Massage Therapy 101

Massage Therapy 101

Who doesn’t enjoy a nice massage after a long day? A massage can be relaxing and ease sore muscles. But in some cases, massage therapy can be useful in treating various physical and emotional conditions.

What is Massage Therapy?

Therapeutic massage involves manual manipulation of soft tissue including the tendons, ligaments and muscles. Manipulation may include rubbing or pressing on the muscles with the hands, forearms or elbows.  Different styles of massage may also include various techniques, such as tapping, kneading or holding pressure on a specific area of the body.

Massage therapy is used to improve overall wellbeing and enhance health. Although massage therapy has grown in the last 30 years, it dates back thousands of years.

Types of Massage

There are different types of massage therapy that may effectively treat a variety of conditions. Below is a list of some of the most common forms of massage.

Swedish: During a Swedish massage, the therapist uses kneading and long strokes to manipulate the superficial layers of muscle. It’s the most common massage performed. People who have never had a massage or feel stressed and anxious may want to start with this type of massage.

Deep Tissue Massage: This massage involves using shorter strokes and firmer pressure than a Swedish massage. It targets the deeper muscle layers. A deep tissue massage may be beneficial for people who have chronically tight muscles or a repetitive stress injury.

Trigger Point Therapy: Trigger point therapy involves applying steady pressure to a specific knot in the muscle. After applying pressure, the surrounding area is also massaged. This type of therapy may help people who have muscle knots in specific locations, such as the back or shoulders.

Benefits of Massage

Massage therapy can have a variety of physiological effects on the body. Studies have shown that massage can improve blood circulation, lower blood pressure and decrease heart rate. It can also relax muscle tension and ease soreness.

But that’s not all. Massage therapy may increase the production of endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals that are released by the brain, which act as natural painkillers and promote feelings of wellbeing.

Many conditions that cause acute or chronic pain can be treated with massage therapy. For example, since massage can improve circulation and relax muscles, it may be effective in decreasing pain associated with repetitive stress injuries.

Therapeutic massage may be used to treat migraines, muscle spasms, nerve pain and fibromyalgia. It may also be used to treat emotional and psychological problems including depression, stress and anxiety.

Special Considerations

In most cases, massage therapy is safe with almost no side effects. But it is essential only to get a massage from skilled registered massage therapists in professional massage clinics (such as here). Most states regulate massage therapy and require therapists to be certified or licensed.

There may be certain circumstances in which you should talk to your doctor before getting a massage. For example, if you’re pregnant, it’s best to get a massage from a practitioner who is experienced in prenatal massage.

Once you get the green light from your doctor, prenatal massage can have several positive effects for pregnant women. For instance, a prenatal massage can decrease swelling, improve sleep and reduce back pain.

Elderly people may also benefit from a therapeutic massage. Massage can improve circulation, decrease inflammation and treat common conditions that occur with age, such as arthritis and muscular stiffness. You should seek a therapist who is experienced in geriatric massage.

Although a senior can enjoy the same type of massage as a younger person, the therapist may need to take a few precautions. For example, an aging body may need a gentle approach to massage. Also, positioning an elderly adult on the massage table may be different than positioning a younger adult.

Most people who have cancer can also have a therapeutic massage. But it’s best to ask your oncologist about having a massage before scheduling an appointment. There may be some restrictions, especially while undergoing radiation therapy. In general, massage therapy may improve sleep, promote immune system function and decrease fatigue and anxiety in people with cancer.

Massage Contraindications

Although massage is considered safe for most people, there may be some instances when your doctor may advise against it. For example, if you have low platelets, too much pressure during a massage can lead to bleeding.

Keep in mind, not all contraindications are absolute. That’s why it’s best to talk to your doctor if you have any medical conditions or special circumstances that may interfere with getting a massage safely.

There may also be cases where a therapeutic massage may be acceptable, but the therapist should avoid a certain part of the body. For example, an area of the body that has weak skin, wounds or an infection should not be massaged. If you have recently had surgery, you should talk to your doctor to make sure you are healed well enough to have a massage.

Can Massage Be Unsafe?

It can, although massage is generally felt to be safe.  Only extremely assertive massage techniques should cause pain, bruising, or other unpleasant side effects.

However, certain situations call for caution.  Those with diabetes should monitor their blood sugar closely to ensure that it does not fall too low after a massage (massage can help to regulate blood sugar over the long term).  Pregnant women should also be very careful about massage during pregnancy and seek out a therapist trained to perform prenatal massage.

Who Should Avoid Massage?

Do not have a massage if you have a contagious skin condition, a bleeding disorder (such as hemophilia), blood clots in the legs, renal failure, heart failure, phlebitis, or cellulitis.

Massage may also be contraindicated if you have cancer, as it can hurt tissue weakened by radiation or chemotherapy.  Those with autoimmune diseases such as eczema or other skin-lesion-causing diseases, or rheumatoid arthritis should avoid massage while a flare-up is occurring.  Individuals with high fevers, low white blood cell or platelet counts also should not receive massages.