Once upon a time, people thought about massage as a luxury—a service available only to well-to-do clients at luxury spas or elite sports clubs. These days, though, you can find massage offered in the workplace, in airports, in hospitals, and in health clinics. The benefits of massage have been so well-established through research that your medical doctor or chiropractor may even refer you to a massage therapist as an integral part of their overall treatment plans. Massage has been found to be beneficial for treating anxiety, fibromyalgia, chronic headaches, digestive disorders, insomnia related to stress and a wide range of soft tissue injuries, including those caused by auto, work and sports accidents. And that’s a conservative list. Besides, massage feels good. So what do you need to know about massage before having one?
Some Basic Facts About Massage
Massage is a very general term for rubbing, pressing, kneading, and manipulating your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and skin for health-related reasons. Many massage therapists use only their hands and fingers for massage, but others may perform specialized forms of massage that use their forearms, elbows, or even their feet. The force used during the massage can vary from light stroking to deep pressure. There are many styles of massage, including:
- Swedish Massage – This gentle form of massage uses long strokes and kneading, deep circular movements, tapping, and vibration to relax and energize the patient. It is an effective way to relax after a long, stressful week, but research indicates it has health value as well because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol and improves your immune system performance.
- Deep Tissue Massage – This massage type is considered best for relieving deep knots in the muscles and freeing up trapped tissue structures that may be restricting movement, so if you’re looking for a calm, relaxing massage, this type should probably not be your first choice. The masseur applies deep pressure to dig deep into muscles to release trigger points and improve mobility.
- Sports Massage – Masseurs who specialize in sports massage can help you heal from sports-related injuries or actually improve your sports performance.
- Trigger Point Massage – This form of massage focuses on identifying and releasing areas of tightly bound muscle fibers that can form in your body after injury or overexertion.
- Shiatsu Massage – This type of massage comes from Japan, where the title means “finger pressure.” True to its name, practitioners of this type of massage barely touch the patient, applying gentle pressure to areas considered pressure points or “tsubo,” with the goal of promoting natural healing and improving energy flow.
There are many other specialized types of massage, of course, but the above list covers most general types. As for what you should look for in a massage therapist, the magic words are qualifications and communication. The process for licensing, registering, or certifying massage therapists varies from city to city and state to state, but your prospective massage therapist should be proud to tell you about their training, credentials and experience. Similarly, they should be forthcoming about their approach and willing to offer references from other patients or clients.
Naturally, any massage therapist you are considering should also welcome practical questions such as “How many sessions do you think I will need?” and “How much will it cost, and is it covered by my health insurance?” One of the best ways to find a good massage therapist is to ask your chiropractor. Doctors of chiropractic often work in conjunction with highly-qualified massage therapists, and thus can refer you to professionals whose work they trust.