Do you love massage therapy, but believe that it’s a luxury to be saved for special occasions or as a way to reward yourself for reaching a goal? Think again! Throughout history, societies around the world have understood the healing power of massage. In fact, records indicate that it was practiced in India, China, and Egypt as early as 3000 BCE. Now scientific research increasingly indicates that it’s good for our health as well. Massage enhances the circulation of blood and lymph, stimulates immunity, reduces inflammation, and promotes healing. It triggers the release of endorphins, our natural feel-good substances, reducing pain, depression, and anxiety, and boosting our moods.
The popularity and availability of massage and bodywork services is growing, and you can choose from a multitude of styles, depending on your preferences and particular needs. Here are a few of the most common modalities.
• Swedish massage, largely based on a system devised in the early 1800s by Swedish physician Per Henrik Ling, is probably the most familiar type of massage in the United States. Swedish massage is performed on bare skin with lotion or oil and usually involves long smooth strokes (effleurage), kneading and squeezing (petrissage), and gentle circular friction on the superficial layers of muscle tissue. Although Swedish massage can be made more vigorous with the addition of vibrating and percussive moves, it is generally very relaxing—a good one to try for your first massage.
• Deep tissue massage uses deep pressure, slow, sustained strokes, and cross-fiber friction to break up adhesions (painful bands of tight, rigid tissue) in deep layers of muscle and connective tissue. Because this technique is exactly as it sounds—deep!—it’s important to provide feedback to your therapist during your session if the pressure becomes too uncomfortable. This type of massage can be effective for relieving the symptoms associated with past injuries, chronically tight muscles, and postural dysfunction.
• Neuromuscular therapy is a specialized form of deep tissue massage that uses sustained, deep pressure and friction to release tender “trigger” points. Trigger points can be the source of chronic pain and weakness and can cause “referral” symptoms—pain, tingling, or numbness in areas far from the trigger point. Neuromuscular massage helps relieve these symptoms by improving blood flow to soft tissues, releasing nerve compression (“pinched” nerves), and restoring balance to the muscular system.
• Myofascial release uses slow, sustained, gentle pressure on the surface of the skin in order to release painful restrictions in fascia, the connective tissue that surrounds and encloses all of the body’s structures like a garment. Because it deals with connective tissue rather than muscles, myofascial release can sometimes correct problems that other types of bodywork fail to resolve. It’s helpful for relieving acute and chronic pain and for restoring freedom of movement to your body.
• Craniosacral therapy is a gentle, non-invasive bodywork modality that uses a very light touch on the head, spine, and sacrum (the triangular bone at the base of the spine) in order to release restrictions in the craniosacral system, the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. Craniosacral therapy is profoundly soothing and can help relieve symptoms associated with a wide variety of problems, including chronic neck and back pain, migraines, TMJ, and scoliosis.
• Shiatsu (literally meaning “finger pressure” in Japanese) is a form of Japanese bodywork that uses pressure along specific energy pathways, or meridians, in order to balance the body’s flow of vital energy, or “Qi.” Shiatsu can relieve stress, improve health, and promote a general sense of well being. Performed over clothing, this modality can be deeply relaxing or invigorating, depending on your needs.
• Manual lymph drainage, or MLD, is a rhythmic, extremely gentle massage technique that helps stimulate your immune system and facilitate the elimination of excess fluid, waste products, and toxins from your tissues. MLD can help relieve the pain and swelling associated with sinusitis. It can also reduce inflammation and stimulate healing after injury or surgery. MLD is best known for success in treating lymphedema, an extreme form of swelling which sometimes affects cancer patients after surgery or radiation, but it’s also a delightfully pleasant modality for anyone who just wants to detoxify and relax.
• And last, my personal favorite: foot reflexology. Deeply relaxing, foot reflexology involves massaging specific points on feet (“reflex” points) in order to stimulate healing processes in corresponding body parts. It’s therapeutic, and, in my opinion, absolutely heavenly.
Yes, massage therapy may feel self-indulgent, but it’s actually a responsible and enjoyable way to take care of yourself. Whether you want to improve your health, manage pain, detoxify, or simply relax, schedule a therapeutic massage with a qualified practitioner today!
Emily Wells-Perritt, CMT, RYT-500, is the owner of Wells Therapeutics Center for Massage, Healing and Transformation located near Mt. Trashmore in Va. Beach. She’s a certified massage therapist, yoga instructor, and avid cyclist.