What Exactly is Massage Therapy?

Tibetan massage is taught at Dharamsala, India.


Massage therapy is the movement and stretching of layers of muscle and connective tissue, in a researched, structured way to:

• Improve the function of the body;

• Promote relaxation;

• Increase natural healing;

• Maximize health fitness;

• And be a major part of being healthy.

Massage techniques vary, using manual methods such as hands, feet, arms and elbows, as well as mechanical pressure, and traction.

There are numerous different body work positions used in professional massage settings, the one most people are familiar with involves the client being treated while lying face down on a massage table. Other massage techniques include sitting in a specially designed “ergonomic” massage therapy chair, or the client may be lying on a thin matt on the floor or ground.

Medical Massage Therapy in History

Evidence of medical massage therapy, and massage spas, has been found in most ancient civilizations including Rome, Greece, India, Japan, China, Egypt and Mesopotamia. A biblical reference from 493 BC documents daily massage with olive oil and myrrh as part of the beauty regimen of the wives of Xerxes. Hippocrates, the “father of medicine” wrote in 460 BC that “the physician must be experienced in many things, but assuredly in rubbing.”

The ancient Chinese recommended “massage of the skin and muscles”. Today, throughout China, medical massage therapy is widely practiced and taught in hospital and medical schools, and is an essential part of primary healthcare, and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

In the United States, massage gained popularity in the middle part of the 19th century. During the 1930s and 1940s massage’s influence declined as a result of the new directions that western medicine was taking at the time, which has continued through modern times.

Full body massage therapy was used on a regular basis by nurses up until the 1960s and 1970s to help ease patients’ pain and help with sleep disorders. In the 1970s, sports massage grew among athletes, trainers, and physical therapists.

It’s interesting to note that not until the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, was massage therapy, or medical massage offered as a core medical service for the first time. This is in spite of the fact that sports massage was considered a necessity for the Olympic Athletes in ancient Greek and Roman times.

Benefits of Massage Therapy

Western Medicine, is just beginning to “mildly” acknowledge some of the benefits of massage. This is an almost “reluctant” acceptance of the possibility that this method of health improvement, which has been used in almost every known civilization and culture for thousands of years, “may” have some connection to being healthy.

This attitude is not surprising, since the traditional view of health fitness held by Western Medicine is a “piece-by-piece” view of the body, rather than a whole body, or holistic approach which is the focus of most natural healing systems such as:

• Holistic Medicine;

• Massage Therapy;

• Acupuncture;

• Acupressure;

• Meditation;

• And Yoga.

Looking at the body as being “connected” in every way, on every level makes complete sense, and total body healing is the goal of most every natural healing method.

Western medical research, on massage therapy has shown that just a few of the benefits of massage include:

• Pain relief;

• Reduced anxiety;

• Help with depression;

• Improvement in sleep disorders;

• Reduction in blood pressure;

• Improvement in blood circulation;

• Increased flexibility;

• Improvement in health fitness.

“Speculation” by Western Medicine as to why there are noticeable results such as these using medical massage therapy include:

• Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps stimulate the release of endorphins and serotonin (beneficial nerve and “feel good” chemicals normally released by our body during activities such as sustained sports, working out, meditation etc.);

• Preventing fibrosis or scar tissue;

• Increasing the flow of lymph (our natural body cleansing system, and a way to “detox” ourselves);

• Improving sleep disorders.

Note: The problem with an analysis by the western medical system is that their goal is to find something that can be “measured, weighed and categorized”. With body work such as massage, there are a good number of subtle changes that fall outside the realm of structured Western medical knowledge. Unfortunately, too much credence is placed in some of the studies organized and conducted by this medical system, and drug companies, so there is a natural hesitation on the part of individuals who could potentially benefit from a series of body work sessions, to try them.

It is also important for us to remember that western medicine is a relatively "young" healing medium when compared to a healing system such as Chinese Medicine, which is thousands of years older. Usually, a “blend” of several healing methods is the best way to achieve optimum health and wellness, and a healthy body.


