Discovering Massage Therapy: At the Corner of Self-Care and Wellness

benefits of massageAn Introduction to Massage

The allopathic (Westernized medicine) culture of taking a pill is slowly dying. More consumers are educating themselves, recognizing there are alternative ways to addressing their wellness needs, and are taking note that perhaps a multi-pronged approach to managing their health is a better option over going the traditional route alone. Why? Many not only understand the philosophy of “be good to your body, and your body will be good to you”, but they are living it.

Complementary alternative medicine (CAM) therapies such as massage therapy are a hot topic right now, mainly because there is evidence supporting massage as a beneficial therapy in treating those who suffer from chronic disease. According to the American Massage Therapy Association consumer research report for 2013 found more than 50 million adults discussed massage as a viable treatment with their physician, and 88% of consumers believe massage is be beneficial to overall health and wellness. It was also found consumers view massage as an effective option in reducing pain. Also, 43% of people who did receive massage between July 2012 and July 2013 did so for management of medical issues such as back pain, spasm, and stiff joints.

Benefits of Massage: What Makes Massage Beneficial?

Most people know massage helps reduce stress. However, few realize massage’s impact on the parasympathetic (rest and digest response) and sympathetic (fight or flight response) nervous systems. According to research conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH) massage is proven to:

• Reduce heart rate
• Reduce blood pressure
• Minimize anxiety
• Increase cytotoxic capacity (activity of the body’s own immune response)
• Enhance weight gain in pre-term babies
• Increase lymph flow (important in immune response)
• Reduce edema (swelling)
• Relieve and reduce back and other pain
• Minimize stress
Enhance mood (due to endorphin release)

back painMassage also affects nerve health, and maintaining a healthy nerve supply is important. Your very existence depends on the nervous system’s ability to tell your muscles, including muscles that live inside organs, what to do such as in the case of your heart beating, diaphragm and lungs moving for breathing, movement of food throughout the GI tract, visual perception, the ability to hold and release waste, and the list goes on. This is done through the autonomic (think automatic) nervous system. When nerve innervations of muscles are compromised, especially those buried within organs, so is your health.

Unfortunately, as one ages the body loses its ability to compensate over time, which in making it that much more difficult for the body to do its job when the nerve supply goes haywire. Massage therapy can assist in healthy nerve function by minimizing nerve irritation turn slows firing of nerve synapses. This is especially important in situations where over stimulation of nerve roots is an issue because this can lead to pain.

Understanding Massage

Therapeutic touch and massage are used interchangeably, but they are very different. All massage is considered therapeutic touch, but not all therapeutic touch is massage. Therapeutic touch can be provided by anyone, it is the act of touching one to calm or soothe. However, massage and the term massage therapist is only granted by those who are licensed. I’m always surprised at the number of people who don’t realize that a formal training program is required in order to be a massage therapist.

All massage therapists must complete a minimum of 500 clock hours of combined theory and clinical education. In addition, they must pass either a state or national exam in order to receive a license to practice as massage therapists. Passing of the national exam is not mandatory by all states to receive a license. However, if you meet a therapist who has been certified by the National Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) know that this therapist has achieved the highest certification for massage in the country. All therapists must also have a federal background check, and in many states must document continuing education hours to continue their practice.

Selecting a Therapist

When selecting a therapist it’s important to choose a therapist you are comfortable with. Not only will this person be touching you, they will also need to be privy to any medical conditions you may be challenged with to determine if massage is an appropriate treatment for you. A trained, licensed individual will always know if massage is appropriate. If you are ever in doubt about whether a therapist is licensed, simply request to see their license or look them up on your state’s professional registry for their licensure information.

massage-manWho Can Have A Massage?

Although the NIH research shows massage playing a significant role in health and wellness maintenance, it is important to check with your physician prior to a massage if you suffer from any medical condition. Below are only a few of many conditions in which massage is contraindicated:

• Fever
• Inflammation
• Uncontrolled Hypertension (high blood pressure)
• Varicose veins (varicosities should be avoided)
• Cancer
• Trauma (car accident, such as whip lash)
• Diabetes (caution is used due to neuropathy or loss of sensation)
• Infectious diseases (including skin, herpes, and HIV)

Types of Massage

There are a broad range of massage modalities and techniques, and new advances in massage come out all the time. Here is a short list of the most popular types of massage.

