Swedish massage was invented by a Swedish fencing instructor named Per Henrik Ling in the 1830s. When he was injured in the elbows, he reportedly cured himself using tapping (percussion) strokes around the affected area. He later developed the technique currently known as Swedish massage. This technique was brought to the United States from Sweden by two brothers, Dr. Charles and Dr. George Taylor in the 1850s. The specific techniques used in Swedish massage involve the application of long gliding strokes, friction, and kneading and tapping movements on the soft tissues of the body. Sometimes passive or active joint movements are also used.
Like having your feet worked on? The therapist uses finger pressure and techniques such as kneading and rubbing to promote relaxation and healing in the body. Reflexology is based on "reflex areas" on the hands and feet, whose energy is believed to be connected to organs and other body parts. By applying pressure to the reflex points, the reflexologist can balance your nervous system and stimulate endorphins, the body's natural pleasure response, which reduces stress and discomfort.
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The underlying theory behind reflexology is that there are certain points or "reflex areas" on the feet and hands that are connected energetically to specific organs and body parts through energy channels in the body. By applying pressure to reflex areas, a reflexologist is said to remove energy blockages and promote health in the related body area.
In the US, licensure is the highest level of regulation and this restricts anyone without a license from practicing massage therapy or by calling themselves that protected title. Certification allows only those who meet certain educational criteria to use the protected title and registration only requires a listing of therapists who apply and meet an educational requirement. It is important to note that a massage therapist may be certified, but not licensed. Licensing requirements vary per state, and often require additional criteria be met in addition to attending an accredited massage therapy school and passing a required state specified exam (basically the certification requirements in many states). In the US, most certifications are locally based. However, as of March 2014, some states still do not require a license or a certification. However, this is thought to change eventually as more regulatory bodies governing the profession of massage are established in each state. Furthermore, some states allow license reciprocity where massage therapists who relocate can relatively easily obtain a license in their new state. Not all states provide this option.
One theory is that muscle knots may be caused by something that goes wrong at the “motor end plate” — where a nerve ending attaches to a muscle cell.9 We don’t know why this happens, or what exactly goes wrong, but there is circumstantial evidence that motor end plates are the “point” in trigger point. That evidence is too complex and controversial to review properly here. It is explored in detail in my book. Some research has suggested that it may actually be possible to physically destroy the motor end plate with strong massage, thereby inactivating the trigger point.10 When it regrows — these are microscopic structures, it doesn’t take them long to heal — the trigger point may be gone.
You can usually choose which type of massage you’d like to receive, and you and your partner can each get a different type of massage depending on your preference and the offerings at the spa. Your partner and you will be on tables side-by-side, and you’ll each have your own massage therapist working on your body. You can talk during the massage if you wish.
But the relief model is certainly tempting. There are many painful-but-relieving analogies in medicine and biology.15 That’s similar to what good pain in massage feels like, but it’s not the same: no one thinks that lancing a boil or popping a shoulder joint back in is anything but painful while it’s happening.16 And we can’t necessarily take the good pain sensation at face value and assume it means there’s actually going to be a positive outcome. Brains are not all-knowing. Sometimes they see danger where there is none, and sometimes they see help where there is none.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), this includes individuals with bleeding disorders, low blood platelet counts, or those who are taking blood thinning medications. When these types of conditions are present, the NCCIH indicates that a sports massage with deep tissue work is generally not recommended.
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While this massage is designed to help ease the pain, you might experience discomfort during your appointment, especially when your therapist is applying pressure to a problem area. It is best to speak up and let your therapist know if the discomfort becomes painful; even though the Deep Tissue massage is meant to apply more pressure, pain does not mean that the massage is working. You might also experience some soreness and stiffness; this is perfectly normal and should subside within 24 hours. ElementsMassage.com recommends that you drink a lot of water in order to flush out the lactic acid that will have accumulated in the tissues; this may ease some of the soreness. Bruising after your massage may also occur; keep in mind that your therapist was applying more pressure in order to reach your troubled areas, light bruising is normal. Cathy Wong also points out that “case reports have reported venous thromboembolism, spinal accessory neuropathy, hepatic hematoma, and posterior interosseous syndrome after deep tissue massage.”
One difference, however, is that you may not want to drift off the same way you might during a conventional massage. "The only times I run into issues with people not liking their treatment is when they just plop down on the table and go to sleep," Colin says, adding that you should "be honest with your therapist, let them know what your goals and expectations are, and have that conversation."
According to practitioners, foot reflexology is a simple, non-invasive method to help balance the body. It has been described as a natural therapy that requires the application of a specific type of pressure on particular areas of the feet. It gets its school of thought from the principle that there are reflexes in the feet which correspond to every part of the body, so by understanding the “maps,” you can do anything from relaxation to improved circulation, and also add a general feeling of wellness. It’s like a massage for your feet…that affects your whole body!
