It is hard to study what you can’t define … and it is extremely difficult to define massage precisely. Many possible questions arise! What kind of massage therapy? What methods? Could a combination of methods be effective where another combination fails? How well trained is the therapist? Are “advanced” techniques better than relaxation and Swedish techniques? Or maybe the basics are the basics because they really work? How much massage therapy? Could five sessions succeed where two would fail? Is one appointment “massage therapy,” or does it really need more? Could nine sessions actually be better still? Or perhaps counterproductive? Can anything be done with short sessions, or are long ones needed? If massage works, how much of the benefit can be attributed to non-massage elements like bedside manner, relaxation, and reassurance? How much do those factors define massage? What if massage didn’t work at all, or very poorly, without them? Would that mean “massage” works because it’s a great way of delivering a nice experience? Or that nice experiences “work” and the massage is irrelevant? What if massage therapy of a certain type for a specific condition was only effective 20% of the time? 60%? 80%? At what point is it “worth a shot”? (And worth the expense?)
American Heart Association: "Four Ways to Deal With Stress."; PubMed Central: "Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin."; NIH News in Health: "Can Pets Keep You Healthy?"; Cleveland Clinic: "Want a Healthy Heart? Laugh More!"; HelpGuide.org: "Laughter Is the Best Medicine."; Association for Psychological Science: "Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal; Displays Affect Neuroendocrine; Levels and Risk Tolerance."; Harvard Business School: "Power Posing: Fake It Until you Make It."; IZA.org: "The Effect of Sexual Activity on Wages."
If you've been jonesing for a change from your traditional Swedish massage, or you are particularly stiff or sore due to exercise or arthritis, Thai massage may be just what you're looking for. Unlike most massage modalities that utilize massage oils and require you to disrobe and climb under a sheet on a massage table, Thai massage is performed while you are fully clothed, usually on a padded mat on the floor.
Before you can decide which massage style is best for you, you need to ask yourself a question. Do you simply want a massage for relaxation and stress control? Or do you need symptom relief or help with a certain health condition? Before booking a massage, let the therapist know what you're looking for and ask which style the therapist uses. Many use more than one style. Or the therapist may customize your massage, depending on your age, condition, or any special needs or goals you have.
Myofascial trigger points — so-called “muscle knots” — are increasingly recognized as a factor in many of the world’s aches and pains. This book-length tutorial focuses on advanced troubleshooting for patients who have failed to get relief from basic tactics, but it’s also ideal for starting beginners on the right foot, and for pros who want to stay current and as science-based as possible. 196 sections inspired by the famous texts of Drs. Travell & Simons, but also much more recent science. Also offered as a free bonus (2-for-1) with the low back, neck, muscle strain, or iliotibial pain tutorials. Buy it now for $19.95 or read the first few sections for free!
Soft tissue techniques employed by sports massage therapists are effective in the management of both acute and chronic injuries. For example, adding lymphatic massage to the "standard care" procedure in the acute stage of injury will improve control of secondary, hypoxic injury and enhance edemous fluid removal throughout the healing cycle. Trigger point techniques reduce the spasms and pain that occur both in the injured and "compensation" muscles. Cross-fiber friction techniques applied during the subacute and maturation phases of healing improve the formation of strong and flexible repair tissue, which is vital in maintaining full pain-free range of motion during rehabilitation.
Job’s body: a handbook for bodywork, a book by Deane Juhan. amazon.com If you can manage the density of the language, Job’s Body is thick with creative insights into physiology and healing. Perhaps too many of them, and perhaps too creative — but very stimulating! Juhan tries to explain why bodyworkers often seem so uncannily effective. This is a job that certainly needed doing. In trying to explain bodywork, Job’s Body is a philosophical introduction to the science of the human body — a physiology textbook with a heart. Many chapters are devoted to pure science — just barely accessible to the hard-reading layperson, and mainly offering perspective for the health care professional. Still more chapters are devoted to pure philosophy. Juhan frequently dares to ask (and answer) the hardest questions in the health sciences: why and so what? I took a workshop with Juhan many years later. I’m sorry to say that he seemed cocky and jaded. My main impression was that he was bored and had drunk to much of his own Kool-Aid. And the introductory chapters of this book do a better job of explaining some of the possible subtle benefits of massage therapy than anything else I’ve ever read. Read an excerpt.
