Massage therapy; what is it?
A soothing massage can help you unwind, but that’s not all. Explore the possible benefits of massage and what to expect.
Today, bodywork in various forms is offered in businesses, clinics, hospitals and even airports. If you’ve never tried massage, learn about its possible health benefits and what to expect during a massage therapy session.
What is massage?
Massage is a general term for pressing, rubbing and manipulating your skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Therapists typically use their hands and fingers for massage, but may also use their forearms, elbows and even feet.
There are many different types, including these common ones:
- Swedish / Relaxing:. This is a gentle form of massage that uses long strokes, kneading, deep circular movements, vibration and tapping to help relax and energize you.
- Deep Tissue / Therapeutic: This technique uses slower, more-forceful strokes to target the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue, commonly to help with muscle damage from injuries.
- Trigger Point: This technique focuses on areas of tight muscle fibers that can form in your muscles after injuries or overuse.
Massage is generally considered part of complementary and alternative medicine. It’s increasingly being offered along with standard treatment for a wide range of medical conditions and their associated symptoms. Studies of the benefits of massage demonstrate that it is an effective treatment for reducing stress, pain and muscle tension. Your lifestyle and medical history are of primary importance to understanding some the symptoms you may be experiencing in muscle soreness and general mobility. Anatomy, pressure points, muscle insertion and trigger points are just a few of the many categories that a master therapist must know. The more information you can give your therapist in the initial consultation, the better he or she can help you.
“Word on the health benefits of massage therapy for stress relief has spread. In 2006, 39 million Americans — one in six adults — had at least one massage, according to a nationwide survey by the Council at (AMTA).
“Americans are looking to massage for much more than just relaxation, “says Mary Beth Braun, President of the AMTA. “. . . this bodywork therapy can be effective for a variety of conditions, including arthritis,lower back pain, insomnia, headaches, anxiety, circulatory problems, and recovery from a sports injury.”
When you can’t get to your therapist, you can still reap many of the benefits of this age-old healing practice — with your own hands. WebMD consulted several massage experts to find these simple, self-massage techniques that incorporate the best soothing rubs and pressure-point applications that massage has to offer.” – excerpt from WebMD website.
While more research is needed to confirm the benefits of massage, some studies have found massage may also be helpful for:
- Digestive disorders
- Insomnia related to stress
- Myofascial pain syndrome
- Paresthesias and nerve pain
- Soft tissue strains or injuries
- Sports injuries
- Temporomandibular joint pain
Beyond the benefits for specific conditions or diseases, many people enjoy massage because it often involves caring, comfort, a sense of empowerment and creating deep connections with their therapist.
Despite its benefits, massage isn’t meant as a replacement for regular medical care. Let your doctor know you’re trying massage and be sure to follow any standard treatment plans you have.
Risks of massage
Most people can benefit from massage, however, it may not be appropriate if you have:
- Bleeding disorders or take blood-thinning medication
- Burns, open or healing wounds
- Deep vein thrombosis
- Severe osteoporosis
- Severe thrombocytopenia
Discuss the pros and cons of massage with your doctor, especially if you are pregnant or have cancer or unexplained pain.
Some forms of bodywork can leave you feeling a bit sore the next day. But massage shouldn’t ordinarily be painful or uncomfortable. If any part of your massage doesn’t feel right or is painful, speak up right away. Most serious problems come from too much pressure during a session.
In rare circumstances, some therapies can cause:
- Internal bleeding
- Nerve damage
- Temporary paralysis
- Allergic reactions to massage oils or lotions
What you can expect during a massage
You don’t need any special preparation for this therapy. Before your session starts, your therapist should ask you about any symptoms. Your medical history and what you’re hoping to get out of massage should also be discussed. Your massage therapist should explain the kind of techniques he or she will use.
In a typical session, you undress or wear loose fitting clothing. Undress only to the point that you’re comfortable. You generally lie on a table and cover yourself with a sheet. You can also have a massage while sitting in a chair, fully clothed. Your massage therapist should perform an evaluation through touch to locate painful or tense areas. This will also reveal how much pressure to apply. Depending on preference, your massage therapist may use oil or lotion to reduce friction on your skin. Tell your massage therapist if you might be allergic to any ingredients.
A therapy session may last from 15 to 90 minutes, depending on the type of massage and how much time you have. No matter what kind of massage you choose, you should feel calm and relaxed during and after your massage.
If a massage therapist is pushing too hard, ask for lighter pressure. Occasionally you may have a sensitive spot in a muscle that feels like a knot. It’s likely to be uncomfortable while your massage therapist works it out. But if it becomes painful, speak up.