Massage: Its Benefits, History, and Uses

Massage, which has a long history across many cultures, is coming to the forefront of treatment today as a way of actively promoting bodily wellness. Keep reading to learn all about the different types of massage and why it’s so valuable.

What is Massage?

Massage is a healing art in which therapists use their hands and other parts of their body (such as elbows or feet) to manipulate your muscles, ligaments, and tendons to bring about relaxation and therapeutic relief.

Massage therapists typically administer massage on a specially designed table that facilitates their ability to access the parts of the body needing relief. Sometimes they use implements, such as hot stones or unique tools, to amplify pressure and relieve pain.

You can find massage therapy available in all sorts of venues — gyms, physical therapy practices, spas, hospitals, and even in airports and shopping malls. More and more people are turning to massage as a way to relief pain and stress and to enhance the healthy functioning of their bodies.

A History of Massage

Massage has a long history that reaches back into antiquity and spreads to every corner of the Earth. Almost 5,000 years ago, the Chinese were practicing massage and training massage therapists. In fact, the classic Chinese text known as the Yellow Emperor’s Classic Book of Internal Medicine is still used as a massage training manual today.

At about the same time, the ancient Egyptians were incorporating massage, including reflexology, into their healing practices. In India, Ayurvedic medicine was also developing massage techniques as part of its tradition of holistic healing. Japanese monks also adopted a unique massage style that has come down to us today as Shiatsu massage.

Over in Europe, the ancient Greeks and Romans also considered massage a vital part of maintaining a healthy body, with the noted physician Galen practicing massage therapy on emperors, even as Roman baths brought it to the population for relaxation and rejuvenation.

In the modern era, massage experienced a revival in the early 1800s when Swedish doctor Per Ling developed techniques now known as Swedish massage. Some of his techniques were used during World War I to treat soldiers suffering from nerve injuries.

Massage began to move into the mainstream in the late 20th century, as more people became interested in alternative and natural healing methods. Today’s massage therapists are able to incorporate techniques from the millennia of practitioners that paved the way for them. Because the human body is essentially the same as it was in the days of the ancient Chinese or Egyptians, massage therapy transcends history and remains a potent healing practice in the modern era.

The Benefits of Massage

Massage promotes relaxation and calmness, and it also is an effective treatment for many medical conditions. Whether you’re looking to boost your immune system, lower your stress hormones, or just feel healthier, massage can be highly beneficial.

Treating Conditions

Massage is well-known as an effective treatment for physical injuries involving joints and muscles, such as tendonitis or frozen shoulder, as well as repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. These conditions are caused when a person overuses certain muscles, lifts heavy objects without precautions, or remains static in one position over long periods of time. Massage can relieve symptoms such as tingling, tenderness, loss of sensation, and outright pain, and it can expand range of movement.

In addition, therapeutic massage can have a beneficial effect not just on the areas being worked on but also on the body overall. Studies show that regular massage can lower blood pressure. It can increase blood circulation throughout the body, reduce the heart rate to a healthy level, and enhance recovery from heart surgery.

In addition, research shows that massage has a positive effect on the immune system, and it may be of use in managing autoimmune or inflammatory diseases and conditions. Other conditions where massage is shown to have a measurable benefit include headaches, burn recovery, and fibromyalgia.

Elevating Mental Health and Wellness

Massage therapy boosts the body’s biochemistry in other ways as well. People experiencing symptoms of depression and stress see a marked drop in levels of cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone” that’s responsible for increasing blood pressure, raising blood sugar, and suppressing the body’s immune system. As a result, massage therapy can decreased the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress, including in children and adolescents.

Massage also helps treat insomnia through calming neuromuscular pathways and boosting so-called “happy” hormones. Even infants who undergo massage show results through sleeping longer and deeper. Those who receive regular massages feel better in every way, facing life with greater calmness and relaxation overall.

