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Benefits Of Regular Massage Treatment

By Matthew Craig Long

A great many people regularly receive massage treatment and each person will have their own specific reasons for doing so. Some enjoy being pampered, or feeling less stressed after a hard days work. Other people seek massage treatment for the specific resolution or reduction of aches and pains. However, a great many people, even if they regularly receive massage treatment, do not really understand the benefits of regular massage and the means by which massage achieves its goals. Therefore, in this article, I aim to outline the benefits and advantages of having regular massage treatment. In addition, I describe the mechanisms by which massage therapy achieves the restoration of health from injury.

When I apply massage, I try to affect the patient on 3 levels: Structural, fluid and energy. A correctly applied massage should be an enjoyable experience that leaves the patient feeling relaxed, de-stressed and full of energy. Effective massage should be tailored to the particular needs of the patient rather than following a set routine of specific movements. Similarly, a skilled massage practitioner will use a variety of techniques and positions to target muscles and joints in the most effective way possible.

While therapists offering a basic qualification are fine for a general massage – say to relive general aches and pains, it is important to seek out a remedial massage therapist if you are require the resolution of a specific pain or injury. Generally, it is only the more highly qualified therapists that are trained to diagnose and treat specific problems and have the required training that underpins the knowledge required to identify the dysfunctional tissues and formulate an effective treatment routine.

In general a highly skilled massage therapist employs a wide range of techniques for stretching tissues, stimulating and relaxing the nervous system, lymphatic drainage, increasing circulation and breaking down knots in muscles. Furthermore a skilled therapist will usual deliver a massage face down, face up and side-lying. These positions allow the therapist to more effectively target specific muscles over just delivering a massage face down.

Massage is one of the most effective treatments for correcting and maintaining correct posture. A skilled massage therapist will be able to perform a postural analysis and determine which muscles are short and which are long. Treatment will include a full assessment of the type of work and sports that we do. From this, the massage therapist will be able to identify which muscles are likely to be over-used and need to be targeted in the massage treatment. The targeted massage routine will stretch the shortened muscles, which will help normalise posture. In addition, the massage therapist will usually suggest targeted home exercises to strengthen weakened muscles.

Sometimes, muscles are shortened due to the ‘knots’ that build up in the muscle fibres. A skilled massage therapist will be able to palpate these knots and apply specific focussed techniques to break them down. This will allow the muscle to perform at its optimum level as well as allow an increased blood supply to the whole muscle and promote more effective removal of waste products.

As well as the normalisation of posture, regular massage treatment encourages increased circulation in the whole body. The massage therapist usually applies long flowing massage strokes in the direction of the muscle fibres. This compresses the tissue building up a ‘bow wave’ of compression that is moved longitudinally along the direction of the muscle. This encourages the flow of blood through the body as well as a generic stretch of the muscle fibres and surrounding tissues. This is especially important in individuals who have relatively inactive lifestyles.

Massage therapy is a very effective treatment for dealing with injury. In the short term after the injury, the massage therapist will help to reduce the amount of pain and discomfort by reducing the inflammation around the injured area. Following this, the massage therapist can design a plan of treatment and rehabilitation to promote faster recovery and ensure that the range of motion is not lost in the injured joint while it is healing.

Thus, over time, especially with regular treatment, the massage therapist builds up a complete structural picture of the client’s body. Thus the massage therapist is able to spot potential problems that may give rise to injury in the future. A great many injuries often result from immobility that builds up from injuries that have not healed properly or due to the build up of rigid tissue around a joint over time. A massage therapist is able to spot this and restore range of movement before a serious problem occurs. For sports people, this is especially important as injury is more common as athletes push their bodies to the limits of their physical design.

Therefore, a regular massage is more than just correcting structural defects. It is about maintaining health, increasing awareness of the clients body (to the client) and maintaining energy levels so that the client can perform at their optimum performance for their daily life.

A major problem with massage therapy is that it is not regulated in some countries. This means that it can be problematic in finding an effective and safe therapist. In countries where massage therapy is not regulated, the best advice I can given you is to check out the qualifications of the therapist. In addition, most therapists will be registered with one or more professional organisations and it is worth checking the registration requirements of the professional body as well.

Just as we take our cars to the garage for regular check-ups and servicing, it follows that it is prudent to do the same with our bodies. Regular massage can be thought of as a kind of check-up for our bodies – keeping our bodies in optimum health and acting as an early warning system for potential problems.

