what is massage therapy?

Massage therapy is the manual handling of soft tissues. This is generally done by rubbing, pressing, and applying friction all over the body. Soft tissues include muscles, tendons, connective tissues, joints, and ligaments. Different styles in techniques can range from long, smooth strokes to short and hard ones.

The massage therapy practice dates back thousands of years. The ancient cultures of Egypt and China believed in its therapeutic benefits. History credits Egyptians to be the first to practice reflexology. They, in turn, influenced Greek and Roman customs of their time.

Today, all across the world, the number of practitioners of massage therapy has grown at a steady pace. This is due to the increasing demand for it by a growing public. It has gained a well-received reputation of providing wellness and revitalization to the human body.

THE POWER OF TOUCH

During the first few days in an infant’s life, the loving touch of a parent or caregiver creates a sense of security. He continues to seek this welcoming touch throughout his life. It is because he realizes this helps build relationships and allows emotional sharing.

Touch provides the language of compassion. It is a language that is profoundly essential to humankind. It is no wonder why no matter the degree to which science has proven its effectiveness, people continue to seek out this form of therapy.

types of massages

Over the centuries, several types of massage techniques have evolved. 

ORIENTAL MASSAGES

Oriental massages refer to massages that intend to balance and harmonise the flow of ‘Qi’, or life force, by stimulating energy lines. These massages use the same pressure points used in acupuncture.

  • SHIATSU

    • Shiatsu massage is a form of Japanese bodywork. It involves applying pressure to local points by using fingers, hands even elbows. The strokes required here are rhythmic. The therapist makes sure that he holds each location for about two to eight seconds.
    • The goal of this type of massage is to stimulate acupressure points to improve the flow of energy and thus, regain balance. Shiatsu is beneficial in treating neck and back pain, arthritis, and even sinus problems. It also encourages quick recovery from injuries and stimulates the digestive system.
  • THAI MASSAGE

    • This is a unique form of massage. It is a combination of ‘assisted’ yoga, passive stretching, and pressing movements. It’s a bit like yoga; the only difference being the therapist is the one who moves and stretches the body in a series of postures and positions.
    • Like Shiatsu, it focuses on aligning the body’s energies by applying rhythmic compressions along energy lines. This method reduces stress levels and increases flexibility. It reduces muscle spasms and back pain and can provide relief for migraine symptoms.
  • CUPPING THERAPY

    • Cupping therapy involves the therapist placing individual cups on the parts of the body for a few minutes to create suction. Therapists use cups made of glass, bamboo, earthenware, or silicone. Proponents of cupping therapy claim the suction helps the flow of ‘Qi’, or what the Chinese refer to as life force, in the body.
    • It restores the balance between the positive and negative extremes in the body. This restoration allows the body to resist diseases. It also increases blood flow and reduces pain. In turn, the release in muscle tension will promote cell repair. New connective tissues and blood vessels within the tissues then begin to form.
    • RELATED: Is Cupping Right For You?

THERAPEUTIC MASSAGES

Therapeutic massages encompass those that aim to relieve pain, reduce stress, and focus on a specific problem area.

  • DEEP TISSUE MASSAGE

    • This type of massage focuses on muscle knots or adhesions and problematic deep muscle layers. The technique involves slow and deliberate strokes. Doing this will create more pressure across the grain of the muscle. It focuses on painful muscles, postural problems, injuries, and repetitive strain.
    • This form of massage is ideal for people experiencing chronic pain. Some have lingering injuries that are so severe they cause limited mobility. This is ideal in treating repetitive stress injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome. It also helps reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
  • SPORTS MASSAGE

    • This form of massage aims to prevent and treat injuries and enhance an athlete’s performance and flexibility. It allows the athlete a broader range of motion or to recover after a competitive event.
    • This type of massage improves blood flow because the strokes are generally quicker. It may also include pressure point therapy and joint mobilization.
  • REMEDIAL MASSAGE

    • This type of massage is both extensive and precise. It aims to iron out any areas of tension or muscle knots. The therapist finds ad releases tension as they go from head to toe.
    • As the meaning of remedial is ‘giving or intended as a remedy or cure’, it targets specific areas per session. This massage is ideal when there is a particular concern. The therapist may dedicate an entire session to the leg or the upper body, shoulders, and neck.
    • This massage can also pertain to more specific techniques like myofascial release. Other methods include trigger point therapy and dry needling.
    • RELATED: What are The Benefits of Remedial Massage?