Types of Massage

Perhaps massage therapy has so many varied beneficial effects because there are so many types of massage to choose from. Choosing the right type of massage depends on understanding the options and knowing the effects you want to experience. Take a look at the most popular types of massage:

  • Swedish massage: Swedish massage is the classic type of massage that you’ll find in most spas, clinics, and health clubs. It combines sliding, kneading, and rhythmic tapping motions with small, circular movements and vibration to loosen muscles and relieve muscle pain. Swedish massage is excellent for those recovering from injuries, and it’s also beneficial for those seeking relief from joint stiffness, arthritis, lower back pain, and stress.
  • Thai massage: This type of massage combines yoga-type stretches with massage compressions along the energy lines of the body to improve range of motion and infuse your body with energy. It’s ideal for those trying to overcome back pain, and it can be done fully clothed. Expect a lot of activity on the part of the massage therapist, who pulls body parts into yoga positions and may even walk on your back.
  • Relaxation massage: Where some types of massage have therapeutic and healing goals in mind, a gentle relaxation massage aims only to help you relax. Expect this type of massage when you visit a spa, knowing that you’re likely to reap increased range of movement as a bonus.
  • Sports massage: Sports massage is designed to keep athletes healthy and playing. Its specifics vary depending on the sport the athlete plays, with massage therapists helping athletes recover from sports injuries and develop the flexibility they need to prepare for future events.
  • Remedial massage: Remedial massage combines whatever techniques the therapist thinks are best to help remedy specific bodily damage or tension. It seeks to release muscles and tendons that are tense, knotted, or damaged, looking for the original cause of the pain.
  • Reflexology: A reflexology massage is a delight for anyone who carries tension in their feet. Massage therapists focus on the reflex areas of the feet, which are connected to specific body parts and organs and therefore promote healing and relaxation throughout the body.
  • Ayurverdic massage: This type of massage from India uses blends of oil to detoxify the body and promote relaxation. Ayurvedic therapists, who sometimes work in pairs, focus on clearing and balancing the body’s centers of energy, with actual massage techniques varying depending on what the client needs.
  • Korean massage: Korean massage incorporates elements of reflexology and shiatsu, with the therapist manipulating and stretching the client’s body and applying pressure to create positive energy flow. Korean massage also includes a unique form of hand massage.
  • Myofascial massage: This therapeutic type of massage focuses on releasing tight fascia, which are the fibers of connective tissue that wrap around muscles. Therapists work through the fascia layers using their fingers, foam rollers, trigger point balls, and other tools. While this type of massage can be somewhat painful in the moment, it’s one of the best ways to release tight muscles.
  • Deep tissue massage: This therapeutic massage therapy is ideal for those living with limited mobility or chronic pain, especially caused by repetitive stress injuries. This comparatively intense type of massage focuses on muscle knots and seeks to loosen the deeper muscle layers and connective tissue.
  • Indian head massage: This type of massage, also known as champissage, focuses on pressure points throughout the head and neck. It relieves tension and boosts circulation throughout the scalp.
  • Trigger point therapy: Those experiencing deep pain can often find relief through trigger point therapy, which releases tension at neuromuscular junctions by pressing deep into these trigger points. Without the relief provided by the intense pressure of this therapy, those trigger points can cause headaches and radiate pain throughout the body.
  • Pregnancy massage: Prenatal massage is designed to provide pregnant women with relief from the lower back pain and other discomforts they feel during the later months of pregnancy. Many massage therapists who are trained in this type of massage have special tables that allow pregnant women the joy of lying face down while still having their bellies supported.
  • Hot stone massage: In a hot stone massage, the therapist places heated stones on specific points to relax tight muscles. The rocks add the therapeutic element of heat to the therapy to reduce stress and to enhance relaxation and healing of damaged muscle tissue.
  • Reiki: In this alternative therapy, also known as energy healing, therapists pass their own energy to that of the client through their hands to bring about stress relief and emotional healing.
  • Lymphatic drainage: This therapy, which was developed in Europe in the 1930s, aims to drain the lymph nodes throughout the body by applying rhythmic movements and pressure. As it carries waste products out of the tissues, this therapy also provides relaxation to the smooth muscles.
  • Baby massage: Parents and caregivers can massage babies gently to help soothe fussiness, encourage sleep, and ease teething pains. Parent-infant massage also enhances bonding.
  • Teenage massage: Teen massage provides an opportunity for teens to learn about self-care and create positive body image, while also soothing away the aches and pains that come from growth spurts and from competitive sports.

