Massage – an overview

relaxing massage

What is massage?

Regardless of age, or physical condition , there are times when your joints feel stiff, your neck and shoulders are full of knots, or you’ve got aches in places you didn’t know had muscles! There may also be times when you’ve been working hard, you want to relax and you feel you deserve to be pampered.

Massage can help with all this and more. It can help you feel invigorated and rejuvenated or soothed and relaxed. The health-promoting aspects are recognised in virtually all cultures from the far west to the far east and various benefits of massage are accepted even by sceptical western doctors, especially regarding the alleviation of back pain or neck and shoulder tension.

All forms of massage are based on touch – usually by the hands of the therapist. This, in itself, can provide a comforting psychological benefit and massage has an almost unrivaled ability to help in the relief of stress, which is the one of the biggest causes of days off work.

As well as its psychological benefits, manipulation of the skin, muscles and other body tissue can bring more specific physical benefits to those parts of the body.

Unfortunately, in the past, massage has been used as a cover for more salacious activities and its reputation somewhat sullied. Although that side still exists, therapeutic massage is making a comeback with the word ‘spa’ is often used to promote a wholesome image.

There are many types of massage, which can be categorised according to the parts of the body treated; hence Reflexology (foot or hand massage), Indian Head massage, or body massage. Of the latter, they can be classified further according to the places from which they originate.

Types of massage

Swedish massage
The basic massage used in the West; usually oil-based, though can be talc-based; the therapist mainly uses the hands and a number of manipulation techniques.

Thai massage
This massage is performed with the client wearing light clothing. No oil or other medium is used as the massage is more about stretching the joints and muscles and pressing acupressure or shiatsu points. It has been called “Yoga for the lazy”! The therapist uses hands, arms, elbows, feet and knees.

Balinese massage
Essentially a combination of oil massage with some of the acupressure and stretching techniques used in Thai massage.

Hawaiian Lomi Lomi
A relaxing oil-based massage noted for its long flowing strokes.

Chinese Tui na
A very firm massage using acupressure points. This may be done dry through light clothing or using an oil. In the West, it may be performed as an oil massage combined with some Swedish massage techniques.

Shiatsu
Originating in Japan, this also uses acupressure points on meridians. This is also done through light clothing with the client  on the floor.

Indian Ayurveda massage
A unique group of treatments usually tailored for each individual. They are often performed with the client on a wooden table.

Indian Head massage
Also based on the Ayurvedic system, the client is usually seated and the massage concentrates on the head, face, neck and shoulders.

Reflexology
Massage of the hands or feet, using meridians and areas which represent parts of the body.

With several of these massage types, the therapist may ask questions or ask you to fill in a questionnaire about various aspects of your health or lifestyle.

This is certainly not a comprehensive list and there are also subdivisions of some of these; for example: there are various types of massage which are based on Swedish massage (such as Aromatherapy – using essential oils), and numerous types of Ayurvedic massage (such as Abhyanga –  a relaxing massage involving relatively large quantities of warmed oil, or Shirodhara, in which a slow stream of oil is poured onto the forehead.

Does massage work?
There are a string of claims made almost routinely by massage therapists, such as “boosts circulation” or “helps eliminate toxins”, that are reinforced by aromatherapy blends with names like ‘de-tox blend’. There may be little actual scientific evidence to support some of these claims, (partly because there is little to gain financially by anybody doing extensive research and proving that massage works better than expensive drugs) and even if they do, it may not achieve any more than a bit of exercise would.

But Swedish massage, for example, does genuinely seem to help back pain, and various other conditions. Personally, I find them good for relieving  tension headaches which can otherwise persist for several days, and the release of tension may have a number of other benefits to the skin.

Nor should the pleasurable or psychological benefits be underestimated and, if what benefits you get are short-lived (and they probably are, to be honest), that seems to me a very good reason for going more often!

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