Like massages, chiropractic care can be beneficial for lowering pain and improving recovery. It’s also been shown to lower stress, headaches and more. One way that chiropractors help treat pain is by lowering mechanical compression and irritation of spinal joints, which can send nerve signals throughout the body that increase inflammation and irritation.
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Deep tissue massage involves manipulation of the deep layers of tissue in the body, including the fascia and other supportive tissue that make up the muscles and joints. Compared to other popular massage techniques — including Swedish massage or acupressure, which tend to be lighter in pressure and can involve moving the body into certain positions — deep tissue massage is usually slower and firmer. (2)
The massage therapy for fibromyalgia that epitomizes the “garbage in, garbage out” problem with meta-analysis. There was virtually no research on this topic worth analyzing to begin with. Trying to pool the results of several weak studies is basically meaningless. To the extent that the study results are generally inconclusive and ambiguous, the conclusions of any review are going to have more to do with the authors’ opinions and biases than hard data.
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Over-analyzing things can quickly lead to mounting stress. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Let it go! If you find yourself worrying over things you have no control over, distract yourself. Go outside. Check out the sky. Are the stars out? Is the wind blowing? Will it be warmer as the day progresses? Play your favorite song. Look at pictures or photos that make you smile. List all the little things you can be grateful for and focus on those.
Hepatic hematoma. Hepatic hematoma is a painful liver condition, which The New England Journal of Medicine says has been instigated by deep tissue massage. In this case, a 39-year-old woman received a deep tissue massage, which included the abdomen and right upper quadrant. Within 24 hours, she developed abdominal discomfort, nausea, and pain in her right shoulder. A large hematoma was found in her right hepactic lobe, causing the woman to feel nauseous and have a fever for the following six months.
We usually need to relax when we are feeling tense, anxious, or angry. Part of these feelings are due to an activation of something called the sympathetic nervous system, which includes parts of your brain that detect and respond to threats and stress. Without getting too deep into the physiology, when you are tense, anxious, or angry, your sympathetic nervous system is activated, and your heart rate increases, your breathing becomes rapid and shallow, your blood pressure increases, your digestion stops, your muscles tense, your circulation changes, stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline, among others) are released in your blood stream, and your thoughts speed up and focus on a target (read more about that in Three Frames of Mind). When this is happening, our bodies feel unpleasant and we look for ways to feel better.
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Thai massage has many benefits for the individual. It uses the gentle pressure on energy lines and the yoga-like stretching to relax the whole body on a deeper level. This deeper level of relaxation improves the individuals' personal outlook, and their emotional status. Deep relaxation has been shown to promote a deeper, more restorative night's sleep as well. This deeper sleep allows the body to heal itself physical, and let you feel more refreshed upon awakening.
The results are underwhelming. Although they did a little better than just guessing, the results suggest that it’s difficult even for expert examiners to detect the location of neck and back pain by feel. As well, they were only attempting to detect the side of pain. Imagine how much worse their performance would have been if they had had to identify the location more precisely, or if the pain could have been anywhere or nowhere. So they barely passed the easiest possible test, and probably would have failed a harder one and done no better than guessing.
It is frequently asserted that massage therapy (MT) reduces cortisol levels, and that this mechanism is the cause of MT benefits including relief from anxiety, depression, and pain, but reviews of MT research are not in agreement on the existence or magnitude of such a cortisol reduction effect, or the likelihood that it plays such a causative role. A definitive quantitative review of MT's effect on cortisol would be of value to MT research and practice.
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In Mexico massage therapists, called "sobadores", combine massage using oil or lotion with a form of acupuncture and faith. Sobadores are used to relieve digestive system problems as well as knee and back pain. Many of these therapists work out of the back of a truck, with just a curtain for privacy. By learning additional holistic healer's skills in addition to massage, the practitioner may become a curandero.
Continual improvement is the reason you train in the dead of winter, hammer up the hills on the bike, do track work, and train in the pouring rain. Well, that is the same reason you should get a good sports massage. After a massage you'll feel lighter, more powerful and more flexible, and all those nagging aches and pains can be addressed, helping to reduce the likelihood of injury.
Connective tissue stimulation. A lot of therapists are keen on stretching connective tissues — tendons, ligaments, and layers of Saran wrap-like tissue called “fascia.” I’m not a huge fan of this style, but certainly it’s a way of generating many potent and novel sensations, which may be inherently valuable to us — another form of touch. Although “improving” the fascia itself is implausible and unproven, perhaps fascial manipulations affect bodies indirectly, just as a sailboat is affected by pulling on its rigging. People have written whole books full of speculation along these lines. So, as long as the sensations are not like skin tearing (that’s an ugly pain for sure), you might choose to tolerate this kind of massage if it seems to be helping you.