Tools of the Trade

While most professionals rely primarily on their hands (and elbows and feet) to deliver massages, plenty of tools are on the market to augment sessions. The key tool that professional therapists use is the massage table, which facilitates the ability to work on all areas of the client’s body. Specialised tables are designed for pregnant women or for portability, and therapists often add face cradles and arm rests to enhance comfort.

Therapists also often augment bodywork with manual tools that include, rollers, head and neck tinglers, balls, thumb tools, and massaging sticks. In addition, they sometimes use electric or infrared implements to add vibration or heat to a massage.

DIY Tools

When you can’t get to the spa or clinic for a massage, having some handy tools available at home can help you achieve at least part of the relaxation or pain relief you’re hoping for. Battery-powered neck and back massagers often contain a heating element to enhance their effect, and heated massage pillows can also be effective. Massage mats are designed to hit acupressure points, and, for all-over bodywork at home, check out massage chairs and massage beds that create a blissful experience.

Home foot massagers come in electric, non-electric, and ball varieties, and hand massagers are handy for those dealing with carpal tunnel syndrome. Some people love foam rollers for their backs, while others swear by the Thera-Cane, which lets you get to those hard-to-reach pressure points. Scalp massagers reach many nerve endings at the same time to create a tingling relaxation experience.

Massage Oils

Many bodywork experts add massage oils to their inventory to help with their work. Using oil helps hands to glide smoothly over the client’s skin, creating a more relaxing experience. Some massage therapists add essential oils to the mix, including lemongrass, rosemary, eucalyptus, thyme, and lavender oils, choosing specific oils for their healing and soothing properties.

Therapists: Types and Qualifications

All massage therapists undergo basic training in standard massage techniques. Once they’re qualified and licensed, they can find employment in spas, health clubs, hospitals, resorts, and clinics, or they can go into private practice. Many therapists then choose to specialise in specific types of massage, earning certifications in, for example, myofascial release, neuromuscular therapy, or prenatal massage.

In Australia, massage therapists undergo 12 months of full-time or 18 months of part-time training to register as a health fund provider. They also must earn the Certificate IV in Massage Therapy Practice and the Diploma of Remedial Massage, both of which must come from a registered training organisation such as a private college.

Worldwide Massage Organisations

Many massage therapists belong to national and worldwide massage organisations that promote continual learning and connect them to the latest techniques in the field. Among the prominent global organisations supporting massage professionals are the International Massage Association, the International Medical Spa Association, and the World Massage Federation, as well as speciality organisations such as the International Association of Infant Massage, the International Association of Reiki Professionals, and the International Council of Reflexologists.

Where to Get a Massage

Those seeking remedial massage to relieve pain or help correct medical conditions can often be treated at health clinics, hospitals, and physical therapists’ or chiropractors’ offices. Many professional massage therapists also see clients at their own offices.

Individuals can also seek out relaxation massages from spas, health clubs, and resorts, as well as from individual practitioners, many of whom are happy to bring their portable massage tables to clients’ homes. In addition, massage is becoming popular as a group activity, with gathering for hen night massage parties, pre-wedding massages to calm down the jitters, birthday massages, and couples massages.

If you’re interested in learning more about massage techniques or if you wish to book a massage treatment, contact us at Lavender Moon to see what massage can do for you.

Yvonne Jones is a professional massage and Reiki therapist at Lavender Moon in Peregian Beach on Australia’s beautiful Sunshine Coast in Queensland.