Swedish massage helps the body heal itself by physically manipulating and stimulating the body’s circulatory and lymphatic systems. This works to energize and help eliminate toxins in the body. Also, through Swedish massage, a high level of relaxation can often be achieved, and this relaxation can help prepare the body to act as an open, receptive vessel in which healing can more rapidly occur.
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Another theory that may also explain how reflexology can produce pain relief is the gate control theory, or, more recently, the neuromatrix theory of pain. This theory suggests that pain is a subjective experience created by your brain. The brain does this in response to the sensory experience of pain, but it can also work independently of sensory input and create pain in response to emotional or cognitive factors. Thus things that influence the brain, such as your mood or external factors like stress can also affect your experience of pain. According to this theory, reflexology may reduce pain by reducing stress and improving mood.
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One theory is that muscle knots may be caused by something that goes wrong at the “motor end plate” — where a nerve ending attaches to a muscle cell.9 We don’t know why this happens, or what exactly goes wrong, but there is circumstantial evidence that motor end plates are the “point” in trigger point. That evidence is too complex and controversial to review properly here. It is explored in detail in my book. Some research has suggested that it may actually be possible to physically destroy the motor end plate with strong massage, thereby inactivating the trigger point.10 When it regrows — these are microscopic structures, it doesn’t take them long to heal — the trigger point may be gone.
In addition to my private practice, I work with patients at the Initiative for Women with Disabilities (IWD) at NYU Medical’s Hospital for Joint Diseases. Many of the patients I see are dealing with issues such as chronic pain, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and rheumatoid arthritis, and find reflexology a beneficial way to incorporate integrative therapies into their treatment.
Effleurage is the most common stroke in Swedish massage. It is a free-flowing and gliding movement towards the heart, tracing the contours of the body using the palm of one or both hands. Oil is applied with this stroke to begin the first stage of massage. The therapist applies a light or medium constant pressure. This stroke is used to warm up the muscles, relax the body, calm the nerves, improve blood circulation and heart function, and improve lymphatic drainage.
When you get off the table, your calves may be screaming at you, but don’t get upset and run home to your foam roller, says Denunzio. Soreness is normal and can even help reveal areas of weakness that should receive future attention. Within 48 hours, the tightness should dissipate, and if the massage was administered correctly, you may even feel like you’re in a new body.