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Introduction to Massage/Spa

Massage is the systematic rubbing and manipulation of tissues of the body. It is one of the oldest forms of healing therapy — there are records of massage therapy dating back to 2200 BC.

Today, there are over 80 forms of massage therapy being practiced in the U.S. Popular examples of massage styles include

Swedish massage

This involves long strokes, with kneading and friction on the muscles, and movement of the joints to improve flexibility.

Deep tissue massage

This involves patterns of strokes and deep finger pressure on parts of the body where musckes are tight, focusing on the deeper layers under the skin.

Trigger point massage

This involves deeper, more focused pressure on a set of trigger points — those areas of skin overlying "knots" in the muscles that are painful when pressed. (Pressure may also cause pain referred elsewhere). They are also called myofascial trigger points,

Shiatsu massage

This involves rhythmic and varying pressure from the fingers on parts of the body that are designed to influence the "qi" or vital energy of the body (see acupuncture for a discussion of the Chinese principle of qi, meridians, and pressure points)

Massage treatments

A treatment session may vary in length from as short as 15 minutes, up to 2 hours. Most sessions are 30 to 60 minutes long. After an initial evaluation - the therapist will look for conditions or indications that might preclude treatment - the session should begin on a padded table, or on a massage chair or stool. Chair massages, especially if they focus on the neck, may be performed while you are fully clothed. On the table, you would be undressed and covered with a sheet and or towels.

The therapist may use oil or powder to reduce friction on the skin, and may also use ice, heat, or fragrances to enhance the treatment.

Licensing and Certification of Massage Therapists

Massage therapy is regulated in 33 states, where licensed massage therapists must graduate from an approved school of massage therapy and pass a national licensing exam. Other health professionals, such as Medical doctors (MD), Osteopathic doctors (DO), Chiropractors (DC), Physical therapists (RPT), and Nurses ( RN) do not need additional certification or licensure to incorporate massage therapy in their treatments.

Questions you may want to ask your massage therapist include:

  • What is your experience - How long have you been practicing?
  • Where did you get your training?
  • Are you certified, and by whom?
  • Do you belong to any massage therapy professional associations (Such as AMTA)
  • Do you use oil or cream?
  • How long are your sessions?

How does massage work?

One source of muscular tension is anxiety and worry. There is a feedback that can set in when worry causes painful muscular spasms, which heightens the worry and leads to worsening spasm and worsening pain, and the cycle repeats. Massage can break that cycle, by directly relieving the muscle tension, and sending "relax" signals to the mind.

American culture is relatively deprived of touch - we have social taboos regarding touching each other during the normal course of social interaction, yet touch is a basic human need. Massage therapy may be effective because it removes the taboos of touch, and addresses our need to be touched and nurtured.

Various theories on how massage might relieve pain also include :

  • Massage blocks pain signals from the brain (Melzack's gate control theory)
  • Massage may elicit a parasympathetic response, with slowing of breathing and heart rate, dilation of blood vessels, and increase in digestive activity
  • Massage may stimulate release of brain chemicals, such as endorphins and serotonin
  • Massage may work through direct mechanical actions on the muscle — preventing fibrosis, stimulating the flow of lymph
  • Massage may be beneficial through the power of touch, the personal relationship and connection between therapist and client.

Self massage

If you give yourself a massage, it is definitely easier to arrange an appointment with the therapist. Here are some simple self-massage techniques, from Northwestern Health Sciences University:

Self-Massage Techniques

  • Scalp Soother – place your thumbs behind your ears while spreading your fingers on top of your head. Move your scalp back and forth slightly by making circles with your fingertips for 15-20 seconds.
  • Easy on the Eyes – close your eyes and place your ring fingers directly under your eyebrows, near the bridge of your nose. Slowly increase the pressure for 5-10 seconds, then gently release. Repeat 2-3 times.
  • Sinus Pressure Relief – place your fingertips at the bridge of your nose. Slowly slide your fingers down your nose and across the top of your cheekbones to the outside of your eyes.
  • Shoulder Tension Relief – reach one arm across the front of your body to your opposite shoulder. Using a circular motion, press firmly on the muscle above your shoulder blade. Repeat on the other side.