What is Massage?
Massage is a “hands on” treatment in which a therapist manipulates muscles and other soft tissues of the body to improve health and well-being. Varieties of massage range from gentle stroking and kneading of muscles and other soft tissues to deeper manual techniques. Massage has been practiced as a healing therapy for centuries in nearly every culture around the world. It helps relieve muscle tension, reduce stress, and evoke feelings of calmness. Although massage affects the body as a whole, it particularly influences the activity of the musculoskeletal, circulatory, lymphatic, and nervous systems.
The History of Massage
The use of massage for healing purposes dates back 4,000 years in Chinese medical literature and continues to be an important part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). A contemporary form of massage, known as Swedish massage, was introduced to the United States in the 1850s. Today, more than 125,000 massage therapists practice in the United States. Their numbers are growing rapidly to keep up with the more than 80 million massage therapy appointments people make every year.
There many types of massage therapy
There are nearly 100 different massage and body work techniques. Each technique is uniquely designed to achieve a specific goal. Some common types that might help your back pain include:
Myofascial release: Gentle pressure and body positioning are used to relax and stretch the muscles, fascia (connective tissue), and related structures. Both physical therapists and massage therapists who are appropriately trained use this technique.
Trigger point massage: Pressure is applied to “trigger points” (tender areas where the muscles have been damaged) to alleviate muscle spasms and pain.
How does massage work?
When a practitioner massages soft tissue, electrical signals are transmitted both to the local area and throughout the body. These signals, in combination with the healing properties of touch, help heal damaged muscle, stimulate circulation, clear waste products via the lymphatic system, boost the activity of the immune system, reduce pain and tension, and induce a calming effect. Massage may also enhance well-being by stimulating the release of endorphins (natural painkillers and mood elevators) and reducing levels of certain stress hormones.
Procedures for a massage therapy session
At your first massage therapy session, the practitioner will ask you about any symptoms you may have (like low back pain) and will also ask questions about your medical history. The practitioner may also initiate a discussion about what you expect to achieve from the massage session.
The therapist leaves the room while you undress and lie down on the massage table. A sheet is draped over your body during the session and moved only to expose the part of the body being worked on at any given time. Massage oil or lotion is often used to reduce friction between the practitioner’s hands and your skin. The room is kept warm and free of distractions. The therapist will ask whether they are applying too much or too little pressure. Soft music may be playing in the background.
The manner in which a practitioner massages your body depends on the problem being treated. A massage session can last from 15 – 90 minutes and may include a schedule of follow up visits, depending on the severity of your situation.
The Benefits of Massage
Massage is believed to support healing, boost energy, reduce recovery time after an injury, ease pain, and enhance relaxation, mood, and well- being. It is useful for low back pain, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and sprains and strains. Massage may also relieve depression in people with chronic fatigue syndrome, ease chronic constipation, decrease swelling, alleviate sleep disorders, lowers blood pressure and improve self-image. Clinical studies show that massage may be an effective treatment for cancer patients in reducing pain and improving mood, autism, relieves chronic back pain, atopic dermatitis, ADHD, bulimia, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Risks associated with massage
In general, massage is considered relatively safe. Pain or other rare negative side effects are generally caused by an extremely vigorous massage technique.
Women should be very cautious about receiving massages during pregnancy. If you are pregnant, be sure to find a therapist specifically trained to perform massages on pregnant women.
If you have diabetes you should check your blood sugar after receiving a massage because it may be too low. Plus, if you have diabetes and you are receiving massage on a regular basis, you should check your blood sugar frequently to evaluate changes over time.
People with these conditions should avoid massage:
Infection of the superficial veins (called phlebitis) or soft tissue (called cellulitis) in the legs or elsewhere
Blood clots in the legs
Contagious skin conditions
If you have cancer, check with your doctor before considering massage because massage can damage tissue that is fragile from chemotherapy or radiation treatments.
People with rheumatoid arthritis, goiter (a thyroid disorder characterized by an enlarged thyroid), eczema, and other skin lesions should not receive massage therapy during flare ups. Experts also advise that people with osteoporosis, high fever, few platelets or white blood cells, and mental impairment, as well as those recovering from surgery, may be better off avoiding massage.
Also, be sure to let your massage therapist know about any medications you are taking, as massage may influence absorption or activity of both oral and topical medications.