Imagine having a healing touch massage after a major exam at school. What about a full-time masseuse to give "as needed" massages at your after-school job or after you work out at the gym?
Okay, these ideas may seem ideal and a bit pricey. But many experts agree that a healing touch massage can help to ease the harmful effects of our fast-paced lives, enhance well-being, and prevent disease.
Massage is the scientific manipulation of the body's soft tissues. The goal is to improve muscle tone and circulation. It can be an excellent way to boost healing. That's the opinion of Dr. Harris McIlwain, a board-certified rheumatologist and coach of Tampa Bay Spirit boys' soccer team. "Massage influences all body systems from the circulatory and the nervous system to digestion, emotions and more. Using massage to end pain from sports or overuse injuries helps to speed healing and relax the muscles."
How's It Done?
The fundamental tool of massage therapy is human touch. Using touch, the therapist glides, rubs, kneads, taps, manipulates, presses and vibrates the soft 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 massage technique. "Swedish massage comprises long, sweeping strokes, using the flat surfaces 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. "Swedish massage is meant to be soothing and comforting," Dr. Gutkind says. "It may be helpful if you have soreness and muscle spasms or if you have swelling in an area. Swedish massage works best when the person's level of discomfort is high and 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 too many hours spent in front of the computer. According to Dr. Gutkind, "Deep massage is a firm, hard style of massage. The therapist uses the thumb, elbow, knuckles or forearm to get deep into the muscle and connective tissue of the particular area. It is almost always very helpful, but not everyone likes the deep pressure."
Shiatsu massage.Shiatsu originated in Japan, according to the international, nonprofit Shiatsu Society. It draws on the notion of Qi, or energy that flows throughout the body. Dr. Gutkind uses shiatsu on clients who have muscle knots or restrictions in specific places. "With shiatsu, the therapist uses the thumb, fingers or knuckles to put firm pressure in one area for 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. Massage also stimulates the flow of lymph, a bodily fluid that carries wastes and impurities away from tissues. Experts believe that massage boosts endorphins and enkephalins. These special chemicals in the brain act like natural painkillers. After massage, stress hormones like cortisol are reduced. A positive change in T-cells -- immune system cells vital to protect against infection -- 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 cope with the pressures you face as a teen. It can help you to relax, and also make you more alert," says James Vaughn, an Atlanta-based certified neuromuscular therapist.
Vaughn recommends getting a message before or during exam time or even before the big game. "Massage is especially beneficial for young athletes, as it helps you recover faster from a hard workout by increasing circulation and relieving pain and soreness."
Try a Self-Massage
- 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. Using your fingertips, gently rub the oil into the skin.
- As you make contact with the skin, use a circular motion with your fingertips, gently moving up and down the neck.
- Work outward down the side of the neck to your shoulders, continuing the gentle circular motion.
- Squeeze your shoulders with your hand, one at a time, using the opposite hand. Then using long, stroking motions, gently sweep the skin from the neck to the shoulder and down to the elbow.
- 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 increase relaxation.
- 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 a massage therapist you'll feel comfortable with, so ask your doctor, friends, or family members for recommendations. You can make an appointment through a reputable spa, massage school or clinic." To check licensing credentials for individual massage therapists, go to the American Massage Therapy Association's web site at http://www.amtamassage.org/.