Massage Therapy

Massage therapy can be defined as a scientifically based system of soft tissue (muscle) manipulation, active and passive exercise for the purpose of affecting the muscular system, the nervous system and the circulatory system. It is a systematic form of touch that has been found to promote good physical health, relieve tension, soothe away headache and relax taut muscles. Massage also aids in the healing of soft tissue injury and in the healing of some bone fractures by promoting relaxation and increased blood circulation. Therapeutic massage can improve circulation, banish pain and help relieve insomnia. Massage can also improve lymphatic circulation, improve digestion, help relieve constipation, and improve general body tone and flexibility. In addition to promoting physical health, massage also promotes psychological wellness.


Most people accept little aches and pains as being part of the aging process. This is not necessarily true. Many of these aches and pains are the result of the tensions and pressures of modern life. As assaulted from all sides with deadlines, responsibilities for children, responsibilities at home, on the job and from community involvement, literally become "up-tight." This results in physical tension, which translates into muscular tension and improper or strained posture. Think of all the times you wanted to get something "off your back"' or when you thought you were carrying more than your share of the load. Remember when you felt you were being torn apart by two or more choices, family versus job, children versus parents, home versus community activities. All this and more can lead to muscle tension, which can lead to pain. Much of this type of tension and pain can be relieved, if not eliminated by therapeutic massage.

Therapeutic massage cannot cure arthritis. However, if properly administered, massage can relieve much of the muscular tension that exacerbates the pain of arthritis.

Physicians, chiropractors, osteopaths, psychologists, orthopedic surgeons, dentists and other health service providers recommend therapeutic massage. Professional and amateur athletes rely on massage for relief of sports injuries. Many prepare for events by receiving massage. Muscle spasms are often relieved right on the spot during a sporting event by massage therapist trained in sports massage. In a trend that has increased productivity and afternoon alertness, many companies offer "on-site" massage to its employees. On-site massage is done with the client fully clothed, seated in a special chair that gives the therapist access to the back, neck and arms, while supporting the client in a comfortable position.

If a person is under medical supervision, the physician should be consulted before commencing therapeutic massage. For sports and other injuries, therapeutic massage can be applied to the affected muscle groups on a daily basis. If there are no injuries, weekly therapeutic massage is recommended to maintain optimal health; however, if finances permit, daily massage is best.

What to expect during a massage session

Therapeutic massage is performed in a private room on a special table, which is padded for comfort. The client is given an opportunity to disrobe in private, lie on the table and cover up with a towel or sheet. The therapist uncovers the muscle group to be massaged, and applies oil or lotion to prepare for the massage. After an overall warm-up massage, the massage therapist works the muscles more deeply and likely focuses on problem areas. The depth, duration and style depend on the client and the therapist's personal style. A good therapist will use only the pressure that is therapeutic while respecting the client's level of comfort. If the pressure is too deep, the client is encouraged to tell the therapist. Some discomfort may occur while work is done on especially tight muscles; many people react to this by saying, "It hurts good." This means that the discomfort is not really painful, but it feels therapeutic. There are a few techniques that use no oil or lotion and there are other massage techniques that do not require the client to disrobe.

As the session progresses, the client will feel increasingly relaxed. Some people even go to sleep or meditate during a therapeutic massage session. The therapist massages one muscle group after the other, draping and uncovering while working. Some therapists begin work on the front of the body while others begin on the back.

After a session, the client is allowed to relax for a moment before getting dressed. Clients are encouraged to drink a lot of water in the next forty-eight hours because the release of tension in muscles can stir up lactic acid. This can lead to achy muscles, which can then be alleviated by drinking water. However, once massage is experienced on a regular basis, this rarely occurs.

Massage Therapy has many different modalities. Those that are most frequently used are listed below. Many of these techniques require special training beyond the standard training at most schools of massage. Some of the techniques also require special equipment.

