A great many people regularly receive massage treatment and each person will have their own specific reasons for doing so. Some enjoy being pampered, or feeling less stressed after a hard days work. Other people seek massage treatment for the specific resolution or reduction of aches and pains. However, a great many people, even if they regularly receive massage treatment, do not really understand the benefits of regular massage and the means by which massage achieves its goals. Therefore, in this article, I aim to outline the benefits and advantages of having regular massage treatment. In addition, I describe the mechanisms by which massage therapy achieves the restoration of health from injury.
When I apply massage, I try to affect the patient on 3 levels: Structural, fluid and energy. A correctly applied massage should be an enjoyable experience that leaves the patient feeling relaxed, de-stressed and full of energy. Effective massage should be tailored to the particular needs of the patient rather than following a set routine of specific movements. Similarly, a skilled massage practitioner will use a variety of techniques and positions to target muscles and joints in the most effective way possible.
While therapists offering a basic qualification are fine for a general massage — say to relive general aches and pains, it is important to seek out a remedial massage therapist if you are require the resolution of a specific pain or injury. Generally, it is only the more highly qualified therapists that are trained to diagnose and treat specific problems and have the required training that underpins the knowledge required to identify the dysfunctional tissues and formulate an effective treatment routine.
In general a highly skilled massage therapist employs a wide range of techniques for stretching tissues, stimulating and relaxing the nervous system, lymphatic drainage, increasing circulation and breaking down knots in muscles. Furthermore a skilled therapist will usual deliver a massage face down, face up and side-lying. These positions allow the therapist to more effectively target specific muscles over just delivering a massage face down.
Massage is one of the most effective treatments for correcting and maintaining correct posture. A skilled massage therapist will be able to perform a postural analysis and determine which muscles are short and which are long. Treatment will include a full assessment of the type of work and sports that we do. From this, the massage therapist will be able to identify which muscles are likely to be over-used and need to be targeted in the massage treatment. The targeted massage routine will stretch the shortened muscles, which will help normalise posture. In addition, the massage therapist will usually suggest targeted home exercises to strengthen weakened muscles.
Sometimes, muscles are shortened due to the ‘knots’ that build up in the muscle fibres. A skilled massage therapist will be able to palpate these knots and apply specific focussed techniques to break them down. This will allow the muscle to perform at its optimum level as well as allow an increased blood supply to the whole muscle and promote more effective removal of waste products.
As well as the normalisation of posture, regular massage treatment encourages increased circulation in the whole body. The massage therapist usually applies long flowing massage strokes in the direction of the muscle fibres. This compresses the tissue building up a ‘bow wave’ of compression that is moved longitudinally along the direction of the muscle. This encourages the flow of blood through the body as well as a generic stretch of the muscle fibres and surrounding tissues. This is especially important in individuals who have relatively inactive lifestyles.
Massage therapy is a very effective treatment for dealing with injury. In the short term after the injury, the massage therapist will help to reduce the amount of pain and discomfort by reducing the inflammation around the injured area. Following this, the massage therapist can design a plan of treatment and rehabilitation to promote faster recovery and ensure that the range of motion is not lost in the injured joint while it is healing.
Thus, over time, especially with regular treatment, the massage therapist builds up a complete structural picture of the client’s body. Thus the massage therapist is able to spot potential problems that may give rise to injury in the future. A great many injuries often result from immobility that builds up from injuries that have not healed properly or due to the build up of rigid tissue around a joint over time. A massage therapist is able to spot this and restore range of movement before a serious problem occurs. For sports people, this is especially important as injury is more common as athletes push their bodies to the limits of their physical design.
Therefore, a regular massage is more than just correcting structural defects. It is about maintaining health, increasing awareness of the clients body (to the client) and maintaining energy levels so that the client can perform at their optimum performance for their daily life.
A major problem with massage therapy is that it is not regulated in some countries. This means that it can be problematic in finding an effective and safe therapist. In countries where massage therapy is not regulated, the best advice I can given you is to check out the qualifications of the therapist. In addition, most therapists will be registered with one or more professional organisations and it is worth checking the registration requirements of the professional body as well.
Just as we take our cars to the garage for regular check-ups and servicing, it follows that it is prudent to do the same with our bodies. Regular massage can be thought of as a kind of check-up for our bodies — keeping our bodies in optimum health and acting as an early warning system for potential problems.
Matthew Craig Long