Massage therapy can be defined as the manipulation of soft tissue. Massage therapy has physical, physiological, and psychological effects, in other words, it can affects the mind, body, and spirit. The word “massage” comes from the French meaning “friction or kneading”, the Arabic word “massa” meaning “to touch, feel, or handle”, and the Latin “massa” meaning “mass, dough”. An older origin may have been from the Hebrew “me-sakj” meaning “to anoint with oil” and the ancient Greek “anatripsis” or Latin “frictio” was the word for massage.
During a massage, soft tissue, consisting of muscles, tendons, ligaments, skin, lymphatic vessels, organs and other connective tissue, can be in manipulated in a number of ways. These include with pressure, tension, motion, vibration – all either moving or stationary, structured or unstructured. Massage strokes can be applied with the hands, soft fists, fingers, thumbs, elbows, forearms, and feet. There are over 80 recognized massage modalities or types of massage. The most stated reasons for introducing massage as therapeutic has been due to client demand and perceived clinical effectiveness.
During a massage, the client is positioned on either a massage table or massage chair. The massage table is well- padded for comfort, easily cleaned between clients, and has a padded horseshoe-shaped head support to allow for proper positioning of the neck and easy breathing while the client is facedown. The massage chair is also well-padded, easily cleaned, and offers a padded horseshoe-shaped headrest but the client remains in a more upright, sitting position. Typically, a chair massage is for a shorter duration from 5 to 15 minutes and is done with the client fully clothed. A table massage session usually lasts from 30 to 90 minutes with the client partially or completely undressed under a sheet and/or blanket. Often pillows or bolsters are used to help with body positioning to add to the comfort during the session. Massage tables and chairs are typically portable and can be easily setup almost anywhere.
In the United States, the most common type of massage therapy is Swedish massage and often it is simply referred to as “relaxation massage, “European massage” or simply “Swedish”. A Swedish massage session is typically very gentle and relaxing. The session usually consists of long smooth strokes with kneading & circular movements that work on the superficial layers of the muscle. There are many different kinds of massage – such as Deep Tissue Massage, Neuromuscular Massage, Sports Massage, Heated Stone Massage, Myofascial Tissue Release and Prenatal Massage just to name a few. Each modality, or type of massage, is used for to achieve different results and treat different conditions. Usually modalities are blended together in one session to attain the different results requested by the client. The goal of your massage will determine what modality or modalities the massage therapist will use. The question to ask yourself is – “what is my goal for my massage session?” Is the massage for relaxation, stress management, relief from chronic pain, rehabilitation of an injury, relief from frequent headaches, or improvement of flexibility and range of motion. Let your massage therapist know what kind of results you are looking for and let her/him do the rest.
Often, a massage therapist will use essential oils during the massage session. This is called “aromatherapy”. Aromatherapy is defined as the use of essential oils for physical and emotional well-being. It is known that essential oils have healing properties on both physical and emotional levels. Only nature can product whole essential oils. Essential oils are found as tiny droplets contained in different plant parts such as leaves, stems, bark, flowers, roots, and fruits. Each essential oil has its own unique set of healing properties and can relax, energize, reduce headaches, or relief stress to name just a few. One of the most common essential oils used in massage is lavender.
A heated stone massage session typically consists of Swedish massage with the addition of heated, smooth stones held in the hands of the massage therapist. Usually heated stones are also placed on the back, abdomen, behind the neck, and even between the toes to add an extra element of relaxation to the session. Heated stones can be very effective at warming and loosening tight muscles. Typically, the pressure used during heated stone massage is somewhat on the lighter side and can be ideal for those that have very tight muscles, but do not like a lot of pressure.
Sports massage is specifically designed for those that are involved in physical activity and sports. You can certainly benefit from this type of massage even if you are not a professional athlete. Anyone who is physically active and works out regularly can benefit. The focus of this type of massage is more about helping the body recovery after a work out or sporting event as well as preventing and treating injuries. Regular massage can also enhance athletic performance.
Sports massage consists of a combination of techniques and the strokes are typically faster than Swedish massage. Also included in this modality are techniques to warm up and/or cool down the muscles along with facilitated stretching to help increase flexibility and range of motion.
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There are numerous theories of how massage therapy really does affect the body. Some theories suggest that massage may stimulate the release of chemicals in the body such as endorphins or serotonin to facilitate relaxation, or the “gate of control theory” suggesting the massage itself may help block the pain signals sent to the brain. It is known that massage therapy does activate the parasympathetic nervous system which is the nervous system that controls “relaxation & digestion” and that may help explain those stomach gurgles you hear during your session.
The best way to find a massage therapist is ask a friend or healthcare professional, such as chiropractor, family doctor, or personal trainer, to recommend one. Be sure to ask the massage therapist about their training, experience, and license credentials. Also, ask your insurance company about coverage as some insurance plans will pay some or all of the session fees. If not, check into your flex spending plan or health saving accounts as often you can use one of these to pay for the sessions.
Remember… good health and wellness is a choice.