The author, Matthew Long, is an experienced massage therapist who operates a clinic offering Sports and Remedial Massage in Sutton Coldfield [], UK.

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Health and Massage

By Lynne O’Brien

Massage affects the body as a whole. To understand how massage therapy works, some of the physiological effects of massage need to be briefly examined.

Massage is known to increase the circulation of blood and flow of lymph. The direct mechanical effect of rhythmically applied manual pressure and movement used in massage can dramatically increase the rate of blood flow. Also, the stimulation of nerve receptors causes the blood vessels (by reflex action) to dilate, which also facilitates blood flow.

A milky white fluid called lymph carries impurities and waste away from the tissues and passes through gland-like structures spaced throughout the lymphatic system that act as filtering valves. The lymph does not circulate as blood does, so its movement depends largely on the squeezing effect of muscle contractions. Consequently, inactive people fail to stimulate lymph flow. On the other hand, the stimulation caused by vigorous activity can be outstripped by the increased waste produced by that activity. Massage can dramatically aid the movement of lymph in either case.

For the whole body to be healthy, the sum of its parts – the cells – must be healthy. The individual cells of the body are dependent on an abundant supply of blood and lymph because these fluids supply nutrients and oxygen and carry away wastes and toxins. So, it is easy to understand why good circulation is so important for the entire body, due to its effect on the circulation alone.

Massage is also known to:

– Cause changes in the blood. The oxygen capacity of the blood can increase 10-15% after massage

– Affect muscles throughout the body. Massage can help loosen contracted, shortened muscles and can stimulate weak, flaccid muscles. This muscle “balancing” can help posture and promote more efficient movement. Massage does not directly increase muscle strength, but it can speed recovery from fatigue that occurs after exercise. In this way, it can be possible to do more exercise and training, which in the long run strengthens muscles and improves conditioning. Massage also provides a gentle stretching action to both the muscles and connective tissues that surround and support the muscles and many other parts of the body, which helps keep these tissues elastic.

– Increase the body’s secretions and excretions. There is a proven increase in the production of gastric juices, saliva, and urine after massage. There is also increased excretion of nitrogen, inorganic phosphorous, and sodium chloride (salt). This suggests that the metabolic rate (the utilization of absorbed material by the body’s cells) increases.

– Affect the nervous system. Massage balances the nervous system by soothing or stimulating it, depending on which effect is needed by the individual at the time of massage.

– Enhance skin condition. Massage directly improves the function of the sebaceous (oil) and sweat glands which keep the skin lubricated, clean and cooled. Tough, inflexible skin can become softer and more supple.

– Affect internal organs. By indirectly stimulating nerves that supply internal organs, blood vessels of these organs dilate and allow greater blood supply to them.

Knowing about the physiological effects of massage makes it possible to better understand the health and fitness benefits of massage. What takes place under the massage therapists hands has profound importance for those interested in health and fitness in tuning up their bodies. In every sport or form of exercise, massage can help. By helping to reduce physiological fatigue and aid recovery from the exertion of working out or playing, massage enables better training, with longer, more effective workouts, thus facilitating better performance and preventing injury.

The people of ancient Mediterranean civilizations knew this. After bathing exercise, they included a full body massage. The ancients understood that education involves equal development of the mind and body. The modern publics interest in physical fitness, holistic health, wellness and human potential represents a bid to revive a time honoured philosophy.

For most people embarking on a fitness program, often the spirit is willing but the flesh is not. When regular exercise is begun almost every part of the body changes. Of interest to massage therapists is the way blood vessels become more intricate in order the meet the body’s demand for more oxygen, to supply more nutrients, to permit more elimination. This takes time. While the muscles are getting into shape, they have trouble getting enough oxygen and nutrient and wastes back up and stagnate.

Unfortunately, many exercise programs regard aches and pains as the inevitable price to be paid. This is simply not true. Massage can be used as the Greeks and Romans used it – to increase endurance, control fatigue and feel better as part of a regular health program.

Massage acts to disperse the accumulated by-products of muscle action that irritate muscles and nerve endings. Lactic and carbonic acids build up in muscle tissue shortly after exercise begins. These acids are waste products that contribute to the causation of the pain and occasional cramping that exercisers, athletes, dancers, etc. suffer during and/or after workouts or performing. These acids are formed when the glycogen stored in the liver and muscles in burned to produce the energy expended during exercise. The acids must eventually be reconverted to glycogen and stored again, or drained out via the lymph and circulatory systems. Pain and fatigue persist until this process of reconverting or excreting is completed. Massage can help eliminate the irritation caused by these wastes, thus increasing muscle recovery rates. When massage has been substituted for rest, an increase from 20-75%, even 100% muscle recovery has been recorded. For example, this is why boxers are massaged rather than rested between rounds.

