Massage therapy is essentially the manipulation of muscles and other soft tissues (such as tendons and ligaments) to provide relief and to enhance physical and emotional health and well-being. Massage therapists use their hands and fingers but elbows, forearms or even feet may by applied. There are numerous types of massage therapies, called modalities. Today, massage is also referred to as bodywork or somatic therapy. This encompasses various other techniques that are utilized to treat soft tissues, claiming to benefit musculoskeletal, circulatory-lymphatic, nervous and other body systems.
Popular Types of Massage
According to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), the four most common types of massage therapy are:
- Swedish massage: Done by rubbing the muscles with long, gliding strokes, this is the best known and most popular type of massage. Proponents claim that in addition to providing relaxation, Swedish massage increases oxygen levels in the blood, rids the body of muscle toxins and promotes circulation and flexibility.
Deep tissue massage: Similar to Swedish, this method employs harder pressure to address deeper layers of tissue, tendons and fascia. Deep tissue massage may be more uncomfortable but is beneficial in ultimately lessening muscle pain and relieving chronic muscle tension.
- Sports massage: This treatment is meant to enhance sports or athletic activities and to promote recovery from training or competition. It is also used to help prevent and/or promote healing from injuries.
- Chair massage: A chair massage addresses the upper body, particularly the upper back, neck, shoulders and arms. It is done from a special chair while the person is fully clothed and has a short duration (usually 10 to 15 minutes).
The list of professed massage benefits is long. It is said that massage therapy:
- Promotes whole body relaxation
- Relieves tight, tired or aching muscles
- Increases flexibility and range of motion
- Relieves different types of pain (low back, neck, postoperative, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, tension headaches)
- Helps recovery from soft tissue injuries
- Lowers blood pressure and heart rate
- Relieves stress and anxiety
- Aids stress-related insomnia
- Relieves side effects of cancer treatment
Side Effects or Risks of Massage Therapy
While it is widely acknowledged that massage risks are rarely serious, there are a number of minor potential side effects of which to be aware. These include:
- Temporary pain or minor soreness
- Swelling and/or bruising
- Skin redness
- Fatigue or malaise
- Aggravation of existing injuries
- Creation of new injuries
- Allergic reaction to massage oils
- Delay or distraction from acquiring medical care
To avoid any potentially serious problems, inform your doctor that you are receiving massage. Those with skin infections, wounds, blood disorders, weakened bones (e.g., due to cancer or osteoporosis) or pregnancy, should consult their healthcare providers before undertaking massage.
Finding a Massage Therapist
Many practitioners of massage may advertise their services. That does not mean they are qualified with standards set by professional organizations. Below are guidelines for exploring a massage therapist:
- Look for a licensed, qualified individual. The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) directory or Associated Bodywork Massage Professionals (ABMP) directory have therapists listed by geography
- Make sure your therapist has at least 500 hours of training from an accredited massage school
- Use word of mouth. A family member, friend or teammate (if you’re an athlete) can often give specifics on their recommendations. You can also benefit from the research and experience of others
- Ask your healthcare provider for a referral. Whether it’s a family physician or chiropractor, these are good resources as they may also be able to narrow the list depending on your treatment focus
- Check out health clubs or gyms. Speak to trainers or contact organizations relevant to the type of conditions you wish massage to address
- Question the massage therapist. When you find a prospective therapist, ask what specialized training he/she may have to address your needs. Also, ask about the massage techniques used and whether the person has experience with specific conditions (e.g., sports, pregnancy, heart disease, etc.)
At Spinal Rehabilitation and Wellness Center, as part of our multi-disciplinary approach, we are experts in providing customized massage therapy. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us today.