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- What Is Massage Therapy? Massage therapy is recognized as one of the oldest methods of healing, with references in medical texts nearly 4,000 years old. In fact, Hippocrates, known as the 'father of medicine,' referenced massage when he wrote, in the 4th century B.C.: 'The physician must be acquainted with many things, and assuredly with rubbing.'
Now days, in addition to 'rubbing,' massage therapy, often referred to as bodywork or somatic therapy, refers to the application of various techniques to the muscular structure and soft tissues of the body that include applying fixed or movable pressure, holding, vibration, rocking, friction, kneading and compression using primarily the hands, although massage therapists do use other areas of the body, such as the forearms, elbows or feet. All of the techniques are used for the benefit of the musculoskeletal, circulatory-lymphatic, nervous, and other systems of the body. In fact, massage therapy positively influences the overall health and well-being of the client.
- What is Swedish Massage? Most massage therapists receive their basic training in Swedish massage -- a systematic application of smooth strokes, vibration, kneading, and compression that relaxes and rejuvenates the muscle tissue of the body.
The label 'Swedish' comes from a nineteenth century Swedish physical therapy program that included massage techniques; but modern Swedish massage is actually a blend of techniques that were developed by physicians and physical therapists throughout Northern Europe.
Swedish massage is much more than a 'back rub' or 'the fluff treatment.' A well-trained therapist uses her strokes to precisely address tension patterns, tracing the length of the specific muscles to assess their tone and encouraging fresh circulation in areas where blood flow is constricted by tension.
As muscles receive a fuller measure of oxygen and nutrients, their flexibility improves while the pain of constriction decreases. Lactic acid and other cellular waste products are washed from the tissues into circulation. Lymph flow is enhanced, boosting the efficiency of the immune system. As normalcy is restored, the nervous system is calmed, breathing slows, and deep relaxation occurs.
- Does massage hurt? In the course of a massage, the therapist will probably find areas of tenderness or pain. The level of pain will depend entirely on the therapist´s techniques. Receiving Swedish massage strokes in those areas often creates a very satisfying sensation of 'good pain.' If, however, a client has to hold her breath, furrow her brow, or tense her body to endure the pain, she needs to ask the therapist to decrease the pressure or try a different technique. Severe pain triggers the release of stress hormones into the bloodstream, which is hardly the goal of massage therapy.
Some massage techniques involve deep pressure that can be very painful, yet they have long-term benefits that may outweigh the short-term discomfort. A responsible therapist will always explain the benefits of painful procedures and allow the client to accept or decline such procedures.
- How much of my body will be massaged? The extent of a massage will depend on several factors, including the length of the session, the specific need for treatment, the techniques used, and the client´s comfort level with touch.
When there is an injury or condition to be addressed, the entire session may focus on a single area. There may also be a need for treatment of other body areas that are affected by an injury, such as when a sprained ankle forces the opposite leg to bear all the stress of walking and weight-bearing.
When a Swedish massage is sought for relaxation, it is important for the client and the therapist to discuss and agree upon the areas to be massaged. The term 'full body massage' will mean different things to different therapists. Typically, a full Swedish massage will include the back, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, legs, and feet; but some therapists may also offer treatment of the face, chest, abdomen, or hips. The genital region will never be undraped or touched by the therapist. If other areas seem equally private to a client, she must inform the therapist of her unwillingness to receive touch in those areas. Massage therapists understand that even such public areas as hands or elbows may be emotionally or physically sensitive areas for a given client. No one should ever accept touch that feels 'wrong' to her in any way, nor should she feel pressured to offer a detailed explanation for her sensitivity.
- Do I have to get undressed to receive massage? Swedish massage is traditionally applied to bare skin, lubricated with oil, cream, or lotion. This doesn't mean that the client's modesty is ever compromised. Massage therapists drape their clients with a large sheet or towel (often both), carefully undraping only one area of the body at a time as the need arises. The legs, for instance, are treated separately, so the lower body is never undraped all at once. Therapists who offer massage of the abdomen or the hips have been trained to address those areas with very respectful undraping techniques.
While many clients have no qualms about removing all of their clothing, some prefer to leave on their undergarments, or even some of their outer clothing. Some massage techniques are impossible to apply through clothing; but therapists who are trained in 'onsite massage' (frequently offered at health fairs, airports, and malls) have many effective treatment options for fully clothed clients. Onsite massage is usually done on a portable massage chair. This is an excellent introduction to massage therapy for those who are nervous about disrobing. Many people come away with a greater trust in the therapist´s role and go on to schedule appointments for Swedish massage.
- Is massage safe for everyone? For most people, massage therapy is very safe and beneficial. As with any treatment, however, certain precautions must be taken. Massage therapy has a profound effect on many of the body's systems. Some of those effects are documented by research while others are still only partially understood. Some are beneficial for almost everyone; others depend entirely upon the health profile of the client. For these reasons, well-trained massage therapists interview their clients prior to their first session to determine whether any existing health conditions or medications may challenge the safety of massage treatment. Often, even in the presence of such challenges, massage therapy may still be an option with modifications or in cooperation with other forms of health care. However, some conditions (such as unregulated hypertension or a systemic infection) are clear contraindications for massage. Massage therapy should never be a substitute for primary health care by a physician. Physicians should always be made aware when a patient is receiving massage therapy, especially when an injury or a health condition is present.