If you’ve never had a massage, you’ve been missing out! Even if you have a sensitive back and don’t like to be touched, consider the benefits of a massage – even just once – for the potential healing qualities it may have for your musculoskeletal system. Keep reading to find out how a massage is more than just a form of stress relief!
Why Get a Massage?
Daily stress, lack of exercise, poor nutrition, lots of sitting, illness, and symptoms of aging can all wreak havoc on your health, happiness, and beauty. If you’re experiencing headaches, tight neck or shoulder muscles, back pain, or have been hearing your joints “Snap, Crackle, and Pop” when standing up like something out of a Rice Krispies commercial, it may be time to get a massage.
Chances are that your muscle fibers are tense. It could be due to a misalignment or inflammation of a part of your musculoskeletal system, which contains the bones, cartilage, ligaments, and connective tissue making up the framework holding in your organs. This important bodily system is what enables you to contract muscle fibers, so you can walk, run, jump, or sit – all while maintaining and stabilizing your unique human form.
If your muscles (and other bits and pieces) are experiencing compressive stress, you’ll most likely benefit from a massage. The art of rubbing and kneading the body with the hands offers relief in many ways. It offers relaxation, an overall sense of wellbeing, and provides an alternative method to temporarily relieving pain, among other amazing benefits.
How Does It Work?
A typical massage will last from 60 to 90 minutes, but sometimes you can arrange a shorter 30 minute introductory session.
Keep in mind that during a full-body massage, you’ll be asked beforehand to undress down to your underwear (or you can choose to be nude), but you’ll be hidden under a comfy, warm blanket or a sheet, so there’s no need for embarrassment.
In a quiet, dim room (sometimes with low nature sounds or other music playing in the background), you’ll be asked to lay face down on a soft massage table. Then a massage therapist will typically evaluate your range of motion (especially of your neck) and use various techniques to soften and lengthen any short, tight muscles. This process helps relieve tension. They may also use trigger-point release techniques to slow the nerves firing in any area of your body feeling pain, which may help to normalize the muscular function there.
In the long-term, a massage can help with proper blood circulation and healing, as the muscle fibers that are torn slightly (such as during a deep tissue massage) regrow stronger and healthier over time. This is not the case with all massage types. Some, like Swedish massage and hot stone massage are usually used for pure relaxation and muscle tension relieving purposes only.
But with many different types of massage available, where should you start?
Types of Massages
1. Swedish Massage: For those new to getting a massage or for those who are sensitive to touch, the most common practice is a Swedish Massage. It is a tension-relieving, full-body massage designed to release muscle knots and help you relax.
The types of hand pressure used by a massage therapist for a Swedish massage are long, flowing strokes in the direction of the heart, deep circular motions, passive joint movement techniques, kneading, vibration, and tapping.
There are various pressure amounts from light to heavy, so how you should tell your massage therapist beforehand about your pressure tolerance. A medium pressure Swedish massage may feel a bit too intense on tender muscles, so it may be wise to start lighter. Either way, be sure to keep the lines of communication open with your massage therapist as you go through the experience.
2. Hot Stone Massage: Sometimes hot stones are used to complement a Swedish massage. These heated stones are safe to use on the skin and help to ease tense muscles, relieve stress, and promote relaxation.
3. Aromatherapy Massage: Aromatherapy can be used to complement any massage style. It is simply the addition of essential oils as a tool in the hands-on massage technique (available in various fragrances such as lavender or Eucalyptus, depending on your needs). Or, aromatherapy can also be used as essential oils are diffused into the air for a pleasing aroma during a massage session.
4. Deep Tissue Massage: If you’re a seasoned massage veteran and can stand a more forceful massage, a deep tissue massage may be right for you. The massage therapist will use deep pressure and slow strokes to knead the deepest inner layers of your muscles and connective tissues. This type of massage is helpful for chronic muscle pain, anxiety, or inflammation, and it may help to break up scar tissue. It may also increase blood circulation and improve stiffness.
If you can’t make it to a massage therapist anytime soon, you can order a portable deep pressure massager for personal use from Theracane. The company’s lightweight, 1 lb. handheld massager resembles a short walking cane with an ergonomic design but has carefully placed balls that allow you to apply pressure on hard-to-reach trigger points on your own. It works by loosening tight muscle knots and promoting blood circulation.
5. Sports Massage: For athletes who receive injuries, a sports massage may help through the healing and recovery process. This type of massage is best used if you have an injury that has occurred from repetitive muscle use. It uses a combination of Swedish massage and deep tissue massage on a targeted area of the body in order to improve flexibility, sports performance, and to reduce your risk of further injury.
6. Trigger Point Massage: Similar to a sports massage, a trigger point massage focuses on a specific area of the body. This massage is best for people with chronic pain or a specific recurring muscle tightness. By using pressure on trigger points, these areas are made to relax, and nerves firing there will also slow down.
7. Reflexology: This type of massage focuses on the feet, hands, and ears with the belief that the different parts correspond to organs in the body. Gentle to firm pressure helps improve blood circulation throughout the body and may help to support energy levels. Reflexology can also help with relaxation and stress relief.
If you can’t see a massage therapist for this type of massage, have a friend or loved one massage your feet and hands after soaking them in a warm Epsom salt bath. (Mix in a few drops of essential oils for a soothing, pleasant aroma, and to make your skin soft.)
8. Shiatsu Massage: This Japanese form of massage focuses on various points of the body using finger pressure in pulsing or rhythmic patterns with the goal of improving the flow of “chi” or energy throughout the body.
9. Thai Massage: This very active type of massage relieves pain and stress, as well as improves flexibility, circulation, and energy levels. A Thai massage therapist will stretch and twist you into various positions while applying pressure from their palm and fingers. Warning: This form of massage is not recommended for everyone.
10. Prenatal Massage: During pregnancy, a safe and gentle prenatal massage is used to help a mother reduce body aches, stress, and ease muscle tension. The massage therapist focuses on areas such as the lower back, hips, and legs, usually while the mother is lying on her side or on a special massage table.
11. Couple’s Massage: Sometimes friends, family members, or other loved ones decide to each get a massage side-by-side at the same time. A couple’s massage is a great way to feel relaxed and bond while getting the massage of your choice. If you’re at a day spa, you may also have access to other treatments such as pedicures, facials, body scrubs, hot tubs, or saunas. Try a couple’s massage for a special occasion such as a bridal shower or for an anniversary.
12. Chair Massage: Much less glamorous than a full-body massage at a spa, a chair massage is typically a short 10-30 minute massage that occurs on a massage chair, usually at a mall or during a workplace getaway. By sitting on a specially designed chair, a massage therapist will push into your back with their hands and arms, focusing on temporarily relieving muscle tension in your neck, back, and shoulders.
- It should never hurt to get a massage. If it starts to hurt, ask your massage therapist to apply lighter pressure.
- Always drink at least 8-16 oz of room temperature water immediately after a massage to help flush out any toxins.
- Always bring enough cash (20% is standard) to tip your massage therapist afterwards.
What type of massage will you get? Share your experience in the comment section below!
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash