- For sexual massage, see erotic massage. For "massage" as a euphemism for paid sexual favors, see prostitution.
Massage is the practice of applying pressure or vibration to the soft tissues of the body, including muscles, connective tissue, tendons, ligaments, and joints. A form of therapy, massage can be applied to parts of the body or successively to the whole body, to heal injury, relieve psychological stress, manage pain, improve circulation and relieve tension. Where massage is used for its physical and psychological benefits, it may be termed "therapeutic massage therapy" or manipulative therapy.
Most massage techniques involve the client being treated lying down on a massage table or in a massage chair; though there are a few exceptions, as with Thai massage (see below). Due to the necessary physical contact between the practitioner and the client or patient, care is taken to avoid causing sexual arousal. Although the massage subject is generally unclothed, their body is "draped" with towels or sheets. This also helps keep the patient warm.
The treatment may start with the client face up or down for the first part of the session: the client then rolls over (draped by the towels or sheets) for the second half of the session.
Good communication is essential to effective massage. As a client, it is good to communicate what you hope to get out of the session, for example relaxation or pain relief, full body massage or focus on a specific area, the amount of pressure that is comfortable for you, preferred techniques, and past medical history and current physical condition.
Most types of massage can be performed with pressure from superficial to deep. The ideal amount of pressure for therapeutic massage is when the receiver experiences some discomfort ("hurts good"). This activates the body's natural healing response. If it is too deep, the result may be another trauma to the body. Some soreness after the massage is OK if it lasts less than 1-2 days. If the soreness lasts longer, it usually means the massage was too deep.
Types of massage
There are well over 150 different types of massage therapy. Various styles of massage have developed from a number of sources.
This style utilizes long, flowing strokes, often but not necessarily in the direction of the heart. Swedish massage is designed to increase circulation and blood flow. There are six basic strokes: effleurage, pettrisage, friction, tapotement, compression and vibration. Oil, cream, or lotion is applied on the skin to reduce friction and allow smooth strokes. This style of massage is generally attributed to the Swedish fencing master and gymnastics teacher Per Henrik Ling (1776-1839).
Deep tissue massage
Deep tissue techniques are generally designed for more focused massage work. Working a specific joint, muscle or muscle group, the practitioner can access deeper layers of the soft tissue. Each person experiences pressure differently. Starting superficially and easing into the depth of the muscle slowly often allows more movement. If the pressure is applied too deeply or too quickly, the muscle may tighten to protect that area.
Trigger point therapy
A trigger point is an area of a muscle that refers pain sensations to other parts of the body. Trigger Point Therapy applies pressure to these points leading to immediate release of tension and improved muscular functioning. This work is based upon the trigger point research and manuals of Dr. Janet Travell.
Sometimes this work is incorporated into other styles of massage therapy such as neuromuscular therapy (NMT).
Neuromuscular Therapy (NMT) is used for pain relief and specific problems. Structural and postural imbalances are identified through an initial postural assessment. These are then addressed through systematic and site specific massage. NMT reduces pain, tension, postural imbalance, and lengthens and strengthens tissues. NMT was developed by Paul St. John.
Myoskeletal Alignment Technique
Myoskeletal Alignment Technique (MAT) identifies postural distortions to improve and prevent pain conditions. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) and myofacial techniques are used to lengthen tight/facilitated muscles while fiber activation techniques tone weak/inhibited muscles. MAT was developed by Erik Dalton (http://www.erikdalton.com/).
Structural Muscular Balancing
A gentle and effective technique that releases chronic contraction in the muscles. The nervous system is triggered to release contractions through compression applied to muscles placed in a shortened position.
Breema bodywork is performed on the floor with the recipient fully clothed. It consist of rhythmical and gentle leans and stretches which leads to deep relaxation, increased vitality, and stimulation of the self-healing processes of the body. Sessions can be any length of time, although 50 minutes is common. There are also self-Breema exercises. The essence of Breema is expressed in the Nine Principles of Harmony (http://www.breema.com/about/sbbb/principles/). The Breema Center (http://www.breema.com) is located in Oakland, California, and there are Breema practitioners and instructors (http://www.breema.com/referrals/) in many locations around the world.
Ancient Thai Massage
Also known as passive/assisted yoga or Thai bodywork, it is usually soothing because of its emphasis on stretching and loosening the body. It is also known as Ancient massage because its roots go back far into history, originating in India and then becoming popular in Thailand.