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Again, deep and controlled slow breathing can be an effective way to maximize heart rate and blood pressure fluctuation and maintain autonomic function (the control system that regulates body functions like heart rate, digestion, urination, and even arousal). And believe it or not, slow breathing has been associated with increased longevity among the general population.4
Accept that sleep is a very important part of life. During sleep, your mind continues learning in ways that are not possible during waking hours. Sleep restores and refreshes your body in myriad ways that cannot happen when you're awake. Do not be tempted to devalue the worth of sleep. Moreover, the alleged ability of some people to thrive on four hours sleep per night is the exception, not the rule — most of us need the six to eight hour sleep cycle for full restoration. Dreaming is an essential part of sleep; you can explore your inner fantasy and have many experiences that you never encounter in the waking world.
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In addition to the many not-really-massage therapies that massage therapists may offer, there are also many claims that massage therapists make about massage itself that are all-too-questionable. The scientific case against massage largely consists of debunking the list of lame claims that define it to a surprising degree — and if you take them away, there’s not a great deal left. Most are just carelessly perpetuated minor myths. Some are not entirely or definitely wrong, but when presented to patients, are often misleading exaggerations and oversimplifications. For instance, massage probably does sometimes modestly increase circulation — just too little and too erratically to matter. It all adds up to a pattern of intellectual laziness in the profession that undermines its credibility and legitimacy.
A couple’s massage is a massage that you do with your partner, friend, or family member in the same room. It brings all the benefits of a regular massage and sometimes provides you with access to the spa’s hot tubs, saunas, and other facilities. Other treatments such as pedicures, facials, and body scrubs are sometimes offered as part of a package.
Sports Massage can be characterized two ways: pre-activity and post-activity massage. Pre-activity uses dynamic stretching to allow the connective tissue to work through a full range of motion, thereby reducing possible injury. Post-activity massage focuses on recovering the muscle tissue that may have been impacted doing the particular sport. It involves long strokes to flush out the toxins that causes soreness in the muscles and joints.
“Some Zen teachers say that the way the body takes care of us, without our even being aware of it, is an example of the beautiful and continuous functioning of our Original Nature, the inherent goodness and wisdom of our being. Our hand pulls back from fire before we even register heat, our eyes blink before we are aware of a sharp sound, our hand reaches out to catch something before we know it is falling.”
The slow movements allow for the mind and the spirit to slow down and realize a true form of relaxation. It centers the individual. In doing this stressors will not affect the person as much. This will aid to level out blood pressure. These stressors, in later life, cause heart problems. In centering oneself, and lowering the reaction to stressors, one will lower the occurrence of heart problems.
For starters, you bear in mind the things described above that tend to cause ugly pain, and you avoid that kind of therapy like the plague. Then you look for some clues that painful pressure is okay. Here are at least three reasons why unpleasantly intense pressure might be therapeutic — “bad pain,” but not ugly. In each of these situations, it might be acceptable to tolerate sensations so intense and painful that the only thing about them that is pleasant is the part where it stops.
You can usually choose which type of massage you’d like to receive, and you and your partner can each get a different type of massage depending on your preference and the offerings at the spa. Your partner and you will be on tables side-by-side, and you’ll each have your own massage therapist working on your body. You can talk during the massage if you wish.
This geeky basic neurology experiment produced a rough estimate of the density of nerve endings in human glabrous (hairless) skin: about 6000 per square centimetre, so a whole hand probably contains about as many as the maximum capacity of the largest stadiums in the world. They measured an average nerve diametre of about 3 thousandths of a millimetre.
Unfortunately, such massage therapists are quite rare. Most are poorly trained and uncertified. Most work in spas or resorts and on cruise ships, doing treatments that are infamously fluffy and skin deep, with little therapeutic value other than the comfort of a quiet hour of touching (even though many patients find skin-deep massage to be more annoying than anything else). Most of these therapists are earnest and view themselves as medical semi-professionals, despite their comparative lack of training. It’s actually inappropriate to call them “therapists” at all, and in some places (here) it’s actually illegal — they have to use terms like “bodyworker” or “masseuse.”