Massage therapy is the manual manipulation of soft body tissues (muscles, connective tissue, tendons and ligaments) to enhance a person’s health and wellbeing.
This form of therapy involves hands-on techniques to increase circulation, relieve tension and promote relaxation throughout the entire body. A therapist will apply pressure to the body to release physical tensions however, you should also experience mental and emotional benefits during a massage. As the body enters a relaxed state through increased blood flow and deep breathing, the body will increase its release of endorphins and decrease cortisol production – helping you feel happier, less stressed and see improvements in your sleep.
Popular types of massage
You may already be familiar with massage therapy under different names. In general, a massage is intended to promote relaxation, taking the body into a restorative state. Each type of massage has its own unique benefits, and one type may suit you better than the others. Below we’ve listed some of the most popular massage therapies and their benefits:
Is a popular restorative massage designed to relax you. Your therapist will use deep circular motions, long movements and kneading to stimulate blood flow and ease muscle tension. This is a great style if you are new to massage, as it tends to be gentler and the most relaxing. Note, you’re expected to undress for this style of massage and be sure to tell your therapist if their pressure is too firm.
Hot stone massage
Another relaxing massage therapy, similar to a Swedish massage. During a session, your therapist applies warm stones to different parts of your body. The weight and warmth of the stones help to melt away tension and stress. Again you don’t wear clothes for this therapy, and a session is usually 90 minutes long.
An aromatherapy massage is similar to a deep tissue or Swedish massage, except essential oils will be massaged into your body to further trigger relaxation. The types of oils used will depend on what effects you want from your massage. Think invigorating scents to energise the body or more relaxing ones to help improve your sleep quality.
Deep tissue massage
Another common massage. A deep tissue massage is designed to do what it says on the tin – massage your deep tissues to help relieve built-up tension and muscle ‘knots’. Your therapist will use slow, deep pressure to target the inner layers of muscle fibre which may be giving you chronic pain and tension. You may feel some discomfort during a session if the therapist is working on a particular problem.
Similar to a deep tissue massage, sports massages are designed to prevent injury and improve muscle recovery time for athletes. The therapist will focus mainly on the active muscles to increase blood flow to the area and likely to apply deep pressure and trigger point techniques. This is a good option if you are recovering from an injury as a sports massage can help the body to repair itself quickly.
Thai massage uses a different method to the others mentioned above but with the same intention of restoring rest and relaxation. The therapist will move your body in certain ways, stretching and twisting you into certain positions and will apply direct pressure to your body. Expect to move a few different times during the session, and wear loose comfortable clothing.
Indian head massage
An Indian head massage, also known as Champissage, stems from Ayurvedic medicine. It releases tension specifically in the head, neck and shoulder area. Your therapist may or may not accompany the massage with essential oils. It is particularly beneficial if you have chronic headaches or migraines.
What are the proven benefits of massage therapy?
Improves blood circulation
Massage therapy can improve general blood flow for up to 72 hours. In an interesting study, Chicago researchers investigated if massage therapy could alleviate muscle soreness and improve systemic circulation after exercise. They found pleasing results for both patients who exercised and those who didn’t. After exercising their legs to soreness, patients received a 30-minute Swedish massage to the affected leg and reported no continuing soreness after 90 minutes. In addition, ultrasound scans showed an increase in blood flow after the massage until finally tapering off 72 hours later. Interestingly, for those who didn’t exercise, they also saw identical results in blood flow as those who did exercise. The study suggests massage therapy can provide significant benefits to people suffering from circulation conditions or muscle soreness after exercising.
Relaxation and rejuvenation
If you’re experiencing fatigue or going through a spell of depleted energy, a Thai massage might be what you need. A study comparing the benefits of Thai massage and Swedish massage found that both styles of massage improved sleep, feelings of stress and relief of muscular tension. Swedish massages caused a larger improvement in sleep however Thai massages were more successful at energising, rejuvenating and mentally stimulating the recipients.
Reduces symptoms of asthma
Millions of people suffer from asthma around the world and one of the triggers can be increased stress and anxiety. In a study of 58 children with asthma, doctors found a daily 30-minute massage significantly reduced their symptoms. A test group received massage therapy given by their parents before bedtime for 4 weeks, in addition to their standard treatments. Results showed the massage group had significant improvements compared to the control group who received their usual asthma treatments but no massage. Implying that massage therapy can play a key role in reducing anxiety in asthma patients and therefore decreasing their symptoms such as dyspnea, cough and wheeze.
Is massage right for you?
Massage is generally considered a safe and non-toxic form of therapy. However, if you have allergies it’s best to discuss this with your therapist first. They can always omit or swap massage oils if you have sensitive skin.
If you are pregnant or have just given birth, massage therapy can be hugely beneficial to you. However, you should opt for a pre-natal or post-natal massage so the therapist can focus on the specific changes your body goes through during pregnancy.
What to expect in your first session
Your massage session should take place in a warm, comfortable, quiet room. There may be music or ambient sounds to help you relax. Depending on the type of massage, you will lie on a table especially designed for massage.
It is always good to discuss with the therapist your aim for the massage, such as relaxing or invigorating. Advise them on the pressure you prefer and do let them know if the pressure is not right for you.
Most massage techniques are traditionally performed with the client unclothed; however, it is entirely up to you what you want to wear. You should undress to your level of comfort. However, a sheet or towel is draped over you during the entire session.
How to find a massage therapist
There are many different massage therapy methods ranging from the more holistic energy healing type, to a sports injury massage. It is good to first understand what you want from the massage to find a suitable practitioner.
Next, go out and try them! Regular massages can be beneficial for overall wellbeing and health. Find a practitioner whose touch you resonate with as the more you work with a single practitioner, the more they learn about your body and can support you in feeling the benefits.