Massage therapy involves the rubbing and kneading of soft tissues and muscles in the human body. This is to promote healing and enhance a person's health and well-being. It is thought the term 'massage' originates from the Greek word, 'Massein' meaning 'to knead'. It is also linked to the Arabic word, 'mash' which means to 'press softly'. Both aptly describe the treatment, which is now used in healthcare, beauty therapy and sports.
The practice of using touch as a healing method derives from customs and techniques rooted in ancient history. Civilisations in the East and West found that natural healing and massage could heal injuries, relieve pain, and prevent and cure illnesses. What’s more, it helped reduce stress and produce deep relaxation. Although it began as a sacred system of natural healing, cultural shifts rendered it a disreputable form of indulgence for extensive periods of history. However, massage has experienced resurgence in modern times. Today, massage therapy stands as a highly respected holistic healing method practiced across the world.
Massage therapy history dates back thousands of years to ancient cultures that believed in its medical benefits. The first written records of massage therapy are found in China and Egypt. In 2700 BCE the first known Chinese text is called “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic Book of Internal Medicine.” This book became a staple in massage therapy training. Chinese massage methods originated from the principle that diseases and illnesses arise due to a deficiency or imbalance in the energy in specific pathways or meridians that represent physiological systems. Through massage and other specific bodywork techniques, energy will flow more harmoniously through these pathways, allowing the body to heal itself naturally. Techniques include Tui Na, amno, acupuncture and acupressure, to name a few.
Egyptian tomb paintings dating back to 2500 BCE, showed that massage therapy was also a part of their medical tradition by depicting individuals being kneaded by others. Hindus used the art of healing touch in the practice of Ayurvedic medicine. It was from this early massage therapy history that the Swedish doctor, Per Henril Ling developed a method of movement known as the “Swedish Movement System.” This system was further developed by Dutchman Johan Georg Mezger who defined the basic hand strokes of Swedish massage.
As a preventative practice, therapeutic massage is used in spas, gyms and work places all over the country. In the health care industry, massage is commonly used in hospitals, nursing homes and birthing centres. It is also used in physical therapy and in chiropractic clinics to treat pain, increase circulation and expedite the healing of injured muscles.
There are more than 250 variations of massage and bodywork therapies used today. Despite the differences between each modality, all of them involve touch and manipulation techniques to move muscles and body tissue. The aim is to relieve stress, tension, pain and a whole host of other ailments. I will look at a few common techniques in this blog:
Deep Tissue Massage
Deep tissue massage aims to realign deeper layers of connective tissue and muscles in order to relieve pain and restore natural movement. It is commonly used to treat chronic aches and pains and tension in the neck, back and shoulders. Chronic muscle tension is caused by adhesions - ligaments and bands of painful rigid tissue. Adhesions can block our circulation, causing inflammation and limiting our movement. A deep tissue massage can help to break down these adhesions via the application of slow, pressurised movements, with deep strokes and finger pressure. This is to ensure all the sub-layer of muscles and the fascia is stimulated.
Deep Lymphatic Therapy
Also known as 'lymphatic drainage', deep lymphatic therapy is used to release areas of built-up fluid in the body. The aim is to treat various ailments that are associated with the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a collection of vessels and nodes that collect and neutralise foreign protein or ingested bacteria in the body. When we experience something traumatic, these vessels and nodes can become congested. Over time this congestion builds up until the lymph areas are surrounded by fluid. This swelling is called lymphedema. Deep tissue massage is performed on each part of the body to release this fluid. Hot fomentation (otherwise known as steam heat) is then applied. This helps to liquefy everything the massage has managed to break down. Deep lymphatic therapy enables the body to re-balance and return to its normal state.
Indian Head Massage
Indian head massage is an Ayurvedic form of healing and relaxation. Thousands of years ago the treatment was applied only to the head and hair area as a remedy for dry scalp conditions. Today it is a much broader therapy, incorporating the upper back, shoulders, upper arms and face. These body parts are considered to be important centres of energy. It can help provide relief from certain physical ailments whilst promoting relaxation, concentration and energy.