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Effects of Single Session Massage

For most people, who have never had any type of body work done before, there are some significant experiences associated with their first massage. One of the main results of a full body massage is a deep feeling of relaxation and well being. Additionally, clients experience:

• Relief from pain due to musculoskeletal injuries, such as sport or work out related muscle trauma;

• Relief from back pain. Acupressure, Pressure Point Massage, or Trigger Point Therapy, are generally more beneficial than a straight Swedish Massage session, since the work is focused on relieving “pain signals”, which trigger pain responses in the brain;

• Reduction in feelings of anxiety;

• Temporary reduction in blood pressure and heart rate;

• Increased clarity of thought, and improved problem solving abilities.

• Immune system stimulation, especially noticed when massage therapy is combined with aroma therapy.

All of these results have been documented by testing of EEG patterns following just single massage treatments;

Effects of Multiple Massage Sessions

As with single massage sessions, there are similar beneficial results. However, with regular, repeated full body massage sessions, these benefits have significant effects on the client’s overall health and wellness. When combined with education, diet, and exercise, massage can totally change a person’s life, and help them have a healthy body, a healthy, alert mind, and a highly functional immune system. At worst, massage therapy helps the person receiving regular massage work to live with a maximum of energy, and a minimal amount of pain and depression.

Massage Oils

Different types of oils are used for massage. There are several reasons for using massage oils:

• Better control for the manual movement of the muscles, thus increasing the effectiveness of the massage;

• Reduction of friction on the skin as the stroking and stretching of the muscles is taking place;

• Relaxation when certain massage oils come into contact with the sense of smell. Many people may know this by the name of aroma-therapy:

• Deep penetration of the massage oil into the muscle tissues, relaxing them.

Some of the better known types of massage oils include:

• Fractionated coconut oil;

• Grape seed oil;

• Olive oil (this was widely used by the ancient Greeks and Romans);

• Almond oil;

• Macadamia oil;

• Sesame oil;

• Pecan oil;

• Mustard oil.

Salts are sometimes mixed with oils and used by some massage therapists to gently remove dry and dead skin.


Massage Techniques

I will briefly touch on just a few of the many massage techniques, you can go to our Types of Massage Therapy page for more detailed information. I encourage you to find a type of massage that appeals to you. One word, well, a couple of words, of caution: be sure you are connecting with someone who is a trained professional in the particular massage technique you choose, and, has attended a massage school, and received massage therapy certification. You will experience a more positive outcome.

Practitioners of massage include:

• Massage therapists;

• Athletic trainers (sports massage);

• And physical trainers.

These professionals work in a variety of medical and recreational settings and some will also travel to your home or business, bringing a portable massage table.

Acupressure

Acupressure is a traditional Chinese healing technique, thousands of years old.

Anma

Anma is a traditional Japanese massage involving kneading and deep tissue work.

Ayurvedic Massage

Ayurvedic massage is a natural health care system originating in India that incorporates massage, yoga, meditation, herbal remedies and diet.

Balinese Massage

Balinese massage techniques are gentle and designed to make the patient feel relaxed and calm during the massage, and for several hours at the end.

Barefoot Deep Tissue

Barefoot deep tissue, also known as barefoot compressive deep tissue massage, or barefoot sports massage.

Bowen Therapy

Bowen technique involves a rolling movement over fascia, muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints.

Breema

Breema body work is performed on the floor with the client fully clothed. The technique involves rhythmical and gentle leans and stretches.

Champissage

Champissage is a massage form focusing on the head, neck and face with the purpose of balancing the energy chakras.

Deep Tissue Massage

My Favorite!! Deep tissue massage is designed to relieve severe tension in the muscle and the connective tissue or fascia.

Dry-Water Massage Bed

Most people have never heard of this type of massage. In this technique, jets of water, directed at the muscles perform the massage rather than manual manipulation.

Esalen Massage

This technique works with gentle rocking of the body, passive joint exercises and deep structural work on the muscles and joints, together with a balancing of the energy of the body.

Hilot

This is an interesting, basically unknown technique.

Lomi Lomi Massage

Lomi Lomi is the traditional massage of Hawaii.

Mobile Massage

Since there are so many benefits of massage therapy, such as total relaxation, many people prefer to have a massage therapist come to them to perform the treatment as opposed to visiting the therapist’s office.

Myofascial Release

Myofascial release is a manual massage technique for stretching the fascia and releasing bonds between fascia and muscles, with the goal of eliminating pain, increasing range of motion and equalization of the bodily system.