  1. Medical Massage: Consists of specific manipulations and treatments for conditions such as sciatica, whiplash, respiratory and circulatory conditions (please note that those with thrombosis may have massage under doctor's supervision, but not to the affected limb.) Medical doctors or chiropractors usually recommend massage and supervise the administered treatment.
  2. Swedish massage: A system of gentle to slightly deep massage using a variety of strokes. The massage is always towards the heart, and is usually used on people who want massage for relaxation. This is usually the type of massage one receives at a beauty parlor or spa.
  3. Shiatsu/acupressure: An oriental healing system in which particular points or areas of the body are manipulated with pressure in order to release the flow of the body's own healing energies, and to correct imbalances in the major systems in the body. In a Shiatsu session, the client can be fully clothed, although some practitioners prefer that the client be draped as for a massage session. The meridians, or pressure points used are generally similar to those used for acupuncture; however, no needles are used in Shiatsu and nothing pierces the skin. Finger, hand, and elbows are used to exert pressure on the points of the meridian. For some conditions, the therapeutic result is similar to that of acupuncture.
  4. Reflexology: A technique of foot massage that utilizes pressure points in the foot that correspond to the body's major systems. Reflexology not only helps the body heal itself, but it also aids in relaxation, increased blood flow and energy balancing.
  5. Polarity: Gentle manipulation of specific pressure points and areas of the body to alleviate pain, relax muscle tension, balance energy flows and release energy blocks. Polarity facilitates the integration of body, mind and spirit.
  6. Infant Massage: Gentle massage of infants to promote development, stimulate growth, relieve pain and to release the body-memory of delivery. Infant massage helps awaken the child's senses and awareness of the world. It promotes parent-child bonding while increasing blood supply to developing muscles. Gentle touch conveys love and security to the developing infant.
  7. Watsu: A combination of gentle stretches, exercises and Shiatsu performed in water that is warm and deep enough for the client to float. The therapist supports the client in the water while moving the client through a series of range of motion exercises. Watsu is excellent for tension and tight muscles. It promotes relaxation and restful sleep. Special training and equipment is required.
  8. Myofascial Release: A therapy that uses sustained pressure as well as other techniques to release fascia restrictions. As a result of injury, the fascia can tighten and pull the body structures, causing increased tension, pain and further injury. Myofascial release applications can restore the body to a more relaxed state, allowing healing to the underlying injury. Special training is required for practitioners.
  9. Reiki: Founded by a Japanese educator, Mikao Usui, and brought to the United States by Mrs. Takata. Reiki is based on the oriental concept of Chi or Universal Life Force, an ancient spiritual tradition. During a treatment, the practitioner's hands are gently placed on various positions of the client's body, allowing the healing energy to flow. Reiki disperses blocked energy and sometimes generates a great deal of thermal heat. A Reiki Master must train a reiki practitioner.
  10. Therapeutic Touch: Practiced by many people in the healing professions, therapeutic touch helps to balance the energy systems of the body. Similar to Reiki, it is used extensively by registered nurses to nurture premature babies and to promote recovery in other patients.
  11. Sports Massage: Using a variety of techniques, sports massage is designed to reduce injuries and inflammation, provide warm-ups of muscles and to alleviate tension and strain after and before sporting events. It is especially useful in treating injuries because it promotes healing of the injured muscles.
  12. Trigger Point Therapy (or Myotherapy): Trigger points, or tender spots, are compressed to release tension, thereby alleviating pain. Stretching exercises are usually used in conjunction with trigger point therapy. This method was actually developed in Germany in the late 1800s and was popularized in the U.S. by Bonnie Prudden, the author of the book Pain Erasure: The Bonnie Prudden Way.
  13. Rolfing: Deep tissue work that brings head, shoulders, thorax, pelvis and legs into alignment. Treatment is usually offered in a 10-session series. Practitioners are required to have special training.

There are many other methodologies and modalities for therapeutic massage; these are just a few of the most commonly used techniques. A trained person should only practice therapeutic massage. A good therapist knows when to refer out clients to another professional for more specialized treatment, too. Also be aware that a trained massage therapist respects your privacy and is bound by a code of ethics that precludes anything other than therapeutic touch.

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