  • REFLEXOLOGY

    • This form of massage focuses on reflex areas of the hands and feet. Practitioners believe these points connect to organs and the nervous system. Rubbing and kneading these areas stimulate endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural pain and stress fighters. Releasing these stress fighters will promote relaxation and healing.

RELAXATION MASSAGES

Relaxation massages are forms of massage that involve gentle and flowing strokes. They aim to promote relaxation and relieve muscle tension.  They also improve blood circulation and increase range of movement.

  • SWEDISH MASSAGE 

    • A typical Swedish massage begins with soft and long kneading strokes. It later transitions to light, rhythmic tapping to address problem areas. Deliberate joint movement is then introduced into the session.
    • This massage is ideal for people who are new to massage, have stiff muscles, and are sensitive to touch. It provides relaxing and energizing results. It can even help hurry recovery from an injury.
      • Aromatherapy
    • This is a popular type of Swedish massage. It involves combining soft, gentle pressure with scented plant oils or essential oils. The essential oils usually come from Lavender and Rose plants. They have healing and relaxing properties, making them a vital addition to massage oils.
    • The combination of the scent and the pressure applied to the muscles can boost mood levels. It can also reduce stress, anxiety, and depression and relieve muscle tension at the same time.
  • HOT STONE 

    • This therapy involves the use of heated, smooth stones placed on specific points of the body. The stones are usually basalt stones that are volcanic rock able to maintain heat well. The heat from the stones is useful in loosening tight muscles.
    • This form of therapy is not ideal for people with high blood pressure and heart disease. It is also not suitable for people with varicose veins and people taking blood-thinning medications. They should seek a medical opinion before receiving this form of therapy.
  • PREGNANCY MASSAGE

    • Also known as prenatal massage, it aims to relax the expectant mother. This massage involves applying customized pressure to painful areas caused by pregnancy. Problem areas include the lower back and swollen ankles. It is a safe and drug-free solution for providing relief.
    • But, pregnant women should seek out experienced and skilled therapists before trying this. A therapist should know how to adjust techniques and ensure the woman’s safety.

what massage therapy can do for you

For some, a massage is a short-term intervention that helps speed up recovery from injuries. While for others, it is a long-term relief from stressed and hurried activities.

So many studies have shown massage therapy to be an effective treatment for reducing stress levels as well as pain and muscle tension. Stimulating the soft tissues of the body will release toxins. This, in turn, will loosen muscles, which will allow the body to achieve its full capacity of movement.

1. WELLNESS AND REVITALIZATION

Most research on the benefits of massage focus on how it can contribute to healing. But, some studies conclude that bodywork can also impact healthy people. It promotes wellness and relaxation. Decreased stress levels improve immune system function.

Studies found that Swedish massage is consistent in proving it improves sleep. The same research also found that Thai massage led to a sense of energy and revitalization.

  • IN THE WORKPLACE

    • Several studies show that offering massage in the workplace can be quite viable to business and beneficial to workers. It helps increase range of motion, reduces stress-related symptoms, and increases job satisfaction.
  • FOR ATHLETES

    • Athletes make it a point to get massage treatments between training sessions and after competitive events. The reason is that massage therapy has proven that it can improve strength in muscles damaged by overuse and speed up recovery.
    • Athletes find that they recover fast from over-exertion when they receive a massage.
  • FOR THE ELDERLY

    • Elders welcome massage therapy as a helpful and relaxing treat. It is because it provides a pleasant and relaxed feeling. Elders find that it promotes well-being and increased engagement with others.
    • Evidence also suggests that regular 60-minute therapeutic massages can improve balance among elders. Thai foot massages can provide long-term postural stability and mobility.

2. RELIEVES PAIN

Muscular aches and pains are the most common reasons that drive people to seek massage therapy. Here are some of the known remedies it provides.