Joints are critical to exercise because joints are moved by the muscles to produce movement. All joints are complicated, and their parts have a way of settling and stiffening when not used. A sluggish, numbed feeling in the joints discourages exercise. A massage therapist counteracts this by using massage strokes and passive movement to release the muscle tension and free the connective tissue found around the joints that can bind the joints.

Massage also aids recovery from soft tissues injuries such as sprains and strains. This is possible because the growth and repair of tissue are accelerated by efficient circulation in the injured areas and appropriate stimulation of the healing tissues. Many soft tissue injuries are not serious enough to necessitate a visit to the doctor or hospital, or are only treated with some first-aid, but still cause some discomfort and disability. Massage therapy can often help speed and improve recovery and reduce discomfort from such mishaps. In this way, massage helps bridge the gap between common neglect of injury and major medical intervention.

Increased health awareness has also increased nutrition awareness. The most carefully planned diet is partly wasted if blood vessels are not developed an open so that nutrition can reach the cells. Massage can aid internal nutrition rates by improving circulation.

The relationship of stress and illness is of interest to anyone maintaining their health. We all have stress in our daily lives relating to work, family, environment, society. Mental tensions, frustrations and insecurity are among the most damaging. Stress causes the release of hormones that create vasoconstriction – vessel shrinking – and reduced circulation Affected by stress, the heart works harder, breathing becomes rapid and shallow, and digestion slows. Nearly every body process is degraded. Psychosomatic studies show how stress factors can cause migraines, hypertension, depression, some peptic ulcers, etc. Researchers have estimated that 80% of disease is stress-related. Soothing and relaxing massage therapy can help counteract stressing effects.

Massage has a definite psychological effect. Since massage animates the tactile sense, the body’s primary sense, it brings people into the here and now and away from tension generated by constant preoccupation with problems. Also, loosening of muscle tension or armouring – the physical counterpart to how we defend and protect ourselves from psychological pain – can lead to freeing of repressed emotions.

Users of massage therapy as a healing tool quickly realise that they have found a form of drugless therapy. Headaches, insomnia, digestive disorders including constipation and spastic colon, arthritis, asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome, sinusitis and minor aches and pains are some of the problems that can respond to massage therapy. Massage can have an excellent effect on nervous people who have been dependent on their pharmacy for rest and relaxation.

Simply stated, the foundation stone of the therapeutic effect of massage is what Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine and an advocate of massage, defined as vis medicatrix naturae, or the body’s natural recuperative powers, the life force. Massage therapy essentially promotes health by boosting the body’s own processes.

While this article has focused on how massage can help tune the body and on the concrete scientific effects of massage, it should also be mentioned that massage can be seen as a healing art as well as a science. The theories of therapeutic massage are scientific in character, but the actual application of these theories is an art, for it involves the healing sense, sensitivity of touch, insight and intuition. It is a unique way of communicating without words, sharing energy, enjoying pleasurable relaxation, and experiencing peace of mind. Massage is often attributed to have ethereal spiritual effects akin to those of meditation.

The past ten years or so have been seen a proliferation of different terms, titles, and systems of massage such as: Therapeutic, Holistic, Swedish, Sports, Neuromuscular, Bodywork, Oriental, Shiatsu, Acupressure, Esalen, Reichian, Polarity, Reflexology, etc. For the sake of clarity, the term amssage or massage therapy as used in this article refers to the scientific manipulation of the soft tissues. The thing to keep in mind is that every healing art that employs massage therapy should include some form of kneading, pressing, or stroking with the use of pressure and movement, no matter how slight the touch or how often it is used.

The best way to find a massage therapist is to get a referral from a friend who gets massage therapy or a health professional who is knowledgeable about forms of complementary and alternative health care such as massage therapy. Or you can contact Queensland Association of Massage Therapists and the Australian Massage Therapists Association for names of qualified massage therapists in your area.

Since there are many styles of massage, you may want to shop around to find someone who practices the style of massage most suited to your needs. You should be able to find a massage therapist who is right for you., though you may or may not need to try a few massage therapists to do so.