The patient changes into pajamas and lays on a firm mattress on the floor. (It can be done solo or in a group of a dozen or so patients in the same large room.) The practitioner leans on the patient's body using the forearm to apply firm rhythmic pressure to almost every part of the patient body. No oil is applied except sometimes to the patient's palms and soles. A full course of Thai massage lasts anywhere from one to two hours including pulling fingers, toes, ears etc., cracking the knuckles, walking on the patient's back, arching the patient's back in a rolling action etc. There is a standard procedure and rhythm to the massage. Sometimes in a large group massage, the practitioners do the procedures in unison.
Thai massage is a tourist attraction in Thailand and the practitioners are usually women. In some establishments, they sit inside a room with a large display window, so clients can pick the girl they like by the number tag on them. Some say the young and pretty women usually give a poor massage because of lack of experience. A full massage in Thailand costs around US$8 (in 2001) depending on exchange rate and location (it may cost ten times more inside a five star hotel).
MA-URI is a new form of massage introduced by Hemi Hoani Fox in 1990, who cites as its roots Hawaiian Lomi-Lomi Nui dance, claiming increased so-called energy flow within the body and mind. Focus is internal, upon breathing, intent, and concentration. Claimed benefits include mental and physical health. Study and advocation is primarily carried out at the MA-URI Institute (http://www.ma-uri.org/), headed by Hemi and Katja Fox. It is currently difficult to find practitioners, though this may change as it grows more popular.
Chinese Zhi Ya massage (指壓)
Zhi Ya is a form of Chinese massage based on acupressure. It is similar to Tui Na massage except it focuses more on pinching and pressing at acupressure points.
Chinese Tui Na massage (推拿)
Tui Na is a form of Chinese massage (按摩) that is similar to Zhi Ya, but focusing more on pushing, pulling and kneading the muscle.
Shiatsu is a form of Japanese massage based on acupressure. It is uncertain whether it originated from Chinese Zhi Ya.
In some barber shops in Hong Kong, scalp massage often lasts 30 minutes to 45 minutes during shampooing of the hair.
Sole or Foot massage
Also known as reflexology, foot massage, as practiced by the Chinese is performed in the context of chi, in that each spot on the sole of the foot corresponds to an internal organ, and the applied therapy is healing to one's overall well being. The theory supposes that an ailment of an internal organ will be associated with the nerve ending on the sole of the foot.
Before the massage, the patient's feet are soaked for about ten minutes in a foot bath, typically a dark colored solution of hot water and Chinese herbs. The massage therapist uses liberal amounts of medicated cream, to moisturize the foot and to provide lubrication. The knuckles on the therapist's hand are usually used to provide a hard and smooth implement for the massage. As pressure is applied to the sole, theory holds that a healthy patient should not feel any strong pain. Painful spots, reflexologists believe, reflect illnesses of other parts of the body. The practitioner rubs and massages the painful spots to break down rough spots and accumulated crystals and increase circulation.
The ailments are healed when the sore spots of the sole are treated and removed by massage. Based on this theory, some shoe liners are made with pressure points to stimulate the soles of the feet to promote better health of the overall body. The nature of these "crystals" has yet to be elucidated or demonstrated scientifically. Regardless of the actual correlation of reflexology to internal organs, many enjoy it for the mix of stimulation and relaxation.
Massage therapist organizations
The Associated Bodywork and Massage professionals (ABMP) an international, for-profit, organization of Professional Massage Therapists and Bodyworkers.
The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) is the largest non-profit professional organization of massage therapists in the United States, although there are other professional organizations.
The National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCTMB) is the only national certifying group of massage therapists in the United States. This is the test that professional massage therapists take in the US even if their states don't offer licensure, in an effort to demonstrate their knowledge. Over 25 U.S. states currently use it as a requirement for their state license as well.
The Canadian Massage Therapist Alliance is the national organization for massage therapists in Canada. It consists of all the members of the various provincial and territorial associations and works to promote and improve the profession.
The Association of Massage Therapists and Wholistic Practitioners is the other national not-for-profit association for massage therapists in Canada. Its members are massage therapists and other touch therapists throughout Canada, working to support and promote those therapies.
The Canadian Sports Massage Therapist Association is the national, not-for-profit association for sports massage therapists working in Canada. It sets standards and provides certification for its members and also promotes the profession.