Massage Therapy

Massage therapy originated thousands of years ago and has been popular ever since. Think about your first reaction when you hurt yourself-you rub the area and apply pressure. Massage is an instinctual response to pain and also to provide comfort, and has been used universally for as long as there have been human beings. There is written evidence of its use in ancient China, Japan, India, and Greece dated as far back as 2700 B.C. Massage therapy involves the use of touch. A therapist will apply various types of pressures, strokes, and movements with their hands, forearms, elbows, and occasionally feet to manipulate, relax, and stimulate the soft tissues. At times, heat or cold applications are applied as a part of the massage treatment. Massage therapy has many useful applications and works synergistically with many other healing modalities. It is used to treat a wide variety of ailments such as sports injuries, chronic pain,limited mobility, high blood pressure, depression, and  addictions to name a few. It is also an increasingly popular form of stress reduction and relaxation, and also works well for the prevention of pain.

According to the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, “…the practitioner of therapeutic massage and bodywork incorporates knowledge of various systems of anatomy, physiology, and pathology to apply a plan of care for” their client. Massage Therapists speak with their client prior to a session to learn about the person’s medical background and their desired outcome for the massage. This medical history enables the massage therapist to discuss which techniques may benefit the client, which ones should be avoided, and whether or not they should proceed with a massage based on certain medical conditions. You’ll find much more on the subject of massage therapy by entering those keywords at The National Institute of Health and on Pubmed.

The Different Types of Massage Therapy

There are more than 80 modalities or types of massage, and a massage therapist will generally be familiar with a range of modalities, depending on the type of work they do and the setting they work in. The American Massage Therapy Association states that the five most commonly practiced massage modalities are:

  • Swedish- the therapist uses long strokes, kneading and friction on the muscles and moves the joints to aid flexibility
  • TriggerPoint / Neuromuscular- the therapist uses a variety of strokes and applies deeper, more focused pressure on “knots” -myofascial trigger points that are painful to touch
  • Deep Tissue- therapist uses patterns of strokes and deep finger pressure on parts of the body where muscles deep under the skin are tight
  • Sports Massage- uses Deep Tissue and Swedish Massage techniques adapted to deal with the effects of intense physical exertion on the body and eases stiffness and pain. Techniques are specifically designed to prevent and treat sports injuries. There are also techniques for use during or right before taking part in the sport to prepare the athlete to perform at their absolute best.
  • Shiatsu- therapist applies varying rhythmic pressure from the fingers on parts of the body that are believed to be important for the correct flow of body energy
    Other popular techniques include:
  • Abdominal/visceral massage or visceral manipulation-the therapist uses deep but gentle manipulation of the abdomen to free tissue restrictions and improve abdominal organ function
  • Active Release-the therapist applies pressure to the affected muscle, while the client performs the muscle’s usual movement to free adhesions and improve muscle function
  • Infant massage-parents are taught by a qualified instructor in massage techniques to help relax their child, as well as enhance the parent-infant bond.
  • Infant massage-parents are taught by a qualified instructor in massage techniques to help relax their child, as well as enhance the parent-infant bond.
  • Thai  massage involves the client being placed on the floor, and the therapist uses hands, arms, elbows, legs and more to apply pressure to the client while also passively stretching and moving the clients limbs,
  • Extremely popular, hot stone massage uses heated, smooth stones that are placed on specific areas on the client, while other areas are massaged. A warmed stone is even used to apply some of the massage strokes.
  • Myofascial release is a gentle therapy that strives to release adhesions that result from strain or injury to allow the muscles to work at their best.
  • Rolfing takes at least 10 sessions to be effective. It is a technique that frees adhesions that bind muscles and muscles groups using manipulation and education to aid clients.
  • Alexander technique is a system of retraining the client to use proper posture by re-educating the body to break bad habits, resulting in conscious and proper movements that maintain muscle health.
  • Bowen is a gentle, hands-on technique that has increased in popularity over the years. The therapist performs a series of gentle hand movements and has been successful to treat clients of all ages.
  • Cranio-sacral therapy is a system of very slight movements and pressures that are said to affect the spinal fluid system. Clients remain fully clothed and the session’s length depends on the severity of the imbalances in the client’s system. It has been extremely successful for treating colicky infants.

Massage Therapy Sessions

Sessions may range from 15 minutes to 2 hours, with 30-60 minutes being the norm. On an initial appointment, therapists will explore the client’s medical history, any symptoms they’re experiencing, and the desired outcome. If there are no contraindications, the therapist will discuss modalities and proceed with the massage.

Depending on massage type, a client may be seated fully clothed in a specially designed padded chair, or partially to fully undressed and lying down on a padded table. When undressed, the therapist will drape all parts of the body with towels or sheets, except the area to be massaged. Oils or massage lotions may be used to reduce friction on the skin.

Where is Massage Therapy Commonly Performed?

Massage therapists who handle medical conditions can often be found in hospitals, chiropractors offices, nursing homes, private homes, sporting events, and sports medicine facilities. Massage therapists may also be found at salons, spas, hotels, and resorts. Many massage therapists also have portable massage chairs, allowing them to come to people’s place of employment or their homes to perform a treatment. Similarly, some therapists are mobile, and use a massage table that folds up for portability. When a massage is performed in the salon or spa setting, the therapist will often work in a candlelit or dimly lit room, with soothing music in the background to relax the client and put them at ease. Often, the use of aromatherapy is a popular accompaniment to massage therapy.