Whenever interviewing a massage therapist you should always feel comfortable asking if they have graduated from a school that is accredited or approved by a credible accrediting agency, belong to a credible professional association such as the Q.A.M.T or A.M.T.A, and also their amount of experience and styles of massage.

In terms of what to expect during a massage therapy session, they generally are an hour in length. Clients are usually asked to remove as much clothing as they are comfortable with and rest on a padded massage table. To respect personal privacy and provide adequate warmth, the client is covered or draped with a sheet or towel so that only the part of the body worked on is exposed at any given time.

Whether or not you would expect to talk during a session depends on your needs at the time. Some clients need to talk. Some need silence. Massage therapists will usually try to accommodate what the client needs. However, sometimes talking detracts from entering a state of relaxation or experiencing the physical, nonverbal dimensions of the massage. In any case, feel comfortable giving feedback about your needs and what you like or do not like during the session. Good communication enhances the massage session.

There are a few other key points to note regarding your massage therapy session. The massage therapist will likely use a high quality oil or lotion, but if you have an allergic reaction you should let the massage therapist know. Some massage therapists offer to play music during a session, others may feel it distracting. It is best not to have eaten just before a session. Your massage therapist can answer many other questions you may have. If for any other reason you must miss a massage appointment, your massage therapist will surely appreciate being notified as soon as possible.

To enjoy the benefits of massage which have been discussed, it is best to receive a therapeutic massage from a practitioner who has blended a thorough knowledge of anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and massage technique with a sensitive, powerful touch and healing sense. Yours in health!

(c) Professional Therapist

Lynne O’Brien
Professional Therapist

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Top Ten Massage Techniques Explained

By Marie Dakin

There are many types of massage, each with their own benefits to relieve stress, pain or enhance general wellbeing. Massage is an ancient art with many variations depending on the country of origin. I explore some of the most popular, explaining the treatment and their individual benefits.

Swedish Massage

Swedish massage, the most popular worldwide, is also known as ‘Classic massage’ and is the foundation for most other types of Western massage. It involves using firm but gentle pressure to promote relaxation, working on areas of specific muscle tension. It is performed on bare skin using oils or lotions. The therapist uses their hands, forearms or elbows to manipulate the superficial layers of the muscles. Swedish massage shortens recovery time from muscular strain by flushing the tissues of lactic acid, uric acid, and other metabolic wastes by increasing the level of oxygen in the blood, it increases the speed body cells can eliminate their waste materials.

The five basic strokes of Swedish massage include:

Effleurage (sliding or gliding)

Petrissage (kneading)

Tapotement (rhythmic tapping)

Friction (cross fiber)


Deep Tissue Massage

Deep Tissue Massage, as the name implies, focuses on the deeper layers of muscle tissue. Unlike Swedish massage, which is used for relaxation, deep tissue massage focuses on a specific problem, such as: Chronic pain. It treats the connective tissue of the body rather than just the surface muscles. It is similar to Swedish massage but with slower movements and deeper pressure. Deep tissue massage helps to refresh and relax muscles, increasing the blood flow and therefore the oxygen flow around the body. A deep tissue massage is very slow using long, flowing strokes to ease in and out of the muscle. The aim of deep tissue massage is not to leave you feeling relaxed and blissful; rather, it helps to tackle particular physical, muscular problems to relieve pain and restore normal movement.

Sports Massage

Sports massage was designed for athletes, but is suitable for anyone with chronic pain, injury or range-of-motion problems. It focuses on the prevention and healing of injuries to muscles and tendons. Sports Massage differs from therapeutic massage in that it is a deeper form of soft tissue massage using specific techniques to treat physically active individuals.

The different types of massage include: Post-event – to bring body tissues to normal state. Restorative – during training allows athletes to train harder and minimise chance of injury. Rehabilitative – aimed at alleviating pain due to injury. A sports massage is a good choice if you have a specific problem sustained through sport. It stimulates circulation of blood and lymph fluids which allows for optimal metabolic exchanges, enhanced recovery after intense training, better performance and decreased onset of muscle soreness as well as reduces the possibility of injury.

Indian Head Massage

Popular in Asia Indian Head Massage has been shown to be good at relieving stress, insomnia, headaches, migraine, tension, and sinusitis. The West has caught on to its benefits using it as a quick de-stressing program.