Myomassology

Myomassology is an integration of massage techniques including basic Swedish Massage, Aromatherapy, Shiatsu, Energy Balancing, and Craniosacral therapy, along with other methods in conjunction with instruction in nutrition, meditation and yoga.

Postural Integration

Postural Integration is a process-oriented bodywork combining deep tissue massage with breathwork, body movement and deep awareness as well as emotional expression.

Reflexology Massage

Reflexology is based on the principle that there are reflexes in the hands and feet that relate to every organ, gland, and system of the body.

Shiatsu Massage

Shiatsu Massage is a Japanese type of massage therapy that uses pressure applied with the thumbs, fingers and palms.


Stone Symmetry (Hot Stone Massage Therapy)

Stone Massage

A stone massage uses cold or heated stones to apply pressure and heat to the body.

Structural Integration

Structural Integration’s aim is to unwind the “strain patterns” residing in your body’s myofascial system, restoring it to its natural balance, and ease.

Swedish Massage

I think that Swedish Massage is the most widely known form of massage. This type of massage technique uses five styles of long, flowing strokes to massage.

Thai Massage

Thai Massage originated in India and is based on ayurveda and Yoga.

Traditional Chinese Massage

The two most widely known forms of Traditional Chinese Massage are: • Tui na, which focuses on pushing, stretching and kneading the muscle, and; • Zhi Ya, which focuses on pinching and pressing at acupressure points.

Trager Approach

Trager massage therapy combines movement, massage and education.

Trigger Point Therapy

Sometimes confused with pressure point massage, Trigger Point Therapy focuses on deactivating trigger points that may be causing local pain, or referred pain and other sensations, such as headaches, in other points of the body.

Visceral Manipulation

One form of Visceral Manipulation is Mayan Abdominal Massage which is practiced in many Latin American countries.

Watsu

Watsu is the combination of hydrotherapy and Shiastsu Massage.

How Many People Actually Get Massages?

The numbers are increasing every year as more and more people realize that they need something other than a drug to cover up symptoms. In 2002 there were an estimated 165 million visits to massage therapists in the US alone. This number is increasing every year as more and more people are looking for alternatives to the typical drug therapy, which is not a cure or a path to better health, but is, in most cases, just a band-aid type of treatment.

Medical Massage Therapy is the most used type of complementary and alternative medicine in hospitals in the United States.

The average person uses massage to relieve pain, reduce stress, and, improve general health and wellness, and, in the best case scenario, will combine the massage with a day long visit to a spa!

You absolutely have to take care of yourself to enjoy health fitness and a healthy body. If you think about what you spend on “health” insurance, or, as I prefer to call it: “disaster insurance”, getting a massage, and treating yourself to something that is really beneficial for you on many levels, just makes sense.

Massage….At Work!

If you are fortunate enough to be working at a company that offers massage to their employees, count your blessings! Some of these companies include: Allstate, Boeing, Best Buy, Cisco Systems, FedEx, USA Today, General Electric, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Home Depot, JC Penney, Kimberly-Clark, Reebok, Texas Instruments. As time progresses and companies see the benefits of massage, like employee stress reduction and relaxation, and, with the side effect of happier more productive employees, they will see that it truly IS the right thing to do.

Your life is extremely valuable, it has no price, yet, that is what we do every day is to put a price on it.

I hope that you have enjoyed this section on massage, and, I would encourage you to take a look at other sections on our site that have your health and wellness as the goal. We encourage you to leave any feedback, questions, or suggestions.

Actions You Can Take:

• Read a few pages from our site each day to learn more about what you need for exceptional health and wellness;

• Look up a massage therapist in your area, find out about them, set an appointment for yourself:

• Put yourself on a regular massage schedule for 2 or 3 months, once a week if you can, but at least twice a month. Check with your health insurance provider, if you have one, to see if they cover massage:

• Re-access your health each week as you are on your massage program, note any changes:

• Go to our Mind/Body page, look up a yoga, Pilates, or exercise class, find out about the instructor, sign up for the class:

• Re-access your body strength, posture, energy level each week (the first week may be a little hard if you have not worked out in awhile):

• Look at you diet, make sure you are eating a quality selection of food. You don’t need to go “cold turkey” on your favorite junk foods, but you should look for healthy replacements.

• Take a picture of yourself before you start your new program, and a picture after one month, two months, etc.

Have a Healthy, Energy Filled Life!