Massage • What can do it for me?

Massage is the manipulation of soft tissues of the body for the general purpose of stress or pain relief. The practitioner may use hands, fingers, elbows, knees, feet or forearms.

Massage - Image of candles, towels, stones

Records of massage date back about 5000 years to a Chinese text on internal medicines. A few hundred years later, it is depicted in Egyptian tomb paintings. The practice of massage arrived in the West in the early 1800’s. We have graduated to using therapeutic massage in healthcare environments.

BENEFITS OF MASSAGE

  • Activates lymphatic flow
  • Decreases inflammation of joints
  • Reduces muscle spasms
  • Dilates blood vessels
  • Disperses edema following injury to ligaments and tendons
  • Enhances joint and tissue nutrition
  • Hastens elimination of wastes and toxic debris
  • Helps prevent or delay muscular atrophy resulting from forced inactivity
  • Improves circulation
  • Improves muscle tone
  • Increases natural killer cells
  • Prevents formation of adhesions
  • Relaxes muscle contractions
  • Relieves general body tension
  • Sedates or stimulates the nervous system
  • Increases range of motion
  • Reduces discomfort during pregnancy
  • Promotes deeper breathing
  • Improves blood circulation; may lower blood pressure

The most common types of massage practiced in the US are Swedish Massage and Shiatsu, but there are many different techniques that fall under the umbrella of massage. The list below does not include every technique that is considered a form of massage but it is a list of the most familiar ones. There are many other forms of bodywork as well that might not be considered true massage.

  • ACCUPRESSURE is similar to acupuncture without the needles. Uses fingers to press acupressure “points” on the body to stimulate self-healing.
  • CHAIR MASSAGE uses a chair rather than a table for the recipient to receive massage. Client remains clothed and upright; this is often provided in public places, like airports and fairs.
  • CRANIALSACRAL THERAPY uses gentle pressure on the plates of the patient’s skull. Few studies have been done for this method and results are disappointing. There was moderate evidence for the management of tension headache pain. It may be a stretch to include this in a list of massage techniques.
  • DEEP TISSUE MASSAGE is designed to affect deep layers of muscles and fascia. Since this requires relaxed muscles, the client is prepared first with other methods of massage.
  • FOUR-HAND MASSAGE requires two practitioners working on one client with identical motions on opposite sides of the body.
  • GERIATRIC MASSAGE is often performed in care facilities for the elderly and is designed to meet special needs for more frail and ill people.
  • INFANT MASSAGE uses special methods to treat infants. Often used in hospital neonatal care facilities.
  • LOMI LOMI originated as a Hawaiian method using broad strokes over broad areas. There is a sacred aspect to it.
  • LYPOSSAGE is purported to be an alternative to liposuction, enhancing firmness, tone and skin resilience. This is probably effective but perhaps not long lasting. For more information, see http://www.dermascope.com/treatments/lypossage-a-proven-modality-for-cellulite-reduction-and-inch-loss#.WnBUO5P1WV4
  • MANUAL LYMPH DRAINAGE is designed to stimulate the movement of lymphatic fluids. It is a gentle technic, hopefully rids the connective tissue of toxins and is supportive to the immune system. I learned to do this in 12 years ago for a friend with cancer; a member of her hospital care team gave me instruction and permission. My friend could not sleep at night unless she had a massage that day.
  • MEDICAL MASSAGE uses specific treatments for disease and pain. Usually, a physician signs off on the need and treatment for his patient.
  • ONCOLOGY MASSAGE is tailored to the needs of a cancer patient. An oncology massage therapist will have training in all stages of the cancer treatment process.
  • ORTHOPEDIC MASSAGE combines modalities to treat soft-tissue pain and injury.
  • PRENATAL MASSAGE, or pregnancy massage, meets the special needs of the pregnant woman and her fetus. This is said to increase comfort and decrease labor time.
  • REFLEXOLOGY stimulates specific reflex areas in the feet, hands and ears that according to ancient Chinese belief correspond to other parts of the body.
  • SHIATSU is a form of acupressure, applying pressure with the fingers, thumbs, elbow or knee to points along the energy “meridians.”
  • SPORTS MASSAGE is designed to meet the needs of the athlete before, during and after participating in a sport, including treatment of injury to speed healing.
  • STONE THERAPY may include deep tissue work and other kinds of massage but will always include the use of stones, which may be cold or heated. The theory is that this is an aid to energy balancing, along with the other benefits of massage.
  • SWEDISH MASSAGE is the most commonly taught method in the United States. It is designed to stimulate circulation. See the list of benefits at the beginning of this entry.
  • THAI MASSAGE places the client on a firm mat on the floor and uses pressure and weight of the practitioner’s body.

CONTRAINDICATIONS

  • Glaucoma – Face-down positions increase intraocular eye pressure. Try chair massage.
  • If you are ill and under the care of a doctor, get permission and special instructions for the therapist performing the massage. This includes conditions like high blood pressure and psoriasis. Be absolutely honest with your doctor and therapist about any physical conditions you have.
  • If you have any contagious disease or an infection, wait until you are well to have a massage.
  • Not all countries require training for massage therapists. In Mexico, there is no regulation and real harm can occur if you have a practitioner who isn’t trained. One such began my stomach massage and I said, “Hey, you are going in the wrong direction!” She pretended to realize her mistake but I think she had no idea there is a direction in which chyme moves through the digestive tract. Please check your therapist’s training and if she/he doesn’t have any, be prepared with some questions to determine if they know what they are doing and go to someone who is recommended by others. I wouldn’t go to a doctor who didn’t wasn’t recommended by people I know and trust.
  • Some therapists are using essential oils. Please see the entry for Essential Oils.  If you have allergies, discuss those with a therapist before visiting the massage room.
  • If you have varicose veins, a therapist should not be massaging in that area. Other areas to be avoided:
    • Bruising
    • Cuts
    • Inflammation
    • Sunburn
    • Undiagnosed lumps

NOTES

For results on various studies of the effect of massage on different pain locations, please see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1876616/

Reading actual results of studies will give you a clearer picture of the effectiveness of any treatment, more so than the enthusiastic endorsement of anyone selling a related service or product (or even someone trying to draw you to their site with promises of miracles).

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