Hot Stone Massage
This therapy involves the use of hot stones placed on the body to treat a range of health concerns. A hot stone massage will typically begin with a traditional Swedish massage to warm up the body. The stones will be sanitised and heated in water, before being placed along the spine, stomach, or other various points of the body. As a stone begins to cool it will be replaced with another. This massage is thought to have many benefits which include:
§ Reduced inflammation and swelling
§ Reduced muscle pain and discomfort
§ Increased blood flow
§ Cleaning of the lymphatic system
§ Enhancing well-being
It is also a highly rejuvenating, and is thought to encourage the release of pent up emotions. Whilst there is no evidence to support the effects of hot stone massage, it is a popular treatment.
Physical activity can lead to the build-up of stress and tension in the body's tissues. Sports massage is designed to help prevent and treat injuries that can occur as a result of overexertion or poor training exercises. Stretching, compression, toning and trigger point response techniques similar to acupressure may be used. This type of massage can be applied through all stages of training. It can also provide recovery and prevention before and after competitions. Sports massage can also benefit individuals who don’t play sport. It is particularly helpful for those who are experiencing muscle pain and tension as a result of stress. The therapy is thought to improve circulation, boost lymphatic flow and help flush out metabolic waste.
As mentioned previously, the Swedish massage is considered to be one of the first types of massage to be developed. Over the years it has evolved into a popular therapy, known for its five core techniques which are:
1. Effleurage - Long gliding strokes
2. Petrissage - Lifting and kneading the muscles
3. Friction: Firm - Deep circular rubbing movements
4. Tapotement - Brisk tapping or percussive movements
5. Vibration - Rapidly shaking or vibrating specific muscles
The aim of the Swedish massage is to increase the body's absorption of oxygen, which helps the body to rejuvenate. It also contributes to the detoxification process, which speeds up the rate at which cells eliminate waste. This process involves flushing lactic acid, uric acid and other waste from the tissues. It helps stimulate the skin and nervous system, and exercises the ligaments and tendons to keep them supple. The entire process is very relaxing and is championed for its ability to reduce both emotional and physical stress.
Other therapies that are popular healing and body re-balancing treatments are acupressure, bowen therapy, reflexology, reiki, and shiatsu.
To Sum Up…
With all of the massage therapies out there, it would seem that they could heal practically any condition. Massage is comparatively safe, however, there are a few exceptions. It should not be used if a person has one of the following conditions: advanced heart diseases, high blood pressure, phlebitis , thrombosis, embolism, kidney failure, cancer if massage would accelerate metastasis (i.e., spread a tumor) or damage tissue that is fragile due to chemotherapy or other treatment, infectious diseases, contagious skin conditions, acute inflammation, infected injuries, unhealed fractures, dislocations, frostbite, large hernias, torn ligaments, conditions prone to haemorrhage, and psychosis.
To get the best massage experience you need to find a good massage therapist. Their personality as well as their qualifications makes all the difference. In terms of qualification, make sure they have successfully completed a course that is recognised by a professional body for massage therapy. In regards to their personality, they should possess good listening skills, have empathy, be professional and have an interest in expanding their massage skills.
There you have it. An amazing journey through the luxurious world of massage. Next time you book yourself in for a massage be sure to ask about the other beneficial techniques available. It may, in fact, be the healing touch you were always looking for.
Recipes for Health
Massages for Relaxation and Stress Relief
· Swedish Massage - Best for: An intro to massage, stress relief, relaxation, releasing cramped or tense muscles, couples massage.
· Hot Stone Massage - Best for: "Centering" yourself, releasing very tense muscles, relaxation.
· Chair Massage - Best for: Quick massages when you've been walking all day, stress relief.
Massages for Treating Pain and Specific Conditions
· Deep Tissue Massage - Best for: Treating stiff, painful trouble spots like the shoulder and neck.
· Trigger Point Massage - Best for: Chronic muscle pain and tension.
· Neuromuscular Therapy - Best for: Treating injuries and issues like poor circulation or posture problems, lower back pain.
Massages for Overall Health and Rejuvenation
· Shiatsu Massage - Best for: Ailments such as headaches, back pain, and lack of energy.
· Thai Massage - Best for: Improving energy, increased flexibility, overall health and well-being.
· Sports Massage - Best for: Athletes.