Who doesn’t love the idea of taking some time for themselves and indulging in a relaxing massage? A professional, therapeutic massage is one of the best ways to relax, unwind and de-stress. Today, we view massage as almost synonymous with the word “pampering” and is the reason that so many of us choose spa weekends and vacations as the perfect way to recharge. Although the emotional benefits of massage are powerful, various techniques have been used throughout time as a means of healing the physical body as well. Some of the earliest reports of massage as medicine date back approximately three thousand years ago. Over this course of time, we have had the opportunity to learn how to best use massage to heal the body and spirit. In more recent times, scientific research has given medical validation to massage, which was once thought of as a fringe or alternative medicine approach.
The definition of the word “massage” is to rub, manipulate or knead the body, muscles and joints with the hands to relieve pain and tension. However, we are now learning that massage does more for your body that just relax some muscles and calm a tight neck. It turns out that when the body is stimulated through massage, that there are both chemical and physiological changes that occur throughout the entire body. These reactions are why massage can have such profound benefits for specific conditions and overall health. If you are curious about the many ways that massage can help you become the healthiest version of yourself, take a look at this list of amazing benefits:
Muscles, Joints and Flexibility
- Increase joint flexibility, especially in those with joint related injuries and arthritis
- Helps to ease pain and speed the healing of soft tissue injuries and sports injuries
- Improves performance and lessens the likelihood of overexertion from physical exercise and sports practice.
- Eases back pain and increases overall range of motion
- Releases tension and knots from overworked or overstressed muscles
As a Complimentary Treatment for Specific Conditions
- Improves airflow for asthmatics
- Reduces diastolic blood pressure
- Reduces cramping and headaches associated with PMS
- Facilitates easier labor and recovery from childbirth
- Improves digestion and lessens the severity of disorders that affect the digestive system
- Eases fibromyalgia pain
- People who get regular massages tend to experience less anxiety and depression
- Reduces stress-related sleeplessness
- Naturally releases endorphins
- Provides a sense of calmness and clarity
- Releases tension and bottled up emotions
- When combined with healing oils, the skin can become softer, smoother and maintain elasticity
- Improves circulation, which is important for skin health
- Give you a natural, radiant glow
- Encourages tissue regeneration which can help to reduce scarring and the appearance of stretch marks
To really understand how massage can provide so many benefits, we need to first understand what happens to the body during a massage. There are two general processes that occur during a massage. These responses can be categorized as the relaxation response process and the mechanical response process. Both are equally important for achieving healing through massage.
The first, the relaxation response, is what happens almost involuntarily as we relax during treatment. During massage, it is common for physiological chances to occur such as a lowering of blood pressure, and the slowing of heart rate and respiration. As this occurs, your body enters a state of relaxation. During the state of relaxation, there is an increase in serotonin, one of the “feel good” chemicals that our bodies produce. As all of these changes are occurring, the muscles of the body naturally begin to relax. Once the muscles are in a softened, relaxed state they are more easily manipulated and healed by the massage. The best part of this is that these benefits don’t immediately disappear the minute you hop off the massage table. The relaxation response can last for hours or even days. People who get regular massages report being able to more easily achieve and maintain a sense of relaxation and calm, even in stressful situations.
The second response, the mechanical process, is the physical relaxation of tissues, the increase of lymph circulation and blood flow. The rubbing and kneading that occurs during massage increases the blood flow, oxygen saturation and vital nutrients to all of the cells in the body. The increased circulation aids in cell renewal and healing. There is also the immediate benefit of relaxed muscles. As the muscles relax, they release their grip on the surrounding nerves, which is the root cause of many types of chronic pain. Various organs in the body share the same neurological pathways as the muscles groups that are treated during massage. This is why massaging one area of your body can help alleviate pain from other sources.
If you have finally committed to treating yourself to a massage, or have decided to incorporate it into your wellness program, you should know that not all massage is created equal. There are many types of massage, each featuring a different technique and each promoting different health and relaxation benefits. Here is a quick overview of some of the most popular styles of massage.
- Back Massage: The back contains large, important muscle groups that are essential to many of your every day functions. If you have ever suffered back pain, then you know how much your life can be affected by these muscle groups not being in their optimal condition. Many practitioners and spas offer a simple, focused back and neck massage. Generally speaking, this type of massage last approximately thirty minutes and will focus on any areas of pain or tightness that you are currently experiencing.
