Massage therapy is the scientific manipulation of the soft tissues of the body for the purpose of normalizing those tissues and consists of a group of manual techniques that include applying fixed or movable pressure, holding, and/or causing movement to parts of the body. While massage therapy is applied primarily with the hands, sometimes the forearms or elbows are used. These techniques affect the muscular, skeletal, circulatory, lymphatic, nervous, and other systems of the body.
The basic philosophy of massage therapy embraces the concept of vis Medicatrix naturae , which means “aiding the ability of the body to heal itself.”
Touch is the fundamental medium of massage therapy. While massage can be described in terms of the type of techniques performed, touch is not used solely in a mechanistic way in massage therapy. Because massage usually involves applying touch with some degree of pressure and movement, the massage therapist must use touch with sensitivity in order to determine the optimal amount of pressure to use for each person. Touch used with sensitivity also allows the massage therapist to receive useful information via his or her hands about the individual’s body, such as locating areas of muscle tension and other soft tissue problems.
Many massage therapists use more than one technique or method in their work and often combine several. Effective massage therapists ascertain each person’s needs and then use the techniques that will best meet those needs.
Swedish massage is the most commonly used form of massage. It uses a system of long gliding strokes, kneading, and friction techniques on the more superficial layers of muscles, generally in the direction of blood flow toward the heart, and sometimes combined with active and passive movements of the joints. It is used to promote general relaxation, improve circulation and range of motion, and relieve muscle tension.
Deep tissue massage is used to release chronic patterns of muscular tension using slow strokes, direct pressure, or friction directed across the grain of the muscles. It is applied with greater pressure and to deeper layers of muscle than Swedish, which is why it is called deep tissue and is effective for chronic muscular tension.
Therapeutic massage may deliver benefits such as the following:
- reducing muscle tension and stiffness
- relieving muscle spasms
- increasing joint and limb flexibility and range of motion
- increasing ease and efficiency of movement
- relieving points of tension and overall stress; inducing relaxation
- promoting deeper and easier breathing
- improving blood circulation and movement of lymph
- relieving tension-related headaches and eyestrain
- promoting faster healing of soft tissue injuries, such as pulled muscles and sprained ligaments
- reducing pain and swelling related to injuries
- reducing the formation of scar tissue following soft tissue injuries
- enhancing health and nourishment of skin
- improving posture by changing tension patterns that affect posture
- reducing emotional or physical stress and reducing anxiety
- promoting feelings of well-being
- increasing awareness of the mind-body connection and improving mental awareness and alertness generally
Massage therapy may also be recommended for its documented clinical benefits such as improving pulmonary function in young asthma patients, reducing psychoemotional distress in individuals who suffer from chronic inflammatory bowel disease, helping with weight gain, improving motor development in premature infants, and enhancing immune system functioning.
NOTE: Massage does not include the diagnosis of a specific pathology, the prescription of drugs or controlled substances, spinal manipulation or those acts of physical therapy that are outside the scope of massage therapy.