The primary goal of deep tissue massage is to reduce pain and discomfort, while improving the body’s ability to heal itself. Deep tissue massages are not only relaxing — they also help “lengthen and release muscles” that frequently feel tense and get stuck in uncomfortable holding patterns. (1) Let’s explore what, exactly, deep tissue massage is and all the ways it can benefit your body and mind.
There is not necessarily a hard line between these two techniques, and many sessions often incorporate both depending on your needs. It is usually the case that not all the muscles in your body need deep tissue techniques applied. Rather than being overly concerned with choosing the “right” session, make sure you communicate to your therapist the goals for your session so that he or she can customize the right blend of techniques for you. One massage style is often the foundation of the session, with other techniques used as needed. Due to the slow pace of deep tissue massage it is necessary to schedule a 90-minute session if you would like your full body addressed. Use these guidelines for communication based on your primary goal for the session:
Many types of practices are associated with massage and include bodywork, manual therapy, energy medicine, neural mobilization and breathwork. Other names for massage and related practices include hands-on work, body/somatic therapy, and somatic movement education. Body-mind integration techniques stress self-awareness and movement over physical manipulations by a practitioner. Therapies related to movement awareness/education are closer to dance and movement therapies. Massage can also have connections with the New Age movement and alternative medicine as well as holistice philosophies of preventative medical care, as well as being used by mainstream medical practitioners.
Flushing. If massage can “improve” any tissue — unknown — one way it might do it is through simple hydraulics: physically pumping tissue fluids around, and/or stimulating the circulation of blood and lymph. I won’t get into the evidence about it here. Suffice it to say that it might be true, and if it’s true then it may not much matter if the process is uncomfortable. While gentler massage may feel pleasant and satisfying, it is possible that more biological benefits can only be achieved hydraulically — whether it’s comfortable or not. This is even more plausible because of trigger points: it’s likely that the tissue fluids of a trigger point are quite polluted with waste metabolites, and the need for flushing is greater, but it’s especially uncomfortable to squish those polluted patches of tissue.
The American Commission for Accreditation of Reflexology Education and Training (ACARET) sets the standards for education required for the reflexology profession. It also credentials those involved with educating students of reflexology. The American Reflexology Certification Board (ARCB) has a three-part examination process to ensure the practitioner has met the standards set by the board. In order to be certified through ARCB, a minimum of 110 hands-on training hours must be completed.
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The underlying theory behind reflexology is that there are certain points or "reflex areas" on the feet and hands that are connected energetically to specific organs and body parts through energy channels in the body. By applying pressure to reflex areas, a reflexologist is said to remove energy blockages and promote health in the related body area.
The proper design, control, and intervention protocols of research on reflexology remain debatable. The use of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) is the golden standard in assessing the efficacy of complementary therapies such as reflexology.34 Verhoef et al. have described the challenges when researching complementary therapies: standardization of regimented treatment that limit the individualization of treatment; client's focus on health with restricted roles for disease treatment; ethical issues involving the recruitment and randomization due to participants pre-conceived belief on reflexology; practicality of applying sham reflexology; interference of psychological influence on rapport between patient-provider.35
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Sports massage therapy can help a person manage stress. When a person receives a sports massage, their body releases neurotransmitters called endorphins. According to American Spa, endorphins are released by two centers of the brain known as the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, and they act as the body's natural pain reliever. Endorphins that are released due to receiving a sports massage help to decrease anxiety, provide pain relief, improve mood and enhance a person's state of well-being.
Inflammation caused by chronic stress and muscle tension can lead to worsened overall health, longer recovery time, reduced immune function and cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure. Studies have found that massage therapy can help lower cortisol levels and even boost production of the hormone called oxytocin, which relaxes the body and has soothing effects. (7) Oxytocin is the primary hormone responsible for sustaining social bonds in humans and increasing motivation for cooperative behaviors, which is why it’s often called the “cuddle hormone” and known to be released during hugs, birth, social bonding and from touch.
The NCCIH adds that massage therapy may also be potentially harmful to women who are pregnant. Even though research has found that it offers this demographic some positive effects, such as decreased depression and anxiety and reduced leg and back pain, it is still important to obtain approval from her healthcare provider first to ensure that she can receive a safe sports massage.