Challenges include breaking into the sports arena. Often, massage is not viewed as a primary service. If you do get in with a team or individual, the travel schedule can be daunting; long hours, little sleep, and being away from your family and business can be really difficult. Finally, the work can be very physically challenging. This can take a toll on the massage therapist, so exceptional body mechanics and self-care are essential.
No one really knows how a painful massage can also feel so good at the same time. This is a sensory phenomenon mostly beyond the reach of science — not entirely14 — all we can do is speculate. A main question is whether good pain is good because we expect relief to follow pain, or because positive and negative qualities are being produced simultaneously. My bet is on the latter.
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At most spas, Swedish massage is the most popular treatment, and it’s for good reason. Perfect for first-time spa-goers, Swedish massage will help to release neck knots and soothe nerves. Traditional Swedish massage, or “classical massage,” consists mainly of long strokes over oiled skin and kneading of the outer layers of muscle tissue to reduce stress and soothe sore joints and muscles. Studies have shown Swedish massage relaxes the nervous system, aids circulation, and helps with detoxification. For more, read our Guide to Swedish Massage.
Deep-tissue massage helps ease stress and tension, which can have a beneficial effect on blood pressure. People who had a deep-tissue massage saw their systolic pressure drop by an average of 10.4 mm Hg and their diastolic pressure drop an average 5.3 mm Hg, according to a study cited by the University of Maryland Medical Center. Deep-tissue massage can help increase the body's production of serotonin, the hormone that promotes happiness and good feelings.
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The literature on reflexology is only beginning to emerge since early 1990. Several methodological shortcomings in the previous studies of reflexology safety and efficacy are worth mentioning. Firstly, the number and the methods of reflexology treatment given are not standardized. Furthermore, most studies have small sample size (around 20 participants).
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Swedish massage is defined by four or five (somewhat familiar) techniques, which have French names: effleurage (stroking), petrissage (kneading), tapotement (rhythmic choppings), and friction (rubbing). Some therapists now incorporate advanced techniques that have rehabilitating effects and stretches for improving your range of motion. But the ultimate goal here is relaxation. As the default Western massage, Swedish massage is an extremely popular, simple, soothing touch therapy. For more, read our Guide to Swedish Massage.
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“I decided to go into sports massage when I experienced its effects on me as an athlete,” says McElroy. “Despite having no experience as a competitive runner in high school or college, I joined a team and realized I was pretty good. I trained while working full-time and ran my first marathon, missing the Olympic trial qualifying time by 21 seconds.
Manipulative approaches to naturally treating pain and other health problems have been utilized for over 3,000 years, dating back to Ancient Egyptian and Chinese civilizations. Pressure massages were used to improve “Qi” (life force or energy), detox the body and promote better liver function — which today can be explained through the process of activating the lymphatic system.
^ Miller BF, Hamilton KL, Majeed ZR, Abshire SM, Confides AL, Hayek AM, Hunt ER, Shipman P, Peelor FF, Butterfield TA, Dupont-Versteegden EE (January 2018). "Enhanced skeletal muscle regrowth and remodelling in massaged and contralateral non-massaged hindlimb". The Journal of Physiology. 596 (1): 83–103. doi:10.1113/JP275089. PMC 5746529. PMID 29090454.
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In sports massage, the massage therapist generally concentrates on a specific problem area that you present, usually associated with some sort of sports activity, such as running, tennis, or golf. The most important thing with sports massage is that you find a specially-trained massage therapist who has mastery of a wide range of techniques and knows when to use them. In the past, many spas used to put sports massage on their menu as a way to appeal to men. As spas have become more sophisticated, however, they realize they shouldn't list sports massage unless they have some therapists with specialized training.
The researchers also note there are psychological benefits for athletes receiving massages, which other research shows can include improved focus and confidence. Although more research is still needed on a long-term scale, both tissue healing and the psychological effects of massages are areas that seem promising for both professional and recreational athletes.
In Thailand, Thai massage is officially listed as one of the branches of traditional Thai medicine, recognized and regulated by the government. It is considered to be a medical discipline in its own right and is used for the treatment of a wide variety of ailments and conditions. Massage schools, centers, therapists, and practitioners are increasingly regulated by the Ministries of Education and Public Health in Thailand.
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The Emory University announcement reads: "Previous research… has already shown that massage therapy can boost the immune system and decrease anxiety for people who do not have cancer... We believe that there are many positive effects to be gained by therapeutic massage and we hope to prove that, among other biological advantages, massage may diminish the incapacitation that cancer-related fatigue can cause for our patients."
Massage therapy is also being investigated as an aide to patients with more neuromuscular disorders, such as multiple sclerosis (MS). A Iranian 2013 study published in Clinical Rehabilitation looked at 48 individuals with MS who participated in a five-week massage experiment. They were assigned to one of four groups: massage therapy, exercise therapy, combined massage-exercise therapy and control group.