- Deep Tissue: Your muscles are composed of multiple layers and a network of connective tissue. It is often deep within these layers that the most painful conditions arise. When these layers of tissue are tight or inflamed, it can cause issues including chronic pain, repetitive strain and postural issues which can easily cascade into injuries. Deep tissue massage is the type of massage that is target to reach this deeper network of supportive tissues. This is done my using pressurized, slow strokes that produce heat and friction across the muscle.
- Hot Stone: This style of massage, which has gained popularity in recent years, involves the placement of heated smooth stones over certain points on the body. The purpose of the hot stones is to warm and relax the muscles so that they can respond better to massage treatment. Some therapists choose to just place the stones on specific points and let them sit for a specified duration, while others will actually apply some pressure and movement using the warm stones to glide along the body.
- Prenatal Massage: There can be many physical discomforts that are associated with pregnancy. Prenatal massage is a treatment of specialized massage techniques that address specific pregnancy related concerns such as nausea, swelling, hip and joint pain, stress and anxiety. The pregnant body requires special considerations in both position and technique. Therefore, it is important when seeking prenatal massage, to only accept services from therapists that have been trained and have experience specifically with this type of massage.
- Reflexology: This style of massage deals with the application of pressure to certain points on the body, which are generally focused on the feet and sometimes the hands. The idea is that the entire body is represented by certain pressure points on the hands and feet. By massaging these points, you help to remove blockages, release energy and stimulate the nerve pathways associated with each area.
- Shiatsu: This refreshing type of massage is a Japanese form of bodywork. In this style of massage, just the fingers are used to apply pressure to the body at specific points called acupuncture medians. Each point of pressure is held for a specific amount of time, usually several seconds. The point is to release tightness and energy blockages that stand in the way of healing and balance within the body.
- Sports Massage: This style of massage is designed to treat people who participate in sports or are very physically active. Sports massage includes a variety of techniques such as stretching, friction and deep tissue work to help relieve the bodily stress of physical exertion and prevent future injury.
- Swedish: When you think of a relaxing spa massage, Swedish massage is likely the image that comes to mind. This popular style of massage uses a variety of strokes and pressure across the uppermost superficial layers of muscle. This style of massage is intended to relaxing and gentle to the body. It is less commonly used to treat specific injuries or ailments.
- Thai: Thai massage is a whole body experience that is great for increasing flexibility and range of motion. With this style of massage, rather being still, your body is stretched and manipulated by the therapist into certain positions that are yoga-like in nature. These positions help to elongate the muscles, loosen tension and release negative energy.
Massage is intended to be a very relaxing, healing and therapeutic experience. To make sure that you get the most out of your massage session follow these tips for seeking services and knowing what to expect during your massage.
- Most states require practicing massage therapists to be licensed. The licensing includes applicable coursework, a certain number of supervised practice hours and an examination. Make sure that the therapist that you choose is licensed and practices according to the guidelines set forth in your state.
- There are multiple places that you can get a massage. Make sure you choose the one you are most comfortable with. You can get a massage at a spa, resort, hotel, medical facility, a private practitioner's office or even in your own home. Many businesses are also catching on to the benefits of massage and offer them regularly at the worksite. Where you will be most comfortable is completely a personal decision. Keep in mind the type of atmosphere that you are most relaxed in, but also the reason for your massage. If you are seeking a massage to help heal a serious injury, you are probably best suited for medical massage in an office setting. If you need to de-stress, but hate the idea of driving and waiting in an office to receive a massage in an unfamiliar setting, you might like a well-reputed therapist to come to your home. How you feel about where you are getting your massage and who is administering it will greatly influence the outcome.
- Check out the massage practitioner’s reputation and ask for references, especially if they are coming into your home.
- Talk with your massage therapist about any concerns or health issues that you have prior to your massage. A reputable therapist will be interested in at least a brief health history.
- Some types of massage require the removal of clothing. You have the right to ask for privacy while undressing and to be provided with appropriate coverings. If you are uncomfortable, you can ask if special accommodations can be made in order to keep your clothing on. Never do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.
- Many therapists use music, essential oils and other external stimuli meant to enhance the experience. If any of this doesn’t sit well with you, make sure to mention it so that they can have the opportunity to create an experience that is enjoyable for you.
- Make sure to tell your therapist if you have any skin sensitivities or allergies.
- Plan on your massage taking anywhere from thirty to ninety minutes, depending on the type and any special considerations, such as an injury. The amount of time is typically discussed beforehand.
There is no question that massage therapy can be beneficial for your mind and spirit, but now we have evidence that massage, in its many forms, can be an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. If you have always thought of massage as a self indulgent treat, it is time to put away that old thought pattern and welcome massage into your life as an enjoyable, relaxing healing modality. Treat your spirit and treat your body to this time honored healing art today.