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The Many Benefits of Massage Therapy

"Massage is quickly becoming an accepted treatment for a number of chronic health issues."

Massage is no longer available only at luxury spas and upscale health clubs. It’s offered everywhere. The right massage can provide many therapeutic benefits and can be a powerful tool to help people take charge of their health.

Watch today’s live show with Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD, holistic nutritionist, and learn the different types of massage. We’ll talk about the most popular professional massages, what to expect during a massage therapy session, and much more in Part 1 of this two-part series.

Video Highlights.

  • 1:21: Introduction
  • 6:05: Reasons for massage
  • 10:14: Did You Know...
  • 19:14: Most Popular Types of Massages
  • 19:33: Swedish massage
  • 21:54: Deep Tissue Massage
  • 23:43: Chair Massage
  • 25:31: Aromatherapy Massage
  • 27:33: Widely used essential oils and their benefits
  • 30:46: Hot Stone Massage
  • 33:37: Reflexology massage
  • 35:33: Wrap Up

The Art of Massage

The art of massage has been practiced for thousands and thousands of years. In fact, it is believed that massage originated from ancient Egypt. There are 80 to 125 different styles of massage therapy available, each incorporating a variety of different pressures and different movements and techniques. The one consistent massage therapy that everyone uses is the healing benefit of touch, which involves pressing, rubbing or manipulating muscles and other soft tissues such as tendons, ligaments, nerves, fibrous tissues, fat, and blood vessels.

For years massage has been associated with vacations, the good life, the rich, the famous and the fancy people. What do you think of when you think of massage? For most people, the things that come to mind are roses, champagne, chocolate, a bubbly bath. However, times have changed. Massage therapy has become more and more mainstream. In fact according to the American Massage Therapy Association, 25% of Americans had at least one massage last year. That’s really good and important self-care. A lot of massage places now have a monthly memberships, allowing you to make sure you get that necessary relaxing massage at least once a month. It’s usually around $40-$60 per month and then they encourage you to take that time to practice self-care on your own.

Reasons for massage

People go for massages for many reasons that include:

  • Reducing stress
  • Relieve symptoms or pain associated with heart issues, including arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other conditions causing muscle and joint pain
  • To improve blood flow and circulation
  • To help muscles and soft tissues repair quickly
  • To promote overall health and wellness

Did you know sports massage actually became a thing for the first time during the 1996 Olympics? It wasn’t that long ago that massage wasn’t really believed to be a necessity, but more recently that view has changed. It’s even become more common for some health insurance companies to cover massage as a recognized treatment option, and even for certain businesses to have regular chair massage sessions available for their employees.

There are many different types of massage therapy out there, ranging from the most common, like Swedish and deep tissue massage, to more exotic and specialty styles like Shiatsu, hot stone, and reflexology massages.

Did You Know...

  1. There are about 5 million touch receptors in the human skin. 3,000 are just in one finger tip!
  2. It takes 20 seconds of giving or receiving a hug to have your body finally release oxytocin; the neurotransmitter knowns as the “love hormone”.
  3. Healthy touch of any kind can reduce the heart rate and lower your blood pressure. Julius Caesar used massage to help his epilepsy and seizures, and Bob Hope lived to over 100 years old because he got a massage every day.
  4. Massaging and gently pulling on the outside of your ears, the top, middle and bottom, one time per day improves your immune system.
  5. Touch and massage stimulates the release of endorphins and endorphins are your body’s natural pain killers. This is ideal for those with menstrual cramps.
  6. A 60 minute massage is equivalent to seven to eight hours of quality sleep to the body.
  7. Massage is the oldest form of medical care. Egyptian tombs show paintings or hieroglyphics of people being massaged.
  8. There are lots of different studies on massage therapy, especially in newborns and in babies that are born prematurely. Scientists gave daily massages to one group, and no massages to the other group. The group with daily massages gained weight twice as much as the group that did not. Massage also helps brain development in newborn babies. A 10% increase developed hippocampus in the baby’s brain. It improves brain development and the hippocampus is responsible for learning memory and stress response.

Most Popular Types of Massages

If you’re new to massage, choosing the right therapy can be pretty confusing. There are lots of different types of massages out there, especially if you’re not sure what it involves. Some of the most common massages include:

Swedish massage

This is the most common type of massage. It involves soft, long kneading strokes as well as light, rhythmic tapping strokes on the topmost layers of the muscles. It is also combined with the movement of the joint. So you’ll see a massage therapist move your arm, manipulate or do long kneading strokes. By relieving muscle tension, Swedish therapy can be both relaxing and energizing, and gentler than other types of massage. The four common strokes of Swedish massage are:

  • Smooth, gliding strokes used to relax the soft tissue
  • Squeezing, rolling, or kneading that follows the soft, smooth, gliding stroke
  • Friction, which is deep circular movements that cause layers of tissues to rub against each other, helping to increase the blood flow and break down scar tissue. This is really good in healing.
  • A short alternating tap. It is done with cupped hands and fingers or the edge of the hand

Swedish massages are perfect for your first massage if you’re new to massage. They are perfect as a way to reduce muscle tension and promote relaxation. They are also really effective for a number of other health reasons that include:

  • Pain management
  • Increase in blood flow
  • Rehabilitation for muscle injuries
  • Increased flexibility
  • Reducing stress levels
  • Improving immune system health

Deep Tissue Massage

This is best for giving attention to certain painful, stiff, trouble spots in your body. Your massage therapist will use slow, deliberate strokes that focus on intense pressure on layers of the muscle, tendons, and other tissues deep on your skin. Sometimes they manipulate the muscle and move that muscle over and massage it. They are less rhythmic and are rougher than other types of massage. Deep tissue massage can be therapeutic. It can relieve chronic patterns of tension and help with muscle injuries.

