Massage comes from the Greek root ‘masso,’ which means to touch; the massage is a tactile activity that requires an expert manipulation of muscle tissue and joints. Massage therapists use a variety of massage techniques to work muscle tissue to release tension and to improve circulation. The massage is usually viewed as a luxurious indulgence; however, it has several important health benefits and can be incorporated in a regular wellness routine or used as a stress-relieving tool.
There are ten massage techniques which have numerous health and wellness benefits that will be explored further in this article.
Different Types of Massage Therapy
1. Swedish Massage
The Swedish massage is the most common type of massage therapy and refers to a variety of techniques with the prime focus being relaxation of muscles. The main focus of this massage is to release toxin build-up from muscles and to increase the flow of oxygen in the blood; this is done by the application of pressure to deep muscles and tissues by rubbing in the same direction as the flow of blood. The Swedish massage is very useful when used for muscular strain; it flushes the tissues of uric acid, lactic acid and other metabolic waste and it stimulates the skin and soothes the nervous system at the same time. Additionally, the Swedish massage stretches ligaments and tendons to keep them supple and most importantly it is a stress reducer and should be a regular part of any stress management program.
2. Deep Tissue Massage
The deep tissue massage uses the same classic massage therapy strokes, but the pressure applied to the area of concentration is deeper and the movement is slower and more deliberate. The massage therapist often uses direct deep pressure across the grain of the muscles. The main focus of the massage is to realign deeper layers of muscles and connective tissues. It is very useful for chronic muscle tension or injury. When there are adhesions or bands of painful, rigid tissue this can block circulation and cause pain, contributing to limited movement and inflammation. The deep tissue massage physically breaks down these adhesions and relieves pain resulting in normal movement. The deep tissue massage can be used for specific problems like chronic pain, repetitive strain injury, postural problems and muscle tension or spasm.
3. Sports Massage
The sports massage was designed for athletes but can be beneficial for anyone with an injury or chronic pain. The massage emphasizes prevention and healing of injuries to tendons and muscles. It was developed for athletes to prepare their bodies for competition, to function during training and to recover after a sporting exercise. The massage therapist usually focuses on a specific problem area rather than administering a full body massage. The sports massage therapy is a good choice when a specific sporting injury involving movement or motion is involved.
4. Indian Head Massage
The Indian head massage focuses on the upper part of the body to relieve stress that accumulated in the muscles and joints of the head, neck, face and shoulders. The therapist uses a range of movements which includes the application of kneading over the shoulder, neck and scalp areas. Additionally, pressure points on the face are stimulated by gentle stroking. Indian head massage is extremely beneficial as a stress and tension reliever; it is especially useful for migraine, sinusitis and headaches. If focus is placed on the scalp when receiving the head massage there are some added benefits to hair growth. Additionally, the massage improves concentration and soothes the nerves leaving clients with an energized feeling.
Reflexology focuses primarily on the feet. Practitioners believe that applying pressure to the reflex areas on the feet and hands can promote health by corresponding to specific organs on other parts of the body. For example, the tips of the toes reflect the head; lower back and intestines are towards the heel. Reflexology promotes relaxation, reduces pain, soothes tired feet, improves circulation and encourages overall healing.
6. Hot Stone Massage
The use of hot stones dates back to ancient times as a healing agent. Heated smooth, flat stones usually made of basalt, a type of rock that is rich in iron and retains heat, are placed on the body at key points. The stones are heated in an electric heating device until they are within a comfortable temperature range; they are then placed at specific points on the back, between the toes or even in the palms of the hand. Some massage therapists place stones on points that are thought to be energy centers; this is said to rebalance the body and mind. The stones may also be used by the massage therapist to massage certain areas of the body. The warmth of the stones calms the nervous system and improves circulation.
Shiatsu means “finger pressure” and shares the same views of the Chinese acupuncture that the body is made up of two forces, Yin-the negative and Yang-the positive. The theory is that there needs to be a balance of the two forces, so blocked or unbalanced energy allows disease to take over. However this massage will restore balance. The massage therapist uses palms, fingers, knuckles, thumbs elbows, knees, and the feet to work on the body’s pressure points. Unlike the classical massage therapy where kneading and friction is used, shiatsu emphasizes pressure and stretching. Shiatsu treatments are given for a variety of ailments including respiratory problems, digestive problems and leg cramps.
8. Neuromuscular Massage
Neuromuscular massage focuses on one specific area of the body. The theory for neuromuscular massage is that a muscle spasm is not caused by a spasm in the entire muscle but in a very centralized area, which then reverberates to other areas thus causing pain. The area causing pain is called the ‘trigger’ point and this is where all the massage is concentrated. A trained neuromuscular therapist will locate the trigger points associated with muscle pain, and then alleviate the stress using concentrated, intense pressure on that area. Pressure can be applied using a small device called the t-bar, hands or elbows. Neuromuscular massage is used to treat repetitive motion injuries, lower back pain and headaches.
9. Pregnancy Massage
The pregnancy massage, also called pre-natal massage, is a special massage therapy developed for the expectant mother. This massage emphasises proper positioning and support to protect both mother and unborn. Pregnancy massage is a good alternative to relieving back pain, reducing stress, decreasing swelling in the arms and legs, and relieving aches and pains in muscles and joints.
10. Aromatherapy Massage
The aromatherapy massage is a regular massage therapy that incorporates the use of highly concentrated plant oils or essential oils. These oils contain various properties with numerous health benefits. When the plant oils are inhaled it soothes and calms the nerves or energizes the senses depending on the oil used. Other benefits include the lowering of blood pressure and the controlling of the emotions. Additionally, the oils are absorbed through the skin for an added health benefit.
Enjoy any of these ten massages, depending on health needs, or a combination of two or more as a stress reliever.
Davide Sechi, Massage Basics, Sterling Publishing, 1997