal modification for persistent low back pain, reducing the need for painkillers by 36%.
Headache: another type of pain, headache, also responds to massage therapy, as shown by more than one study. Massage therapy can reduce the number of migraines a person has and also improve sleep.
Osteoarthritis: in the first clinical trial looking at the effectiveness of Swedish massage for knee osteoarthritis, participants who received a one-hour massage either one or two times a week had improvements in pain, stiffness, and function. The control group had no such change.
Cancer: used as a complement to traditional, western medicine, massage can promote relaxation and reduce cancer symptoms or side effects of treatment. It may help reduce pain, swelling, fatigue, nausea, or depression, for example, or improve the function of your immune system.
Anxiety: a review of more than 12 studies shows that massage helps relieve depression and anxiety. It lowered levels of cortisol by up to 50%. And massage increased levels of neurotransmitters that help reduce depression.
How does massage therapy affect the body?
Although scientific research on massage therapy, whether it works and if so how, is limited there is evidence that massage may benefit some patients. Conclusions generally cannot yet be drawn about its effectiveness for specific health conditions.
According to one analysis, however, research supports the general conclusion that massage therapy is effective. The studies included in the analysis suggest that a single session of massage therapy can reduce “state anxiety” (a reaction to a particular situation), blood pressure, heart rate, and multiple sessions can reduce “trait anxiety” (general anxiety proneness), depression, and pain. In addition, recent studies suggest that massage may benefit certain conditions for example.