What is massage?

Massage therapy is the name for the application of various techniques to the musculature and soft tissues of the human body, with the intention of reducing stress and fatigue, and improving circulation. Massage can relieve pain, increase energy, and promote natural healing and full-body wellness.

There are more than 250 types of massage therapies. Some involve active manipulation of the body, including movements such as stroking, kneading, tapping, compression, vibration, rocking, friction, and pressure massage. A person can receive a massage in a seated position in a massage chair, lying on a massage table, or, for some modalities, on a mat on the floor. Many forms of massage therapy use oils or lotions to reduce friction on the skin. Techniques such as aromatherapy utilize essential oils derived from plants to aid in relaxation, improve circulation, and promote the healing of wounds. Other types of massage employ aids like stones or cups.

Massage was originally developed in the ancient world, in places such as India, China and Japan. Surviving forms of these ancient practices are known today as “Eastern” forms of massage therapy, and include treatments such as Acupressure, Reflexology, Shiatsu, and Abhyanga Massage. Eastern massage techniques focus on internal energy flow and balance within the body. These techniques stimulate and sooth specific points of “energy meridians” within the body in order to create effects at other points along these meridians. Eastern massage therapists use techniques such as pressure, rolling, rocking, and striking, all of which can be more vigorous than Western massage.

Over time, massage therapy came to the Westernized world, where it evolved into what we today most often recognize as massage. These more modern therapies include Swedish Massage, Deep Tissue Massage, Sports Massage, and Trigger-point Therapy. Western forms of massage are based on the concepts of anatomy, physiology, and pathology. Western massage works on various parts of body, such as the digestive system, the nervous system, and the musculoskeletal system, for the purpose of realigning and restoring the whole system. It combines five basic strokes: effleurage (gliding), friction, percussion (tapping), petrissage (kneading), and vibration.

Both Eastern and Western forms of massage are still very popular today. Two of the most common types of massage are explained below.

Shiatsu massage, an Eastern modality, was developed many centuries ago in Japan. This form of massage uses finger pressure applied to various acupressure points, to unblock the flow of life energy. By restoring internal energy balance, shiatsu massage helps to promote natural self-healing. As the massage practitioner applies pressure to various zones of the skin, blood flow and lymphatic flow are increased. Shiatsu massage often brings about relief of pain and a natural strengthening of the body’s immune system.

Swedish massage, a Western technique, is also known as “classic massage.” Some say it was developed by a Swedish physician, Per Henrik Ling, in the early 1800’s as part of his Swedish Movement System. Others believe this is a misconception, and that it is Johann Mezger, credited with first using the French terms to describe the basic strokes of the modality (effleurage, petrissage, frictions (massage a’ frictions) and tapotement) and “systematizing” the Swedish or Classic massage technique, who is responsible for the standard massage of this type we see today. Regardless, it has since become one of the most well-known and commonly taught forms of massage therapy. This vigorous form of massage is designed to energize the body by stimulating circulation. Five basic strokes—kneading, rolling, vibration, percussion, and tapping—are used to manipulate the soft tissues of the body. All movements flow toward the heart. Oils are also utilized in order to reduce friction on the skin. The many benefits of Swedish massage include general relaxation, reduction of scar tissue, and better circulation. This massage may also promote quicker healing and reduce swelling caused by injury.

Massage therapy can be a valuable addition to your lifestyle and help with a wide range of problems. With numerous techniques to choose from (both Eastern and Western), and more professional massage therapists entering the industry every day, the popularity of massage and massage benefits continues to increase.