Monday, December 25, 2006

How Massage and Body Therapies Work & Uses

Massage and Body Therapies Defined
The history of massage is long and complex. Chinese records from 3000 B.C. reveal some form of the practice. Even European cave paintings from 15,000 years ago depict what appears to be the use of therapeutic touch. As we know it today, the term "massage" did not come into use until the middle of the 19th century. Currently, over a hundred specific types of massage and body therapies have been identified. And some of them don't require the practitioner's physical touch to affect the body.

Massage generally refers to a quality or kind of touch to the soft tissue areas of the body, such as the skin or muscles. It may be an instinctive movement or a highly developed skill. Massage now includes non-touch techniques, movement awareness, structural alignment and energetic balancing practices. In its simplest form, massage soothes the stresses, aches and pains in your body. Besides physical complaints, it also relieves a number of mental stress and emotional conditions.

You instinctively massage yourself when you rub a stiff shoulder, gently caress a stubbed toe, rock a baby to sleep, cuddle someone you love, or give a good old-fashioned back rub.

A wide variety of deliberately applied techniques have developed into professional body therapies. These include therapeutic massage, such as Swedish and deep tissue techniques; structural therapies, such as Alexander and Rolfing techniques; and energetic modalities, such as acupressure, shiatsu and therapeutic touch.

Within our medical tradition, the pleasurable and gentle calming affects of massage, while real and usually apparent, are not intended as quick fixes or cures. They are powerful aids in helping the body maintain optimum health. Also, they are an important part of the healing process, playing an important part in our quality of life, especially when we're ill.

For ages, practitioners and recipients have known that massage benefits us not only physically, but also on mental, emotional and spiritual levels. In recent years, therapeutic massage has gained past-due recognition in the mainstream medical community.

How Massage and Body Therapies Work
Although the particulars of each body therapy technique varies, they all work in one or more of the following ways:

  • reducing or eliminating tension and imbalances
  • altering muscular or soft tissue
  • changing or enhancing body structures and functions
  • promoting release of emotional or mental holding patterns
  • increasing body awareness

Uses of Massage and Body Therapies
According to the American Massage Therapy Association, massage therapy was the third most prevalent type of integrative therapy used by adults in the United States in the last decade.

Although many people use body therapies simply to feel better or have a pleasurable experience, its therapeutic uses are wide-ranging and include:

  • relieving muscular and skeletal pain
  • reducing emotional and mental stress
  • promoting relaxation
  • speeding healing
  • increasing energy
  • relieving insomnia
  • improving digestion and elimination
  • balancing organ and glandular functions
  • relieving nerve pain and compression
  • improving poor posture
  • promoting a sense of connection to others
  • improving creativity and clarity of thought

In recent years, the medical community has recognized massage therapies as one of the most significant nondrug treatments for all forms of cancer and pain caused by surgery. Since massage improves the immune system, those who are HIV positive or have AIDS have been given the medical green light for its use.

Benefits of Massage and Body Therapies
Massage and body therapies offer many benefits. Overall, they are excellent stress reducers and can often prevent more serious problems from taking hold. They can provide relief for over-exercise, and speed recovery from injuries and minor illnesses.

Pregnant women often find massage therapies helpful, particularly in the last trimester as their babies press against internal organs and often produce lower back pain.

Massage therapies are particularly beneficial for the elderly, providing physical stimulation for muscles and joints, as well as emotional support and nurturing social contact. And those who are chronically or terminally ill often find great comfort from sessions with an emotionally-supportive therapist.

Certain types of energetically-based therapies, which often use the breath as an integral component of the treatment, can be very beneficial in dislodging ingrained negative emotions and outdated beliefs.

The Role of Massage and Body Therapies in Prevention
Since regular massage reduces stress and stimulates the immune system, it is a good strategy for general health maintenance. Many conditions, such as anxiety, headaches, mental and physical fatigue, sluggish digestion and muscle stiffness can be prevented by the regular use of body therapies.

Massage is one of the least intrusive and safest treatment modalities available. A trained therapist should know:

  • to inquire as to your special needs or concerns before beginning treatment.
  • proper hygiene and sanitation, such as washing his or her hands before the massage.
  • basic disease transmission processes, such as not touching an open sore.
  • safety standards, such as knowing how help a disabled person on and off the table.

In all forms of body therapies, open and clear communication between the practitioner and client is essential. During the session, always let the therapist know immediately if you are in pain or discomfort.

Recommended Resources
American Massage Therapy Association, Evanston, IL, (847) 864-0123

Recommended Reading

  • Massage by Clare Maxwell-Hudson, DK Publishing Book (1999).
  • Massage by Sarah Porter, Lorenz Books (1998)
  • Massage Therapy by Susan G. Salvo, W.B. Saunders Co. (1999).
  • Massage by Karen Smith, Macmillian (1999).
  • Massage for Dummies by Steve Capellini and Michel Van Welden, IDG Books Worldwide (1999).
  • The Book of Massage by Lucinda Lidell, et al, Simon & Schuster (1984).

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