To understand this difference, it’s helpful to first think of the body’s fascia and muscles in layers. Notice in this image the many overlapping layers of these tissues. Fascia is a connective tissue which permeates the entire body – literally holding the body together, wrapping around every muscle, nerve, organ, blood vessel, and bone. These wrappings are all interconnected in a three-dimensional maze. The muscle layers run superficial to deep in the body.
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.”
I think it is more that they are circumspect than pessimistic. Speaking as a scientist, we are very careful to guard against declaring a finding if there is even a small risk of it being a false positive. We never want to say ‘we’ve found something’ and later have it turn out we were wrong when more data comes in. So, I think they are hewing to scientific norms in this regard, and I do not fault them for that; it is important to be careful in science.
Have you ever splashed cold water on your face and felt instantly refreshed? There’s a good reason for that because cold water helps with heart palpitations by making your system “reboot”. It’s a trick that you can apply a few times a day to keep yourself refreshed and stress-free and whenever you are feeling overwhelmed. It will also wake you up if you are too sleepy!
Take a tropical vacation without leaving the desk chair. Use a five-minute break to peel, slice, and bite into a juicy mango, which packs a compound called linalool that helps lower stress levels Stress repression in restrained rats by (R)-(-)-linalool inhalation and gene expression profiling of their whole blood cells. Nakamura, A., Fujiwara, S., Matsumoto, I., et al. Technical Research Center, T Hasegawa Co, ltd, Kawasaki-shi, Japan. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2009;57(12):5480-5.. Don’t fret about the juice dripping down your chin—the stress relief is worth the mess.
A great may of the massage modality empires are based on a basic guiding principle or school of thought I call “structuralism” — an excessive preoccupation with biomechanical and postural factors in pain problems, AKA the biomechanical bogeymen. Structuralist techniques are all fixated to some degree on straightening or improving your meat, because they believe that you are crooked or unbalanced in some way. This notion is easy to sell, but the entire school of thought has little merit. It is debatable at best — and debunked nonsense at worst. This is another topic I have covered in (great) detail in another article: Your Back Is Not Out of Alignment: Debunking the obsession with alignment, posture, and other biomechanical bogeymen as major causes of pain.
5. Emerging: the key in this final step is calmly reentering the world. Rather than just stopping this process and jumping back in, focus on going back to what you need to do with the same peace you might have when you wake up from a nice sleep. Just gently getting back into the flow of your day. This should keep your mind and body both staying in a more relaxed and positive state.
Some sports massage therapists use myofascial techniques that focus on stretching the fascia, which are connective tissues surrounding muscles, tendons and ligaments in the body. This particular massage technique involves the therapist applying forces in opposing directions which relaxes the tissues. It can help ease pain and increase mobility in the tissues and surrounding muscles.
Traditionally designed to apply pressure to layers of muscle, tendons and other tissues deep under the skin, deep tissue massage can be very effective in relieving problem areas and is highly therapeutic. Deep tissue massage is generally a modality to consider for athletes as well as the eight-to-five desk job. Muscles easily become tense and deep tissue massage can relieve some chronic patterns of pain and tension, specifically in the back, shoulder and neck areas.
Research shows that firmer massages with more pressure can result in a significant reduction in arthritis pain compared to lighter massages. Lighter massage tends to be arousing (not relaxing) because often the heart rate goes up. However, with moderate pressure, heart rate usually goes down, and this stimulates relaxation and reduced tension. (13)
Lymphatic drainage is an interesting example of a specific massage technique, allegedly good for one thing and not much else: its purpose is to reduce swelling. By reputation, it’s the best treatment option for patients suffering from lymphoedema, a serious complication of mastectomy and other surgical procedures. But it’s also obscure, technical, and practiced by no more than a few hundred therapists globally. It’s not “massage therapy” per se; just a specialized tool that a tiny group of professionals specialize in, some of whom happen to be massage therapists. Oh, and bad news: there’s also recent evidence that it does not work,28 or not nearly as well as we’d like.29
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This study compared the effects of massage and minimal exercise therapy on poor circulation (venous insufficiency) in post-menopausal women. Superficially it looks like a good news story for massage, and in some ways it is. Massage did have a statistically significant positive effect and seems to have “increased circulation” in one sense (something I have often called a myth). But there’s a lot to consider here.
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.
The fact is, I do already do all those ideal things occasionally, but sometimes it feels as if being in the world is too much, and I need to disappear from it by losing myself in a screen. It is as if I crave that brain-dead feeling, even though I know it isn’t good for me. Having psychoanalytic psychotherapy is helping me to think about the reasons why I might do this – and for Morgan, therapy can be an important pathway out of being stuck in a screen-gazing rut, because it is somewhere a person is encouraged to use his or her mind. “The therapeutic space is the opposite of distraction – it’s concentration,” he says. “When people come into my consulting room, they often tell me it’s the first time they have ever felt they have had a space where they can’t run away from things.”
