Recovery. Therapeutic massage helps the body recover from the stresses of strenuous exercise, and facilitates the rebuilding phase of conditioning. The physiological benefits of massage include improved blood and lymph circulation, muscle relaxation, and general relaxation. These, in turn, lead to removal of waste products and better cell nutrition, normalization and greater elasticity of tissues, deactivation of trigger points, and faster healing of injuries. It all adds up to relief from soreness and stiffness, better flexibility, and less potential for future injury.
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Swedish massage is rooted in Western practices of anatomy and physiology. To perform this type of massage, licensed therapists apply an arsenal of pressure styles that include stroking, kneading, striking, rubbing, and vibrations. Using massage oil to help their strokes glide, they focus the pressure along the muscles that run the length of the body.
For example, I worked on the Indiana Sports Massage Team starting in 1989, as well as the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships and National Championships. I coordinated massage for the 1992 Olympic Trials and was on the 1996 Olympic Massage Team for the Atlanta Olympics—the first time massage therapy was part of the medical staff for the Olympics. These were all volunteer positions, but I loved it!
Because reflexology is intended to normalize the body functions, the therapy does not cause a condition to worsen. Most patients find that pain diminishes over the course of the therapy. It has been noted, however, that some patients experience greater discomfort in the second session than in the first session, because a significant easing of pain and tension is generally associated with the initial therapy session. As a result, when pressure is reapplied to the tender points of the foot during the second session, the sensitivity has been heightened. This increase in sensitivity may cause minor additional discomfort for the patient.
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Increased blood flow. Your Swedish Massage Therapist should use effleurage – a long, stroking motion in the direction of blood flow towards the heart – in order to open up your blood vessels and increase your blood flow. Increased blood flow means that your muscles are getting more nutrients and oxygen and that your body is removing toxins more efficiently.
I am also a triathlon coach and personal trainer, so I mix and match my appointments every week in between massage sessions and coaching and training sessions with my clients. I typically have between five and eight massage sessions per day, four to five days per week. There are typically two sports massage sessions per day. Most massage sessions include corrective exercise review so the client knows what self-care they should perform.
Reflexology utilizes finger and thumb techniques on the feet and hands to promote deep relaxation, clarity of mind, and a sense of well-being. A session assists with: digestive ailments, hormonal imbalance, structural pain, attention deficit disorders, headache/migraines, sleeping disorders, releasing emotional tension, and strengthening the immune system.
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Massage may be an appropriate technique for helping certain sports injuries, especially muscle injuries, to heal. When treating an injury, however, it is best to seek advice from a qualified sports therapist or a specialist in sports medicine before performing any massage. Certain ligament and joint injuries that need immobilization and expert attention may be aggravated by massage.
While there is certainly carryover between who can benefit from each type of massage, the deep tissue massage may be better suited for people who are experiencing a specific injury or who have chronic, nagging pain in a particular area. Athletes or individuals in the midst of training for a more intense event may also find this technique particularly helpful.
Several mechanisms for deep massage’s natural stress-relieving effects include its ability to dilate blood vessels and also lower activity of the limbic system (including the hypothalamus), which is responsible for autonomic nervous system regulation and cortisol secretion. Massage has been shown to improve relaxation by boosting activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, as measured by heart rate, blood pressure and heart rate variability. (8, 9)
Understand reflexology zones. Reflexology is based on the idea that the body can be divided into zones. Picture your body divided into a system of longitudinal and transverse zones. Imagine five zones on each side of your body, starting at the tip of each toe, and running up the length of your body to the top of your head. The transverse zones (similar to lines of latitude) divide the areas of your feet into zones that correspond to your head and neck, your chest, abdomen and your pelvis area. Engaging the tip of a particular zone by applying pressure to a place on the foot activates the body's healing power for that entire zone. This concept is also referred to as zone therapy.
Swedish massage uses five basic movements to increase circulation and remove toxins from the muscles. Always working towards the heart, the massage therapist incorporates these techniques into a flowing massage session that leaves the patient physically and emotionally relaxed. The trademark move is Effleurage, long gliding strokes that can be firm or soft, depending on purpose and client. Many therapists start out a session with Effleurage to familiarize themselves with the patient, and then start to bring more pressure to bear for deeper work.
It is important to note that the reflexology group only received two months of treatment, whereas the ibuprofen group had two months. In addition to being “associated with more reduction of intensity and duration of menstrual pain in comparison with ibuprofen therapy,” it appeared that reflexology actually promotes healing and not just pain management.
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Referred pain spreads the goodness. Undoubtedly another reason that massage pain can feel good is the phenomenon of referred sensation. If you stimulate internal tissues anywhere in the body, muscle or otherwise, the brain really has trouble telling quite where the sensation is coming from. When you press hard enough on your muscles, particularly on sensitive trigger points, the pain is often experienced as though it originated from a much broader area.
Bastian B, Jetten J, Hornsey MJ, Leknes S. The Positive Consequences of Pain: A Biopsychosocial Approach. Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 2014 Apr;18(3):256–279. PubMed #24727972. Bastian et al. write about “pain’s capacity to produce positive consequences, thereby decoupling the experience of pain from the experience of suffering” — pain’s silver linings, basically. BACK TO TEXT
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Reflexology and acupressure are both "reflex" therapies in that they work with points on one part of the body to affect other parts of the body. While reflexology uses reflexes that are in an orderly arrangement resembling a shape of the human body on the feet, hands, and outer ears, acupressure uses over 800 reflex points that are found along long thin energy lines called meridians that run the length of the entire body.
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There are 58 training programs accredited by the Commission for Massage Therapy Accreditation/Approval in the United States. They provide a minimum of 500 hours of massage training. Certified therapists have graduated from these programs and passed the national certification examination for therapeutic massage. They are also required to participate in continuing education programs to keep their skills current.
According to the Neuromuscular Therapy Center, NMT is one type of deep massage technique that focuses on applying manual therapy to soft tissue with “quasi-static pressure” in order to stimulate skeletal striated muscle. (17) In addition to massaging a painful or inflamed muscle, the area around the affected muscle that normally supports it is also massaged in order to release tension. NMT therapists often focus on several factors that can add to muscle or tissue dysfunctions, including joint pathologies, postural positioning, disruptive habits of use, nutritional components, emotional well-being, allergies and neurotoxins.
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The light-touch, free massages often offered at finish line festivals can help calm the nervous system by allowing the body to commence its natural repair state quicker, explains Rosemarie Rotenberger, an orthopedic massage therapist in Mertztown, Pennsylvania. And Denunzio says that racers can schedule a recovery-focused sports massage within several hours up to 48 hours after an event, although she recommends massage newbies wait three to four days, as they may be too sore within the first few days fully benefit from (and appreciate) the experience.