How to Qualify as a Licensed Massage Therapist

It is best to select a licensed massage therapist who has graduated from an accredited massage therapy school program in your state. You can find information on questions you should ask your therapist and qualifications they should have at the websites for the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork , the American Massage Therapy Association , and the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation Word of mouth is also advertising for massage therapists, however, not all therapists are the right match for all clients. Keep in mind that many particular techniques, for example, myofascial release, require separate training and accreditation. If you claim to practice specific modalities, proof of these qualifications must be displayed through certificates or other documents.

Massage Therapy and Health Risks

There are 3 types of contraindication to massage therapy:

  1. No massage indicated.
  2. Massage is acceptable if a particular area is avoided.
  3. Massage indicated with caution and in some cases, medical supervision.
    Doctors recommend that you avoid massage therapy if you have any of the following conditions:
  • Deep Vein Thrombosis
  • Most bleeding disorders, or if you are taking blood thinning medication
  • Damaged blood vessels
  • A fever
  • Weakened bones from cancer, osteoporosis, or recent fracture
  • A tumor
  • Nerve damage
  • an infection, wound, inflammation, or burn on the skin
    Some medical conditions require the consent of the client’s physician, such as:
  • A history of cancer
  • A history of stroke or TIA
  • The frail elderlyHowever, many of these conditions can be treated with massage therapy, providing you have talked to and obtained permission from a doctor before beginning treatment.

Massage Therapy Effects and Health Benefits

Some side effects may include temporary pain or discomfort, bruising, swelling, or allergic reaction to massage oils.  Many people experience fatigue and a profound release of stored toxins resulting in dark, unpleasant smelling urine, after a massage. Others may feel extremely tired as a result of the toxin release, and may need to nap afterwards. Therapists should never let a client leave the clinic unless they are satisfied that the client is alert enough to drive. Some people require a few minutes to adjust to the massage before they depart the clinic. All clients should be encouraged to drink plenty of water following a massage to help the toxins exit the body. Scientists and doctors are not fully aware of all the aspects of massage yet, and are conducting studies to evaluate its effects. Some benefits may include:

  • increased relation and reduction of stress
  • may stimulate the release of serotonin and endorphins
  • may prevent fibrosis, the formation of scar-like tissue
  • decrease the amount of existing scar tissue, making the area more functional
  • decrease adhesions between muscles and muscle groups, promoting muscle function
  • may increase the flow of lymph, which carries cells that fight disease
  • may enhance sleep
  • may reduce limited range of motion
  • may decrease chronic pain

Massage Therapy Research

Despite the fact that massage therapy is a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), research into the benefits of massage therapy is growing exponentially. Listed is but a small sample of the published and researched benefits of massage therapy:

  • Massage therapy was found effective in improving day to day function, as well as lowering stress hormone levels in patients with Parkinson’s disease (Hernandez-Reif et al., 2002).
  • Following cardiac surgery, patients that received massage therapy rather than simple relaxation demonstrated less pain, anxiety and stress (Bauer, 2010)
  • Patients with tendon injuries to their knees healed faster with less pain and better function as a result of massage therapy (McCrea & George, 2010).
  • Elderly patients showed a benefit in balance following one targeted massage treatment, reducing the likelihood of falls. Massage was also found to promote relaxation in elderly patients (Harris & Richards, 2010).
  • Women receiving treatment for breast cancer found that massage reduced their anger, tension and fatigue. There were even implications in this study that cortisol (a stress hormone) levels may be affected by massage for these patients (Listing et al., 2010)
  • Child survivors of sexual abuse received massage along with their non-abusive mothers. This study found that their bond and communication was greatly enhanced by massage therapy (Powell & Cheshire, 2010).
  • Infertility in women was shown to be reduced through abdominal/pelvic massage.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health funds research on massage therapy, and you can find a wealth of information on massage and these projects at their website.

Massage Therapy Info by State:
Alabama Massage Therapy
Alaska Massage Therapy
Arizona Massage Therapy
Arkansas Massage Therapy
California Massage Therapy
Colorado Massage Therapy
Connecticut Massage Therapy
Delaware Massage Therapy
Florida Massage Therapy
Georgia Massage Therapy
Hawaii Massage Therapy
Idaho Massage Therapy
Illinois Massage Therapy
Indiana Massage Therapy
Iowa Massage Therapy
Kansas Massage Therapy
Kentucky Massage Therapy
Louisiana Massage Therapy
Maine Massage Therapy
Maryland Massage Therapy
Massachusetts Massage Therapy
Michigan Massage Therapy
Minnesota Massage Therapy
Mississippi Massage Therapy
Missouri Massage Therapy
Montana Massage Therapy
Nebraska Massage Therapy
Nevada Massage Therapy
New-Hampshire Massage Therapy
New-Jersey Massage Therapy
New-Mexico Massage Therapy
New-York Massage Therapy
North-Carolina Massage Therapy
North-Dakota Massage Therapy
Ohio Massage Therapy
Oklahoma Massage Therapy
Oregon Massage Therapy
Pennsylvania Massage Therapy
Rhode-Island Massage Therapy
South-Carolina Massage Therapy
South-Dakota Massage Therapy
Tennessee Massage Therapy
Texas Massage Therapy
Utah Massage Therapy
Vermont Massage Therapy
Virginia Massage Therapy
Washington Massage Therapy
West-Virginia Massage Therapy
Wisconsin Massage Therapy

More Information and Advanced Massage Therapy Information

The following websites provide comprehensive databases of medical and academic journal articles:

Massage Therapy Foundation
- this site also provides links to helpful publications, government agencies, educational resources, and other massage therapy resources

The Chiropractic Resource Organization