It may seem like taking an hour out of your day for a massage is a luxury
reserved for a spa holiday, but it just may be worth your time to work
it into your regular schedule. A massage feels great, of course, but it
also has the potential to provide you with some nice health benefits.
"There are several types of massages, usually differentiated by the
kind of pressure or strokes the massage therapist uses," says
Christopher Celio, MD, board-certified family medicine physician with
St. Joseph Hoag Health, and the medical director of DRIVE Wellness at Western Digital Corp.,
a collaborative initiative between Western Digital Corp. and our experts
at St. Joseph Hoag Health. "Your doctor might recommend it for certain
physical and mental health issues, such as headaches, anxiety or sports
injuries. Other people find it therapeutic as a way to relieve stress
and its resulting physical symptoms. If massage hasn't been prescribed
by your doctor, though, you may want to check with them regarding any
possible risks before getting a massage, as it can potentially cause problems
if you have certain medical issues, such as deep-vein thrombosis, advanced
osteoporosis, or if you are on blood thinners. And while many places offer
massages specifically tailored to pregnant women, a woman who is expecting
should clear it with her obstetrician."
Among the most common types of massages are:
Swedish: This popular massage is suitable for most people because the strokes are
fairly gentle and suitable for just about anybody. "Therapists using
the Swedish technique will combine light, smooth strokes for soft tissue,
kneading on the muscles, more intense circular movements to promote better
blood flow, and tapping the fingers or cupping the hand against the body
to ease muscle tension," Dr. Celio says. "These movements can
be combined in different ways, depending on the client and their needs."
Deep tissue: Like Swedish massage on steroids, this penetrates deeper into the muscles
by using more vigorous strokes. "This may leave your body sore if
you don't have massages often and aren't used to your body being
manipulated in this way," Dr. Celio says. "If you have certain
areas with chronic pain, this may alleviate it, but you'll want to
consult with the massage therapist to make sure it won't aggravate
Shiatsu: Instead of stroking the body, practitioners of the Asian technique known
as shiatsu focus on acupressure points. "Using the fingers to press
on these points, therapists aim to release blockages of energy in the
body while also helping blood circulation," Dr. Celio says. "It's
been used to ease pain, relieve stress, recuperate from colds and coughs,
and even aid with digestive issues."
Sports: Athletes of all stripes use sports massage techniques to combat strain,
heal from injuries, and stay in peak physical condition. "Sports
massage can be used before and after competition, as well as on a regular
basis for the advanced athlete who needs to stay fit for better performance,"
Dr. Celio says. "If you are competitive at an advanced level, look
for a well-qualified massage therapist with experience in your sport."
Reflexology: Reflexology practitioners focus on the feet, where there are corresponding
pressure points linked to every other part of the body, according to adherents.
"While research on reflexology has been limited, some small studies
have indicated reflexology can help blood flow, induce relaxation, and
ease pain. In fact, some people have used it to cope with symptoms related
to cancer, type 2 diabetes, and migraines," Dr. Celio says.
If your doctor hasn't referred you to a massage therapist, you'll
want to find one who is state licensed and, if you prefer, specializes
in the type of massage you want. You will probably have to fill out a
form about your medical history so your therapist will know your health
background and any issues you may have.
"Make sure your therapist is responsive to your needs," Dr. Celio
says. "Before the massage starts, she should talk with you about
any areas of concern or expectations you have, and during the massage,
she should briefly check with you to make sure the strokes aren't
too hard or too gentle, and that you aren't in any discomfort. The
therapist should also make you feel at ease during the treatment. For
example, your therapist should give you privacy while you disrobe, make
sure you aren't allergic to any oils or lotions she may use on you,
keep chatter to a minimum so you can relax, and keep you covered when
you have to change position on the massage table. The goal is to make
you feel good, inside and out."
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