  • BACK AND NECK PAIN

    • Much evidence proves that massage helps treat chronic, uncomplicated lower back pain. Massage therapy accompanied by proper exercise is also more effective than massage alone.
    • RELATED: How to Prevent Back Pain

    • In the same way, much evidence also proves manual therapy can help clients with neck pain. So much so that medical professionals often recommend massages in managing neck pain.
  • HEADACHES AND MIGRAINES

    • Tension-type headaches and those related to neck pain appear to respond well to manual therapy. Research reveals patients experienced lesser pain levels and frequency.
  • OSTEOARTHRITIS

    • Several studies show patients suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee, enjoy massage therapy. Aromatherapy provides short-term pain relief because essential oils play a vital role. Patients would average getting massage treatments for an hour to two hours and once or twice a week.
  • FIBROMYALGIA SYMPTOMS

    • Fibromyalgia is a disorder that involves widespread pain, exhaustion, sleep, and memory issues.
    • Research about this disorder supports using massage therapy for pain, anxiety, sleep, and quality of life. Researchers found that long-term treatments are more effective when accompanied by regular massage.
  • PAIN FROM MUSCULOSKELETAL INJURIES

    • Athletes usually experience musculoskeletal injuries. Examples of these are sprains, dislocations, trauma from falls, and direct blows to the muscle. Non-athletes also suffer from these injuries. They are primarily caused by postural strain, repetitive movements, or prolonged immobilization.
    • When these injuries persist, physicians often recommend non-invasive options like manual therapies. Skilled massage therapy can contribute to muscle and tendon recovery. Stimulating nerves in the area of sprains can improve balance, especially around the ankle.
    • A significant decrease in carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms can also be due to massage therapy. Patients observe notable improvements in the strength and function of the hands and wrists. This is especially evident when compared to other modes of interventions.
  • AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES

    • This categorization can include lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. These diseases present concerns that massage therapy can address. Among which include pain, fatigue, mood, quality of life, and self-efficacy concerns.
    • Lupus patients can reap benefits from getting massages paired with acupuncture. This combination has proven it can improve sleep and the quality of life in this population.
    • A specific type of massage at the point of injection of medication can help patients of Multiple Sclerosis tolerate the side effects.
  • CRAMPS, LABOR, AND MENOPAUSAL PAINS

    • Dysmenorrhea can be debilitating for women. Studies prove that connective tissue manipulation can be useful in decreasing menstrual pain.  This intervention shows best results when paired with an abdominal aromatherapy massage.
    • Massage can also be helpful for prenatal depression. Studies show that both mother and baby can benefit when the mother learns how to massage her newborn. Aromatherapy can also enhance the immune system function and decrease stress during pregnancy.
    • Skilled therapists can offer specialized massages for pregnant women. This type of massage can shorten labour and reduce pain. It can also improve a woman’s control over her body during childbirth.
    • Menopausal women are avid consumers of massage therapy due to its proven benefits. Foot reflexology is popular in helping to improve hot flashes and night sweats.
    • A study found Thai massage increases biomarkers that signal bone formation for women in postmenopause. This was a surprising discovery that prompted more exploration by therapists to increase bone density.

3. PROVIDES SUPPORTIVE CARE

Massage therapy can contribute to the supportive care of patients with terminal illnesses.

  • FOR CANCER PATIENTS

    • Through the help of massage therapy, cancer patients can improve sleep and reduce fatigue and exhaustion. In turn, this contributes to less stress, anxiety, and depression. Massage therapy has also proven effective in decreasing nausea and constipation. The immune system function is also improved.
    • Massage demonstrates that it provides an improved quality of life for this population.
  • FOR SURGICAL PATIENTS

    • Surgical patients in hospital settings and hospices can hurry recovery through massage therapy. It promotes wellness and lessens the risk of complications. It even decreases a patient’s reliance on medications for pain.
    • A robust number of clinical trials found massage therapy can reduce intense pain. Combining it with pharmacological anesthesia will reduce post-cardiac surgery pain intensity.
    • Specialized abdominal massage can speed up the recovery of gastrointestinal function after a laparoscopy. Massaging the face, neck, and shoulders can improve nerve recovery from plastic surgery.
    • Researchers found massage can help reduce swelling around the knees after a knee replacement surgery. Although in this study, medical practitioners used a massage tool and not manual therapy.

4. IMPROVES QUALITY OF LIFE

Patients experiencing debilitating challenges can still seek out an improved quality of life.