Indian Head Massage is a very relaxing treatment which, as the name suggests, focuses on massaging the head. Indian Head Massage (Champissage) also includes massage of the shoulders, upper arms, neck, scalp, face and ears. The treatment uses a range of different movements including deep kneading and compression movements over the neck, shoulder and scalp areas. Performed sitting upright in a chair, it helps to clear the mind as it revitalizes and improves alertness and concentration levels, whilst improving joint mobility and flexibility in the neck and shoulders.

Reflexology Massage

Reflexology, also known as zone therapy, is based on the concept that there are “reflex” areas on the feet and hands that correspond to specific organs, glands, and other parts of the body. The underlying theory is that if pressure is applied to a specific reflex area, it affects the organ represented.

This seated treatment involves applying pressure to “Zone” areas on the feet and hands with specific thumb, finger and hand techniques without the use of oil or lotion. Reflexology stimulates internal organs, boosts circulation and can restore bodily functions to normal. Reflexology promotes healing by stimulating the foot, which increases the flow of vital energy to various parts of the body as well as releases endorphins (the body’s natural pain killers)

Hot Stone Massage

A hot stone massage is a full body treatment that uses smooth flat water heated stones placed along both sides of the spine (the chakra centres). The aim is to relax muscles and relieve tension very quickly. Differently weighted stones are used for different amounts of pressure.

Hot stone massage combines the proven benefits of Swedish massage with the deep heat and pressure provided by using warm basalt stones and soothing oils to relax the muscles, allowing for a deeper and more intense all-over massage. The stones are used as tools to deliver effective tissue and muscle massage at light, medium or deep pressure levels in the treatment of sore muscles, back pain, stress and other common ailments. Benefits include the restoration of the body’s natural balance, deep muscle relaxation, improved circulation and the sensation of all over comfort and warmth.

Shiatsu Massage

Shiatsu massage is a traditional hands-on therapy originating in Japan used to achieve the harmony of chi in the body. Shiatsu works on the whole being, from the physical to the spiritual.

Shiatsu, also known as acupressure, is a finger pressure massage which involves acupressure techniques (without the needles) using hand, thumbs, elbows and knees incorporating pressure, holding, rubbing, heating or stretching movements which can be deep and firm. Usually performed on a floor mat or futon, Shiatsu is a deeply relaxing experience which stimulates the body’s own healing systems and brings the body into balance, energetically and physically. Shiatsu massage is best known for relief of stress-related symptoms such as headaches and general muscle tension as well as increasing mental and spiritual awareness.

Neuromuscular Massage

Neuromuscular massage therapy is a deep form of tissue massage for reducing muscle pain through the stimulation of circulation to the nervous system. The theory behind neuromuscular massage is that when a muscle spasms – it is not in the entire muscle, but in a centralized area within the muscle. When blood flow to that area is decreased it may then reverberate to other areas of the muscle, causing pain.

This treatment involves using static pressure focused on a specific area called a trigger point and does not involve massage of the whole body. By applying pressure to the trigger point for several seconds, the lactic acid build-up at the trigger point is dispersed. This relaxes the muscles by increasing the blood flow and oxygen available to them, which releases lactic acid and thus the cause of pain, via the nervous system. Muscle pain and soreness are neutralized by repeated concentrated pressure over the trigger points.

Pregnancy Massage

Pregnancy massage is similar to Swedish massage with several positional adjustments. It is used to ease some of the discomforts associated with pregnancy such as swelling in the legs, muscles and joint aches or reduced flexibility and circulation.

The massage is usually carried out with the mother on her side using special pillows to position her body for the greatest comfort. Also known as pre-natal massage, the treatment helps with relaxation, reduces stress and relieves strained back and leg muscles to correct the posture and reduce back strain. Pregnancy massage aids the circulatory and lymphatic systems, which allows healthy blood flow to the mother and her baby.

Aromatherapy Massage

Aromatherapy massage uses highly concentrated plant oils, known as essential oils, which are added to the massage oil or lotion. This technique combines the natural therapeutic properties of essential oils and the healing power of massage therapy. It can be very effective in relaxing and healing the mind, body and spirit and is often described as a very relaxing and rejuvenating experience. The oils are the most important part of the treatment, chosen for their therapeutic effect, and not just the fragrance to “therapeutically” stimulate the nasal/olfactory senses. These are administered as incense, oil diffusers, or scented oils applied directly to the body, depending on the need.

A full body massage using essential oils utilises different strokes directly related to the desired effect, whether to relieve tension, restore energy, aid relaxation and pain relief or to promote a sense of general well-being.

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