No question: actually boosting performance would be a big deal, a humungous deal! But the cited evidence doesn’t remotely substantiate such a mighty claim. Even if we take that evidence at face value, it’s a huge and oversimplified reach to conclude that “a little increased range of motion” constitutes a meaningful effect on athletic performance as a whole. I can increase my ROM with a few seconds of stretching, too … and stretching does not enhance performance (look it up).
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A dry-water massage table uses jets of water to perform the massage of the client's muscles. These tables differ from a Vichy shower in that the client usually stays dry. Two common types are one in which the client lies on a waterbed-like mattress which contains warm water and jets of water and air bubbles and one in which the client lies on a foam pad and is covered by a plastic sheet and is then sprayed by jets of warm water, similar to a Vichy shower. The first type is sometimes seen available for use in malls and shopping centers for a small fee.
Massage reduces cortisol. This is a much more specific idea than “massage reduces stress.” Cortisol, the “stress hormone,” is justifiably perceived as a villain, and reducing it is often touted as a meaningful rescue from being run-down, chronically anxious or depressed, or in pain. Unfortunately, the evidence that massage actually does anything helpful to cortisol production is conflicting and inconclusive at best, and commonly cited research to support it has major flaws.63 Even in the unlikely event that massage actually does reduce cortisol levels, the phsyiology of stress is much too complex to assume cortisol reduction is in itself a meaningful, good thing. Cortisol levels after a massage do not give a meaningful picture of the organism, and there is no direct relationship between a temporary cortisol reduction and any health benefit. What matters is cortisol levels over time, but even that isn’t exactly straightforward: stress and cortisol have a complex and chaotic relationship regulated by many variables out of our control.
Disconnect. Put the phone back down, shut the email folder, walk away. Whenever you feel like making an instantaneous reply in anger to someone who has raised your ire, don't act on it. When we feel angry and stressed, we are more likely to read sinister interpretations into our interactions and if we act on them, our self-righteous anger can be self-fulfilling when the person responds negatively. Sleep on your angry missive and practice the relaxation techniques outlined here.
For instance, I tried a new young massage therapist. He introduced a pain scale right away, and asked me to use it to define an intensity I was comfortable with — a 5 out 10, say — and then actually used that scale to check with me quite a few times throughout an hour treatment. He also responded with clear adjustments to his technique when I reported that we were under or over the target I’d set. Great work! BACK TO TEXT
Minty, fruity, or bubble-gum flavor, a stick of gum is a surprisingly quick and easy way to beat stress. Just a few minutes of chewing can actually reduce anxiety and lower cortisol levels Chewing gum alleviates negative mood and reduces cortisol during acute laboratory psychological stress. Scholey, A., Haskell, C., Robertson, B., et al. NICM Collaborative Centre for the Study of Natural Medicines and Neurocognition, Brain Sciences Institute, Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia. Physiology & Behavior 2009;22(7):304-12..
According to a report by Ofcom this summer: “Most people in the UK are dependent on their digital devices and need a constant connection to the internet.” It found that 78% of us now own a smartphone – rising to 95% of 16- to 24-year-olds. We check these phones on average every 12 minutes of our waking lives, with 54% of us feeling that the devices interrupt our conversations with friends and family, and 43% of us feeling that we spend too much time online. We can’t relax with them, and we don’t know how to relax without them. Seven in 10 of us never turn them off.
Yet kicking back is hardly an unproductive activity; experts say that it keeps us healthy and happy. And research shows that regular de-stressing can help ward off heart disease and obesity, act as a buffer against depression, and even boost immunity against colds. Plus, when you're calm, you perform tasks smarter and more efficiently, leaving you with time to—wait for it—relax. Check out these strategies and inspiration for R in R: relaxing in reality.
“I rearrange all of the art and furniture and items in my apartment and usually do some sort of cleaning out of something (books, clothes, kitchen cabinets) in the process. My brain enters this hyper-relaxed state where I’m actively considering space and meaning and emotion but in a non-literal language that makes my mind kind of…hum? Does that make sense? And then I blink and it’s been four hours and I have a few missed calls and emails but I don’t care because I feel wonderful.”
This step may seem silly or obvious, but when we are anxious, tense, or angry, we are almost never paying attention to our immediate surroundings. Instead, we are usually consumed with our thoughts or feelings related to things that are not present where we are. Orienting allows us to start relaxing by recognizing our immediate surroundings, which are hopefully calm, stable, and safe.