A study conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and published in The New York Times, found that volunteers who received a 45-minute Swedish massage experienced significant decreases in levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as arginine vasopressin-a hormone that can lead to increases in cortisol. Volunteers also had increases in the number of lymphocytes, white blood cells that are part of the immune system, and a boost in the immune cells that may help fight colds and the flu.
Massage is hindered from reaching the gold standard of scientific research, which includes placebo-controlled and double blind clinical trials. Developing a "sham" manual therapy for massage would be difficult since even light touch massage could not be assumed to be completely devoid of effects on the subject. It would also be difficult to find a subject that would not notice that they were getting less of a massage, and it would be impossible to blind the therapist. Massage can employ randomized controlled trials, which are published in peer reviewed medical journals. This type of study could increase the credibility of the profession because it displays that purported therapeutic effects are reproducible.
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With no lotion or oil to cause sliding, it becomes possible to fully get a hold of the shortened fascia; this is necessary in order to lengthen it. Slow, sustained strokes are what can change this tissue from a short, hardened state to a lengthened, fluid state. The process is not unlike stretching salt water taffy. You’ve got to get a hold of it, warm it up, and work it very slowly. The work may sometimes be intense, eliciting moderate discomfort as old adhesions and chronic dysfunctional patterns are altered. But that leads to a much more fluid, easy sense in the body.
Post-event sports massage is given after a competition and is mainly concerned with recovery. It is geared toward reducing the muscle spasms and metabolic build-up that occur with vigorous exercise. Recovery after competition involves not only tissue normalization and repair, but also general relaxation and mental calming. A recovery session might be 15 minutes to 11/2 hours in length. Post-event sports massage is given after a competition and is mainly concerned with recovery. It is geared toward reducing the muscle spasms and metabolic build-up that occur with vigorous exercise. Recovery after competition involves not only tissue normalization and repair, but also general relaxation and mental calming. A recovery session might be 15 minutes to 11/2 hours in length.
In broad terms, reflexology is intended to reduce generalized stress and help the body achieve a state of deep relaxation and homeostasis (that is, optimal balance of the body’s biochemical and other systems). Yet efficacy studies are few, and a 2009 systematic review of randomized controlled trials conducted by researchers at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, UK, concluded that “the best evidence available to date does not demonstrate convincingly that reflexology is an effective treatment for any medical condition.”
Reflexology is primarily used by many people as a method of eliminating pain. As an analgesic treatment, reflexology can reduce the severity of a migraine and headache, simply by relieving tension in the muscles that can often result in these conditions. A headache induced by stress can also be eliminated since stress and psychological factors often manifest in the physical symptoms of a migraine.
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It’s just a theory: no one knows if this is actually effective.11 However, it may explain why so many massage patients report a “gets a bit worse before it gets much better” response to quite painful treatments: motor end plates are (painfully) destroyed by strong pressures, and then that tissue is quite sensitive and a bit weak as it heals over a day or two … and then you finally feel much better after that!
Reflexology practitioners and the professional association have advocated that reflexology is effective for general well-being maintenance and treatment of chronic diseases such as strokes, musculoskeletal disorders, and stress. Due to its soothing massage and non-drug complementary nature, reflexology is widely accepted by general public. Yet, numerous systematic reviews confirmed that strong evidence of the positive effects of reflexology postintervention are lacking despite plenty reported small-scale trial and anecdotal evidence of reflexology for some common ailments. Adequate training of practitioners and reflexology programme accreditation are to ensure correct and consistent services are provided.
So what does all of this mean? It seems that the positive mind (psychological) benefits of sports massage are indeed supported by research studies. Study findings also support that sports massage does not negatively affect performance, but the positive body (physiological) benefits on performance are not quite as clear. More research is needed on the positive body effects and also on the mind/body interaction after sports massage.
Massage should not be done directly over bruises, inflamed or infected skin, skin rashes, unhealed or open wounds, tumors, abdominal hernia, fragile bones, or areas of recent fractures. Massage may cause bruising and rarely, hematoma (a localized collection of blood outside of blood cells), venous thromboembolism, and a condition known as spinal accessory neuropathy.
The relaxation induced during the massage might feel like the endpoint, but massage care continues after leaving. First off, rest your body. Though you may feel relaxed and calm, it is important to remember the muscles have been intensely manipulated and worked on, thus needing time to recover. Try to schedule the massage appointment when other obligations and responsibilities will not follow. Continue care by drinking water and grabbing a bite to eat. Lightheadedness may occur and water and food can counteract dehydration and low blood sugars.
Their website seems to conflate reflexology with acupuncture and acupressure. There are five tabs at the top of the home page: (1) Store, which links to a single Amazon.com page selling a reflexology foot massager, (2) Acupressure Points and (3) Reflexology Treatment, both of which have multiple articles on acupuncture and acupressure, (4) Reflexology Machines – foot massagers and acupressure mats, and (5) Courses. Notable by its absence is a tab for scientific studies showing that any of this stuff works.