Healing Benefits of Massage Therapy

October 26, 2014 Updated: October 26, 2014

According to Aetna, a health insurance provider, health care spending in the United States could reach $4.8 trillion by 2021. In order to improve health and wellness, and as a proactive approach to health maintenance and disease prevention, people are seeking the services of alternative and holistic practitioners with increasing frequency.

In the United States, massage therapy has become one of the most popular types of alternative treatments, supporting the physical and psychological components of health.

Many companies and employers now offer massage therapy as part of the benefits package. In fact, researchers at Bowling Green State University found “significant reduction in workplace anxiety in people who received weekly massages.”

No longer a luxury item, massage treatments are an integral part of preventative medicine, providing the recipient the benefit of relief from pain and stress.

“Anxiety and stress are common and costly problems afflicting American adults and are a leading reason for using complementary and alternative medical (CAM) therapies,” reported researchers from the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle in 2010.

Two of the more popular types of massage therapy are Swedish massage and sports massage.

Swedish Massage

Swedish massage, also known as “classic massage,” is one of the most basic types of massage therapy. It manipulates the body’s soft tissues to promote relaxation and stress reduction, improve circulation and detoxification, increase joint mobilization and muscle recovery, reduce pain, and enhance overall rejuvenation.

Six established techniques are commonly used by the therapist:

• Effleurage refers to long strokes that glide and sweep over multiple areas of the body with different amounts of pressure, encouraging connection and relaxation.

• Petrissage lifts and kneads the muscles in order to penetrate deeper into the tissue.

• Friction warms the tissue by rubbing the skin vigorously in a specific area with light pressure.

• Traction refers to the gentle pulling of the arms and legs, usually performed at the end of a massage when the muscles are warm.

• Tapotement, or tapping, chopping, and cupping with a closed or open hand, includes rhythmic and repetitive strokes that energize and relax the muscles.

• Vibration, in which therapists use their hands or fingers in quick movements back and forth across the skin, is done to relax and loosen the underlying muscles.

There are few restrictions and contraindications for Swedish massage. However, massage treatments are not advised in situations where there are open wounds, infections, lesions, burns, tears in a muscle or tendon, bruises, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, bursitis, thrombosis, and tumors.

An average Swedish massage session lasts about an hour.

Sports Massage

A sports massage can help a competitive, amateur, or elite athlete maintain optimal conditioning, boost performance, restore mobility, and speed up recovery from an injury. In this way, it may extend the life of a sporting career.

Even “weekend warriors” and non-athletes can benefit from having a sports massage on a regular basis.

A variety of techniques may be incorporated to prepare athletes for an event, assist with post-event recovery and injury prevention, or as part of regular maintenance between events.

Massage treatments for muscle preparation are usually short, about 15 minutes, and may include active and passive (assisted) stretching, light, long strokes that increase in speed, tapotement (rapid, rhythmic tapping), and compression (pressure application). The purpose is to warm up the muscles, increase pliability and range of motion, and promote blood and lymph circulation to facilitate the distribution of nutrients.

Post-event massages are done to relieve cramping and tension in the muscles, help eliminate the accrued metabolic byproducts from increased activity, facilitate recovery and relaxation, and normalize muscle tissue. Light strokes and some vibration may be used to assist circulation in order to flush out the toxins. The length of treatment can vary from 15 minutes to over an hour.

Sports performance, for both amateur and elite athletes, depends on the ability of the body to recover from delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which usually occurs one or two days after an event. Maintenance massages can help reduce DOMS, target localized pain, release trigger points and referred pain, and increase relaxation.

Leslie Mary Olsen is a certified personal trainer, certified health coach, fitness coaching specialist, and licensed massage therapist. She holds a master’s degree in health policy and has over 30 years of experience in the health and wellness field.