Massage therapy, with origins in a number of ancient civilizations around the world, is a practice in which therapists use their hands, arms, elbows, and/or feet to manipulate a client’s muscles and soft tissues in order to relieve physical and/or mental tension and improve overall wellbeing.
While numerous styles of massage — varying in philosophy, technique, and use of pressure — are practiced, a few of the common styles used for therapy include:
- Swedish massage, a comparatively gentler style that manipulates the body through kneading, rhythmic tapping, long strokes, deep circular movements, and vibration to promote relaxation;
- deep tissue massage, a more aggressive type of massage that manipulates internal connective fibers for rehabilitative purposes;
- sports massage, a style used primarily for athletes that draws techniques from both Swedish and deep tissue massage;
- and trigger point massage, also known as neuromuscular therapy, a style that addresses specific areas of muscle irritation through the application of direct pressure.
Sessions of massage therapy vary depending on the style of practitioner. Prior to the session, the client may express preference for working with a female or male therapist. Typically, a massage therapist begins the session by asking the client about his/her medical condition and health goals. Before starting the procedure, the massage therapist should then describe the techniques he/she will use to the client. For some forms of massage, the client removes his/her clothing and then covers him/herself with a towel or sheet. Only the parts of the body the practitioner is treating will be exposed. The client sits or lays down for the session, lasting between 15 and 90 minutes. During the massage, the practitioner may apply oils or lotions to the client’s skin and/or play soothing music. The client should not hesitate to tell the practitioner if he/she is uncomfortable at any point. After the therapist concludes the massage, he/she should allow the client time to dress in private. The client should drink plenty of water following the session. Multiple sessions will likely be necessary for full therapeutic effect.
Massage therapy has been used to treat chronic pain, the symptoms of cancer, mental and neurological disorders, and numerous other conditions.