For decades, scientists and medical researchers from around the world have studied massage therapy in order to understand how and why it is so effective in treating such a wide range of ailments. Some benefits of massage therapy have been unanimously agreed upon by researchers and their peers, while other benefits remain as mysterious as ever. For example, it’s widely accepted that certain degrees of pressure applied to soft tissues such as muscles, will enact changes in the alignment of the muscle. It’s also agreed upon that massage therapy encourages relaxation and reduces stress, which is considered the number 1 leading cause of death.
The benefits of massage therapy that haven’t yet been fully explained often give rise to a number of theories and often follow the word “might” to express the uncertainty surrounding the theory. For example, massage therapy might help alleviate pain by blocking pain signals transmitted to the brain. This is known as the “gate control theory.” Also, massage therapy might help in improving sleep patterns, which is instrumental to pain control and healing processes.
Whether understood or not, many specific cases and benefits of massage therapy with astounding results have been reported:
Some students at a New Jersey medical school received massage therapy before an exam and displayed lower anxiety levels, lower respiratory rates, and a significant increase in their white blood cell counts.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) discovered that weight gain in premature infants and ones exposed to HIV improved after receiving massage therapy. They also found that the recovery process of patients who received surgery was expedited.
Research done at the University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute showed that massage therapy lowers high blood pressure, relieves migraines, and increases general performance and alertness in the workplace.
There are additional studies that show massage therapy reduces heart rate and increases blood and lymph flow; improves the range of vision; increases the release of endorphins to
Most Common Types of Massage Therapy
Balinese massage is performed on a standard mat or table and brings together several alternative therapies such as massage therapy, acupressure, reflexology, and aromatherapy. A great deal of attention is paid to which essential oils are being used during these sessions. Making use of a lot of pressure, Balinese massage is not typically gentle, but is very successful in reaching the deep, harder to get muscles.
Cosmetic (Facial) Massage
Facial massage has been found in historical texts dating back to the third century, but was always done in conjunction with whole body massage. Nowadays facial massage can be considered as a standalone treatment and is used with the intention of slowing down the aging process and attaining younger looks. A possible cause of wrinkles is straining and bunching muscles so much that they stay that way. Try looking in the mirror and flexing your facial muscles to see where certain wrinkles may occur. Relaxing these muscles would subsequently relax the wrinkles. The benefits of facial massage reach far beyond cosmetic purposes though. It can also relieve stress and headaches, as well as sinus congestion.
Deep Tissue Massage
Relaxation isn’t typically the main goal of deep tissue massage. Deep tissue massage focuses on the deeper, and usually more painful layers of muscles. It’s not any different from standard massage techniques, only that more pressure is applied and focus is usually on one or two areas. Many times relief can come relatively quickly, but other times may leave you a bit sore afterwards. This is perfectly normal and all depends on the amount of tension you hold versus the amount of pressure applied.
Foot/Hand Massage (Reflexology)
The foot and hand massage is an interesting therapy in that it’s principles are simple, but its practice is a little more complicated. It’s believed that each part of the foot or hand has a direct link to a part of the body such as an organ or system. The application must be incredibly accurate because the points are directed to particular nerves in the soles and palms.
Hot Stone Massage
Hot stone massage is a technique in which the therapist uses heated stones to apply traditional Swedish massage strokes. Due to the heat from the stones, hot stone massage is amazing at relaxing and releasing tension from soft tissues. Occasionally, the stones are placed on strategic spots along the spine, hand, legs, and feet which promotes optimal energy flow throughout the body.
Shiatsu directly translates to “finger pressure” and is also known as acupressure. Originating in Japan about 1,500 years ago, Shiatsu is based on the meridian channels passed down from ancient Chinese teachings. It’s techniques include applying pressure, tapping, squeezing, and stretching with the fingers, palms, knuckles, and elbows (as opposed to needles in acupuncture) in order to encourage optimal chi (energy) flow. Unlike many other massage therapies, shiatsu can be given with clothes on and is usually done on a floor mat.
Sports massage is a specialty massage developed with athletes in mind. It was created in order for athletes to give their best performance before an event and help with recovery afterwards. However, it is beneficial to all, athlete or not. Sports massage techniques mainly include kneading and vibrations in order to loosen any tight muscles or stiff joints and encourage proper blood flow.
Since it’s creation in the early 19th century, Swedish massage has become one of the most popular forms of massage in the western world. Using Swedish massage as a base, many other therapies have been developed including deep tissue massage and sports massage. It was originally created as a means to increase blood circulation, relieve muscle pains, and to increase flexibility, but since then many other benefits of Swedish massage have been discovered.
Thai or “yoga” massage is a combination of acupressure, Ayurvedic principles, and assisted yoga. No oils or lotions are used during treatment and the recipient usually remains clothed. Rather than the typical rubbing and kneading of muscles, in Thai massage, the body is compressed, pulled, stretched, and rocked. During the massage the recipient is positioned in a variety of yoga-like poses that is combined with deep and rhythmic pressure using the feet, legs, arms, and hands. A full session can last up to two hours and may include the cracking and pulling of fingers and toes, and even walking on the back.