Try a Healing Touch Massage

To unwind the stress of teenage years, try a Swedish, deep tissue or Shiatsu massage.

Medically Reviewed by John M Goldenring, MPH, MD, JD on June 01, 2007
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Imagine having a healing touch massage after a major exam at school. Whatabout a full-time masseuse to give "as needed" massages at your after-schooljob or after you work out at the gym?

Okay, these ideas may seem ideal and a bit pricey. But many experts agreethat a healing touch massage can help to ease the harmful effects of ourfast-paced lives, enhance well-being, and prevent disease.

Massage is the scientific manipulation of the body's soft tissues. The goalis to improve muscle tone and circulation. It can be an excellent way to boosthealing. That's the opinion of Dr. Harris McIlwain, a board-certifiedrheumatologist and coach of Tampa Bay Spirit boys' soccer team. "Massageinfluences all body systems from the circulatory and the nervous system todigestion, emotions and more. Using massage to end pain from sports or overuseinjuries helps to speed healing and relax the muscles."

How's It Done?

The fundamental tool of massage therapy is human touch. Using touch, thetherapist glides, rubs, kneads, taps, manipulates, presses and vibrates thesoft tissue on the client's body.

Types of Healing Touch Massage

There are many types of massage. Each one gives a different kind of benefit.Here are some common types:

Swedish massage. Swedish massage is the most popular massagetechnique. "Swedish massage comprises long, sweeping strokes, using the flatsurfaces of the hands or palms. The therapist does not put pressure downward.Instead, you stroke laterally or longitudinally about the targeted area,"according to Los Angeles-based physical therapist, David Gutkind. "Swedishmassage is meant to be soothing and comforting," Dr. Gutkind says. "It may behelpful if you have soreness and muscle spasms or if you have swelling in anarea. Swedish massage works best when the person's level of discomfort is highand heavy physical contact is not tolerated."

Deep massage. Deep massage can help relieve muscle spasms,long-standing tightness, or knots from overuse and static postures from toomany hours spent in front of the computer. According to Dr. Gutkind, "Deepmassage is a firm, hard style of massage. The therapist uses the thumb, elbow,knuckles or forearm to get deep into the muscle and connective tissueof the particular area. It is almost always very helpful, but not everyonelikes the deep pressure."

Shiatsu massage.Shiatsu originated in Japan, according to theinternational, nonprofit Shiatsu Society. It draws on the notion of Qi,or energy that flows throughout the body. Dr. Gutkind uses shiatsu on clientswho have muscle knots or restrictions in specific places. "With shiatsu, thetherapist uses the thumb, fingers or knuckles to put firm pressure in one areafor 30 to 90 seconds, trying to release the knot."

What Are the Benefits of Healing Touch Massage?

Massage eases pent-up tension and increases blood flow to the area. Massagealso stimulates the flow of lymph, a bodily fluid that carries wastes andimpurities away from tissues. Experts believe that massage boosts endorphinsand enkephalins. These special chemicals in the brain act like naturalpainkillers. After massage, stress hormones like cortisol are reduced. Apositive change in T-cells -- immune system cells vital to protect againstinfection -- also occurs. Massage therapy may also trigger serotonin,another brain chemical that helps you to feel calm.

"Getting a massage is a great way to relieve stress and to help you copewith the pressures you face as a teen. It can help you to relax, and also makeyou more alert," says James Vaughn, an Atlanta-based certified neuromusculartherapist.

Vaughn recommends getting a message before or during exam time or evenbefore the big game. "Massage is especially beneficial for young athletes, asit helps you recover faster from a hard workout by increasing circulation andrelieving pain and soreness."

Try a Self-Massage

  1. Take a few drops of your favorite aromatherapy skin oil in your hand.Gently touch the back of your neck, about two inches below the hairline. Usingyour fingertips, gently rub the oil into the skin.
  2. As you make contact with the skin, use a circular motion with yourfingertips, gently moving up and down the neck.
  3. Work outward down the side of the neck to your shoulders, continuing thegentle circular motion.
  4. Squeeze your shoulders with your hand, one at a time, using the oppositehand. Then using long, stroking motions, gently sweep the skin from the neck tothe shoulder and down to the elbow.
  5. If you play a lot of video games or use the computer for hours a day,gently massage your wrists and thumbs to release tension and increaserelaxation.
  6. Before bed, rub moisturizing lotion on your feet. Knead the instep, toes,heel and sole of each foot until the lotion is absorbed.

Take a Friend

You may be a little nervous about getting a massage for the first time.Vaughn suggests taking a parent or friend with you. "Also, you need to find amassage therapist you'll feel comfortable with, so ask your doctor, friends, orfamily members for recommendations. You can make an appointment through areputable spa, massage school or clinic." To check licensing credentialsfor individual massage therapists, go to the American Massage TherapyAssociation's web site at

Show Sources

SOURCES: Harris H. McIlwain, MD, Tampa Medical Group, Tampa, FL. David Gutkind, PT, DPT, OCS, Fortanasce & Associates, Los Angeles, CA. James Vaughn, certified neuromuscular therapist, Atlanta, GA. Bruce, D. and Krieger, D. Miracle Touch, Random House, 2003. American Massage Therapy Association.

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