Everything You Need to Know About Massage Therapy

A massage can release stress, soothe muscles and alleviate pain
giving sports massage

If you’re stressed and sore, you may think there’s nothing you can do but take some over-the-counter pain relievers and plow through your day. But licensed massage therapist, Victoria Bodner, says you don’t have to grin and bear it.

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Massage is a great tool for relaxation, pain relief, easing muscle tension and more, says Bodner. Learn more about the common types of massage and their benefits.

What is massage therapy?

Performed by a licensed massage therapist, massage therapy involves using different pressures, movements and techniques to manipulate muscles and other soft tissues in the body. With a goal of slowing down your nervous system, massage therapy can be used to release stress and tension, provide relief from symptoms, heal injuries and support wellness.

Types of massage therapy

Massages come in all shapes and sizes. Here are some of the offerings you might find on a massage therapy menu.

Swedish massage

Feeling stressed? A Swedish massage is the classic go-to for major relaxation. Swedish massage is typically a full-body massage that uses a gentle touch. It’s a good pick for people new to massages. “It can help calm your nervous system. Swedish massage is also a good avenue for encouraging a relaxed emotional state of mind which can directly impact your muscles,” says Bodner.

Deep tissue massage

Your muscles can get tight from repeated use — even from something less active like sitting, driving or hunching over your laptop. “Deep tissue massage gets into your muscles and tendons to release that tightness,” Bodner says. It’s good for people with injuries, general muscle tightness and chronic muscle pain.

Sports massage

Sports massages are similar to deep-tissue massages, but they zero in on the muscles that take a beating when you play sports or do another repetitive physical activity. “Athletes and dancers use their bodies differently than the average person,” Bodner says. “A massage therapist with experience in sports massage can get in there to break up muscle tightness and address sports injuries.”

Trigger point massage

A knot in your neck or a tight spot in your back is known as a trigger point. “A trigger point is a tiny muscle spasm or tight spot in the tissue,” Bodner explains. In a trigger-point massage, the massage therapist uses focused and direct pressure to target those spots. This increases blood flow to the areas, helping them release. This type of massage can also be helpful for people with chronic pain.

Myofascial release

The fascia is a web of connective tissue under the skin. “It supports the muscles and allows us to move freely,” Bodner explains. When you get a myofascial release, your massage therapist will knead and stretch the muscles and fascia to work out tension and tightness. “It’s a form of deep stretching often used together with other therapeutic massage techniques,” she says. “It’s great for opening up tightness in your neck, shoulders and your upper and lower back.”

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Lymphatic massage

Lymphatic fluid has several important functions, including maintaining fluid levels and removing waste products from the body. Lymphatic massage uses a gentle touch to help lymphatic fluid flow more freely through the body. “Lymphatic massage is great for people with inflammation — including people with illnesses like arthritis, as well as people who have had mastectomies, which often involve removing the lymph nodes,” Bodner says.

Prenatal massage

Prenatal massages are great for helping moms-to-be relax and can help address the aches and pains of growing a baby. “Prenatal massages are wonderful for taking pressure off the hips and can help with swelling in the feet and legs,” Bodner says. “And when mom is relaxed and feeling well, the baby benefits, too.”

Health benefits of massage

Massage therapy may be beneficial for anyone but has been noted to help those who various conditions like cancer, heart disease, stomach problems and fibromyalgia. You should make sure you talk to your therapist about any medical issues prior to your first session. Here are some of the benefits of massage therapy.

Reduces stress and anxiety

That feeling of calm after a massage can aid in reducing stress and anxiety, a study found. Your body has two nervous systems: a sympathetic nervous system that drives your “fight or flight” response in stressful situations and a parasympathetic nervous system that focuses on routine and day-to-day operations that lead to relaxation and rest. A massage is thought to increase your parasympathetic response, which can decrease feelings of anxiety.

Improves sleep

Getting a massage can decrease cortisol (a stress hormone) and increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters known to stabilize your mood. Studies have shown that massage therapy is beneficial for those who have insomnia related to menopause and congestive heart failure.

Lessens pain and muscle tension

A variety of studies have looked into how massage may help lessen pain like acute back pain, neck pain, headaches and knee pain. The results show that relief may be short-term, rather than long-term and in some cases receiving a 60-minute massage multiple times per week had better results than fewer or shorter massages.

Improves immune function

Can a massage boost your immune system? A study suggests that regular massages increase your body’s level of white blood cells, which work to combat viruses.

Relieves constipation

A study shows that for those dealing with constipation after surgery, an abdominal massage may help with bowel movements.

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Lessens fibromyalgia symptoms

From sleep, memory and mood, studies have shown that using massage over the course of five weeks may improve symptoms of fibromyalgia, a chronic illness that causes muscle and joint pain and fatigue.

Relieves cancer pain

For people undergoing cancer treatments, the physical and emotional toll is great. Many have turned to massage to help lessen cancer pain, increase relaxation and improve quality of life. There have been a variety of studies, some that say massage therapy doesn’t improve cancer pain and others that show a positive impact.

Who should try massage therapy?

Many of us can benefit from a massage — it’s a great way to improve wellness, help with pain and more. If you have a medical condition, you should check with your doctor and have a conversation with your massage therapist. For those who are pregnant, a prenatal massage can help alleviate pain and swelling.

“There are so many good reasons to see a massage therapist,” Bodner says.

Not sure what type of massage is right for you? You don’t have to zero in on the perfect massage before booking an appointment. In fact, massage therapists often mix and match techniques to address your unique concerns.

“The different types of massage aren’t exclusive from one another,” Bodner says. “A massage therapist uses a combination of techniques to help you relax, get rid of tight muscles and address other concerns.”

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