  • FOR PEOPLE WITH HIV/AIDS

    • There is some evidence that shows massage therapy can also be beneficial to people with HIV/AIDS. Continuous massage treatments may lessen anxiety and depression. In turn, it can also increase the quality of life among HIV patients.
  • FOR PEOPLE EXPERIENCING MOOD-RELATED CHALLENGES

    • A healthy body of evidence shows that massage therapy can help with mood-related challenges. This includes people with anxiety, depression, and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Studies show that regular massage treatments can decrease stress-related hormones.
    • The welcoming touch of skilled therapists decreases anxiety among these patients. A study recommends massage to people who went through torture like refugees or veterans. That is if these survivors are comfortable at being touched.
    • Studies show that there were considerable decreases in pain and irritability in patients. There is also depression and anxiety in people living with this kind of disorder.
  • FOR PEOPLE WITH INSOMNIA AND POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD)

    • A study found that massage therapy can reduce insomnia symptoms. This is especially true for women who are either postmenopausal or pregnant.
  • FOR PEOPLE WITH HYPERTENSION

    • Massage therapy can help hypertensive patients. Evidence suggests this is true, especially when partnered with antihypertensive drugs. A clinical trial discovered that Swedish massage could lower blood pressure readings and kept it low for as long as 72 hours or more.
  • PEOPLE WITH DIABETES

    • Massage therapy has proven to decrease blood glucose for a temporary period. When paired with exercise, Thai massage is also able to improve tissue health. While foot reflexology can improve accurate sensation in the feet as well as improve balance.
  • FOR PEOPLE UNDERGOING DIALYSIS

    • Massage therapy for people with renal failure should involve gentle pressure only. It can help patients with leg cramps and provides a general improvement in the quality of life.
  • PARKINSON’S DISEASE

    • Patients of PD experience aggressive muscle stiffness and tremors. Health care providers recommend patients seek out massages as it provides relief for these symptoms.
    • Abdominal massage is also able to help with the tightness and rigidity of muscles. Research has found that pairing this with the Trager approach achieves better results.
  • ALZHEIMER’S AND DEMENTIA

    • People with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can get positive results from continued massages.
    • It can help improve familiarity and engagement in these patients. It can also increase feelings of reassurance and connection with other people. It also helps decrease aggressive behaviour and agitation among patients. This is especially true if regular massages go with sensory enrichment exercises.

5. FOR PREMATURE INFANTS AND INFANTS WITH ILLNESSES

Massage therapy is a non-invasive and low-risk alternative medicine. Safety is especially vital when dealing with infants. Researchers found that massage can help infants with asthma and cystic fibrosis. 

Children with cancer also claim that massage therapy helps with pain and anxiety.  It also improves the quality of sleep of infants with congestive heart failure. 

Much evidence points to massage therapy as an effective solution. This is why many pediatricians include it in treatment guidelines for managing pain in pediatric patients.

Premature infants may be able to improve weight gain when given massage treatments. In contrast, there is no evidence to suggest the same benefits to full-term infants.

6. REDUCES RELIANCE ON DRUGS WITH OPIOIDS

Opioids are substances that produce a morphine-like effect. They provide medical benefits by relieving pain, like anesthesia. There are some illegal forms as well, like heroin. Some common side effects of using opioids are nausea and vomiting. Respiratory depression and physical dependence or addiction are also common side effects.

Massage therapy is demonstrating robust evidence in relieving many kinds of pain. It is for this reason that it is generating a lot of interest in the context of decreasing the need for the use of opioid drugs.

Massage therapy also provides a low-risk option compared to these substances. In response to this, policy-making organizations have published strategies that use it as a part of managing pain. This aims to move patients away from Opioid drug dependency.

body and mind wellness is within your reach

This article is only an overview of what massage therapy can do. There are much more comprehensive reports that delve into a more in-depth exploration of its capabilities.

It comes as no surprise why the number of massage practitioners in Australia has steadily increased. From 2005 to 2015, massage therapists all across Australia have numbered from 10,600 to 11,800 with an all-time peak of 16,900 in 2014. Statista estimates that by 2020, massage therapists will reach 15,100.

The reason those numbers have kept going up is that the demand from the consuming public has increased as well. The benefits gained from it are innumerable and encompass so many afflictions. 

More than that, massage therapy can contribute to a well-balanced mind and body in a significant way.

Ready to experience your very first massage? Let us take the privilege of helping you achieve your full potential!

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