Deep tissue massage is also a great way to help speed your recovery time for a variety of injuries and issues. It is great for chronic pain, lower back pain, limited mobility, and recovery from injuries including whiplash, falls, sports injuries, and repetitive strain injury such as carpal tunnel syndrome, muscle tension in the hamstring, IT band, legs, quadriceps, rhomboid and the upper back.

Chair Massage

Many companies now hire a masseuse and they are there with a chair ready to give you a massage at work. Chair massages are done while you’re seated and fully clothed in a portable, specially designed chair. They usually involve the massage of your neck, shoulder, back, arms and legs while your face rests. And it does not mess up your make-up so that is a win-win.

Benefits of chair massage include decreased anxiety, increased circulation and blood flow, it boosts your immune system and lowers your blood pressure, it relieves muscle pains and headaches, decreases stress levels, and improves sleep quality.

Aromatherapy Massage

For this type of therapy, you apply different essential oils, in a sequential order depending on what you’re trying to alleviate. Aromatherapy massage with essential oils is very special and specific because you put the oils on your spine, where all your nerve endings are and on the bottoms of your feet. The feet have the largest pores, so they are able to absorb the essential oils as fast as possible.

Aromatherapy massage is really just the Swedish massage, but with essential oils. Each essential oil used in aromatherapy has different properties and promotes beneficial changes in the brain and body by affecting your limbic system; a region in your brain known to influence the nervous system. For example, some essential oils like lavender help to calm you and make you feel relaxed, while others like rosemary rejuvenate and energize you.

Widely used essential oils and their benefits

Here are some of the most widely used essential oils and the benefits associated with them:

  • Calming essential oils – Lavender, chamomile, and geranium oil, or any of the woods such as sandalwood.
  • Uplifting oils – Sage, rose, neroli, and magnolia oil.
  • Energizing oils – Any citrus oils such as rosemary oil, lemon grass, lime, grapefruit, wild oranges and mandarin oranges. These are very energizing but they have photosensitivity, meaning they are phototoxic, so if you use any of the citrus oils make sure that you don’t go outside into the sun and get a sun tan because you will burn.
  • Decongestion Oils – Eucalyptus, pine, tea tree oil, peppermint, wintergreen, or anything with menthol. Use these in a bath or any of your humidifiers or your diffusers. You can boil a pot of hot water, take it out of the stove and put a wet towel over your head and breathe that in with a little bit of oil in there.

If you are sensitive to smells, essential oils can cause a headache. So don’t use too much, and always dilute with water or carrier oil that does not have a smell.

Hot Stone Massage

Here, the masseuse actually places warm stones on certain areas of the body such as acupressure points. These stones may be used as massage tools themselves, or may be temporarily left in the place to warm the muscles up more. They are used along with other massage techniques. The direct heat of the stones helps you further relax muscles and really let the therapist work on a deeper muscle layer. Most people are familiar with the large black stones called lava stones, and they hold heat best. Marble stones and Himalayan salt stones are also very popular. Himalayan stones can also be heated or cooled and they allow the energy to flow better and they help to detox and circulate the blood a little bit better.

Basalt lava, marble and Himalayan salt are the three most common and popular stones that are used. Combining hot stone techniques with a full body massage expands blood vessels, encourages the blood flow throughout the body, reduces stress and promotes deep relaxation. Hot stone massage is also great for providing relief from pain associated with fibromyalgia, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other chronic conditions. They help to decrease pain and muscle spasms, they reduce chronic stress and tension, increase flexibility in your joints, and relieve pain and tension created by strained or contracted muscles.

Reflexology massage

This is technically not a form of massage, although it is often combined with other various forms of massage. It is an Eastern Asian tradition to use reflexology massage closely related to kinesiology as well. The theory behind reflexology is that hand, thumb, and finger techniques stimulate certain reflex areas of the hands and feet. Those areas correspond to specific body parts. The massage then supposedly promotes health and well-being in the corresponding areas. A typical reflexology foot chart is a diagram of the foot with colored areas corresponding to specific parts of the body. For example, the inside edge of the foot corresponds to the spine, the inside of the big toe corresponds to the head, and the heel corresponds to the pelvis. If you press different parts of the foot, you’re stimulating different releases or different pressure points on your body. That is the basis of what reflexology is.

Wrap Up

Once considered a taboo in western medicine, massage is quickly becoming an accepted treatment for a number of chronic health issues, as well as a method for reducing stress, improving circulation, reducing muscle tension aches and pains, eliminating toxins, improving flexibility, improving sleep quality, strengthening your immune system, and reducing fatigue.

There are at least 80 to 125 different types of massage. Dr. Nancy described a number of them, including Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, chair massage, aromatherapy massage, and even hot stone massage.

Stay tuned for part two of this two part series, in which we’ll discuss the most effective at-home massage techniques.

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