Swedish Massage:

Manipulates muscles and connective tissues for relaxation, rehabilitation or health maintenance using variations of five basic strokes: effleurage, petrissage, friction, tapotement (percussion) and vibration.

Deep Tissue:

Incorporates working not only muscle, but the deeper layers of the muscle fiber to relax to assist in relieving stress. This massage is not the same as “deep pressure”, and may leave you feeling as though you had a very strenuous workout the next day.

Sports massage:

Is a blend of Swedish strokes combined with cryotherapy (cold therapy), pressure-point therapy, cross-fiber friction, joint mobilization, hydrotherapy and compression to assist athletes in performing at a greater level of fitness.

Pre and postnatal:

hot stone massageIs for both pregnant women and post birth. It focuses on discomforts in the shoulders, low back, feet and legs. Women who are showing will be positioned on their side for the safety and comfort of both mom and baby.

Hot Stone:

Utilizes hot stones as the name implies along with a blend of Swedish strokes such as effleurage to melt tension, and release tight muscles.

Chair Massage:

Chair massage uses an ergonomically designed chair to perform treatments with the client completely clothed. It is usually performed on site, such as a workplace, convention, etc.

Spinal Massage:

Is the gentle stretching of the vertebrae to allow circulation, oxygenation and nourishment of the spine as the blood supply moves freely throughout. Because the spinal cord envelops a great deal of nerve supply, if done correctly, spinal massage can have a positive impact on those suffering from degenerative nerve disorders such as fibromyalgia, mixed nerve disorder, or a pinched nerve by inducing a relaxing affect of the cord. Like physicians massage therapists can be specialized. You wouldn’t go to a podiatrist for a heart problem. Therefore, spinal and prenatal massage should only be performed by a trained and skilled therapist.

What to Expect

Your first visit is similar to going to the doctor’s office. You will complete a form detailing your medical history, the reason for your visit, location of your pain, and the type of pressure you prefer – light, medium, or deep. After discussing the form with your therapist, he or she will step out of the room where you will disrobe including socks and bra. Some clients prefer to completely disrobe so their therapist can have access to the gluteal (buttocks) region if they are experiencing low back pain. This decision is, however, completely up to you. A professional and licensed massage therapist will always respect your boundaries and code of ethics.

massage therapist

Once undressed you will get on top of the massage table between the sheets, usually face down to start. Your therapist will knock prior to entering. The room is typically low lit with relaxing music to engage your senses and help you relax during the treatment. Most therapists don’t talk during the session, and clients have been known to fall asleep. No talking is done purposely to help you focus and relax. If you end up with a chatty therapist, it’s okay to tell them you prefer a silent treatment to unwind.

You may hear and feel popping noises as your therapist works over tired muscles. This is completely normal, and is an indication that your therapist has found the source of your tension. About three-quarters through the session you will be prompted to turn face up. Also, nasal congestion is typical and generally subsides once you’re face up. Once your session is over, the therapist will step out so you can change back into your clothing.

Because massage releases toxins stored in your tissues, you may feel nauseous or even light headed due to the combination of increased circulation and having toxins released into your blood stream. You will be advised to drink plenty of water to help move the toxins through your kidney. Some clients also feel very sluggish or drugged even; this is known as a massage coma, and it’s due to the release of endorphins.

Massage can be very healing, and is important in self-care. Ideally, it should be done once every four weeks to help keep your body in a homeostatic (balanced) state. To learn more about massage, as well as to find a licensed massage therapist in your area you can visit the following authorities on massage:

American Massage Therapy Association:
National Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork:

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Kristy Wiggins-Gilbraith is a freelance writer and Nationally Certified Licensed Massage therapist with extensive clinical experience in alternative therapy for those suffering with neuro-degenerative diseases. Kristy writes for a variety of outlets covering topics ranging from health and wellness to relationships.

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