Some research has shown that massage therapy can be effective during pregnancy due to its anxiety-lowering effects, and women who receive massages before and during labor tend to experience decreased depression, anxiety, and leg and back pain. Results from one study found that women who received massages prior to and during labor had significantly less pain, plus their labors were on average three hours shorter and required less need for medication.
In this unique healing system of Thai Yoga Massage, also called Nuad Boran, the practitioner guides the client through a series of yoga postures, while palming and thumbing along the body’s energy (‘Sen’) lines and pressure points. Together these actions result in a comprehensive full body treatment that relieves muscular tension, improves circulation, boosts the immune system and balances the body energetically.
Sports Massage is a no-nonsense massage that helps stretch tight muscles, stimulates inactive muscles and improves soft tissue condition. Sports Massage will help you move your body more freely with more flexibility and in time can improve your posture. As the name suggests it is popular with athletes, as it enhances performance, assists recovery and prevents injury – benefits we can all enjoy.
The owner of the school collected (and sold) crystals, and used them for healing purposes. I ended up amassing quite a collection of my own, using them to do chakra balances on people, performing psychic surgery with them, and any number of woo procedures. I also purchased magnetic pads for my massage table. I attended homeopathy workshops. I got heavily into essential oils, which I still love and use today—with the caveat that while I think many of them are useful as folk remedies for various simple ailments, I’m not going to advise someone with cancer that they can cure it with an oil, which unbelievably, I notice massage therapists doing all the time—and worse—on social media.
An urge to continually tidy up the house or yard may be a response to chaos all around you. According to Brigid Schulte, director of the Better Life Lab at the Washington, D.C., think tank New America and author of Overwhelmed ($10; amazon.com), "When you're strapped at work and stretched at home, having things in order can seemingly restore equilibrium." All together now: Yes. This. One sane way to tame that life-is-out-of-control feeling: Quit scattering tasks among your calendar, notepads, emails, sticky notes, and memory. Says Morgenstern, "Decide on a single, reliable system, and it will help turn off the ticker tape of to-dos in your brain."
There are dozens of lines of evidence showing that structural treatment concepts of all kinds have failed to deliver the goods over the decades (see the structuralism article). But one recent large study of massage — the big back pain one described above (Cherkin) — produced particularly clear evidence that structuralist-style massage does not work. (And yet again, there’s an entire other article covering this in greater detail: the remainder of this section is just a summary.)
Thank you so much for your article The Pressure Question in Massage Therapy. I just read it all. I went for a sports massage two weeks ago as I was recommended to have one as it was suggested it might help with tight calves, a side effect of some other injuries I have. I’ve been for sports massages many, many times before over the years. This one was one of the most painful experiences of my life — when I got home I was almost sick and felt in shock. My right achilles tendon was raging and it’s been bad ever since. It hurt so much when it was done (like someone was sticking knives in) and I kept asking if it was meant to hurt. I wish I’d just stopped the session or objected but I didn’t. It used to be a bad injury that affected me walking for about 6 months so I’m just devastated about this. I can hardly bear to put shoes on and its all this time on. I know there are good practitioners out there but experiences like this just make me want to stay away. I wish I’d gone to a “gentle” one.
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The massages are geared towards athletes and their sports. For instance, working on a runner will require doing a lot of leg work, but the upper body work will be minimal. Moreover, massages will target those areas that tend to become injured. For example, a massage session with a tennis player will involve a forearm massage that is preventive in the development of tennis elbow. If necessary, a whole session could be spent only on important areas, and skip completely muscles that are not overused in a particular sport.
This seems like a fairly straightforward bit of good-news science about stretching. It’s not a surprising idea that movement would have some systemic regulatory effects (motion is lotion, use it or lose it), but it’s nice to see some corroboration of that common sensical notion, and it’s also nice to know that perhaps just stretching did this (to the extent we can learn anything from a single study). If true, it makes for nice evidence to support a general stretching habit, yoga, mobilizations, really any kind of “massaging with movement,” and probably even massage itself.
A review of nine studies of dubious quality of “myofascial technique” — rubbing and stretching basically — for joint pain and stiffness. Although all the studies showed improved range of motion and reduced pain, most clearly for the jaw, the authors of this review think that there are “a number of threats that challenge the statistical inferences underpinning these findings.” Translation: they think the studies they reviewed are of poor quality and that their conclusions cannot be trusted (garbage in, garbage out). Obviously the science is incomplete, but there are some reasons for optimism here (and it’s not exactly a huge claim that some rubbing and stretching might help a painful, stiff joint).