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February 07, 2023 14 min read
An Overview of Massage Therapy
There is ample historical evidence that massage has been practiced for thousands of years. Ancient civilizations, including China, Egypt around 2500 BCE, then later to Japan with Buddhism in 1000 BCE (Florida Academy 2019). Today, massage is still a common way to encourage relaxation and well-being and is widely acknowledged as a useful type of treatment for many physical and mental health disorders.
Massage therapy is a term that covers a large range of techniques that focus on manipulating and mobilizing body tissues with the hands or with different tools. The application of massage or manual therapy techniques is suggested to ease stress, tension, and discomfort in the body and mind. There are a variety of variables that can be altered to change the effect or feel of the stimulus applied to the joints, ligaments, and muscles. Massage has been shown in studies dating back to the 1930s to reduce pain, increase blood flow, and reduce atrophy when applied at a moderate intensity (Field et al., 2007; Lund 2000). Massage can be used on several body areas, including the legs, feet, back, neck, and face. Relief from pain and discomfort with massage therapy is intended to promote both physical and mental health.
How does massage help?
Serology studies demonstrate a general reduction in the hormone cortisol, a stress hormone, while demonstrating an increase in dopamine, a mood boosting hormone. Additionally, these studies show an increase in natural killer (NK) cells, which are part of immune function (Field et al. 2019). These studies show promise that massage therapy may help the body in numerous ways in addition to contributing to a general sense of improved wellbeing by improving mood and assisting the immune system.
Massage therapy has been shown to have an impact on the body's general health. There is evidence to suggest that massage therapy can influence vagal tone. The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve (it comes directly from the brain), and it travels from the brain into the stomach and intestinal region. Vagal activity has been associated with blood pressure and heart rate, level of alertness, and cognitive performance; reducing vagal tone has been shown to have improvements in all of these areas (Field et al., 2007). There is some data that indicates that there can be a reduction in depressive and anxiety symptoms with the regular application of massage therapy.
Massage is often used to regulate pain. The Gate Theory explains the mechanism by which massage is deemed effective in the treatment of pain. By stimulating shorter, less myelinated neural fibers, the transmission of pain stimuli to the brain is reduced as the pressure stimulus reaches the brain before the pain, essentially closing the gate to all stimuli beyond the pressure (Field et al. 2019). A second theory as to how massage reduces pain is a reduction in substance P due to improvements in sleep quality (Field et al. 2019). Individuals who participated in studies looking at the effect of massage therapy on lower back pain indicated not only a reduction in pain symptoms but increased function, including trunk flexion and increases in range of motion (Adams, White, & Beckett, 2010; Field et al. 2019).
Different Types of Massages
The most popular and well-known kind of massage therapy is Swedish massage, a type of therapeutic massage. It combines long strokes, kneading, friction, tapping, and shaking motions to have a therapeutic effect on the muscles (Brennan, 2021). Swedish massage boosts circulation, helps improve immunity, assists in rehabilitating injuries, improves flexibility, and eases stress (6 Benefits of Swedish Massage, Massage Heights 2014). Additionally, Swedish massage is renowned for calming and unwinding, which can enhance a general sense of wellbeing. Lotions or oils are often used in Swedish massages to make the skin less irritated and the massage more therapeutic.
Deep tissue massage is a type of therapeutic massage that focuses on breaking down scar tissue, releasing tension within the muscles, and using strong pressure to apply a stimulus to the deeper muscle fibers (Santos-Longhurst, 2021). Deep tissue massage, which is often slower and more forceful than other types of massage and can be uncomfortable, can help people with chronic pain or sports-related injuries. As with Swedish massage, oils or lotions are applied to the skin to reduce skin friction and aid in the therapeutic effect of the massage.
Hot Stone Massage
A type of massage therapy known as "hot stone massage" uses smooth, heated stones—often basalt stones, a volcanic rock—that are put on specific body locations (McDermott, 2018). The heat from the stones aids in circulation improvement and muscular relaxation. The massage therapist incorporates the stones into the massage strokes as a tool for the massage or to rest and warm the tissues. The therapeutic effects of the massage can be strengthened by the heat from the stones, which helps to release tight muscles and increase circulation. Benefits of hot stone massage include improvements to sleep, a reduction in stress and anxiety, assistance with pain management, helping individuals manage auto-immune symptoms, boosting immunity, and managing cancer symptoms (McDermott, 2018). These potential benefits are why hot stone massage has grown in popularity over the years
Thai massage has been practiced for over 2,500 years and has been influenced by both Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine (Stanborough, 2020). It differs from other types of massage in that it is performed while the patient is fully clothed while laying on a mat. The therapist uses a combination of acupressure, stretching, and rhythmic massage techniques while using their hands, feet, legs, and body weight to apply pressure and stretch the client's muscles. Thai massage is intended to balance energy flow, make it more flexible, relieve stress and tension, and awaken and calm the body (Stanborough, 2020).
Sports massage is a type of therapeutic massage that is designed for athletes and those who are physically active. It is used to manage and prevent injuries, as well as aid in recovery (Gomez, 2020). Techniques for sports massage vary depending on the needs of the athlete. Deep tissue massage is common in combination with stretching and trigger point therapy. The therapist may focus on specific areas, including the legs, back, or arms; this can be sport specific. The goals of a sports massage include improving circulation, reducing muscle tension, and increasing range of motion (Gomez, 2020). All of these things can help improve athletic performance and reduce the risk of injury. Most of the time, sports massage is done before or after a game or during training.
Trigger Point Massage
Trigger point release can be used as a form of self-massage or as part of a treatment by a therapist to relieve tension. This method works by applying pressure to different areas of the body or to trigger points. These trigger points are tight bands of skeletal muscle caused by stress, injury, overuse, or a combination of all four (Inverarity, 2022). You can directly press on the trigger point with your fingers, a massage tool, a foam roller, or any other tool to release tension and help relax the muscles. This technique can be used on any area of the body, including the neck, shoulders, ribs, back, and legs. It's important to be gentle, gradually apply pressure, and pay attention to how your body responds. The aim is to apply just enough pressure to feel the tension, hold it, and wait until the muscles gradually release. This technique can be uncomfortable, or it may have no pain at all (Inverarity, 2022). The amount of pressure and the release time will vary depending on the person and the area being massaged.
Products to Use at Home for Massage Relief
Using your own hands in the application of massage has multiple benefits, especially when it comes to convenience and cost savings. By using your own hands, you don't have to depend on a professional therapist; however, there can be limitations in terms of being able to access certain parts of the body, including the back. When you massage your own muscles, you can determine the exact amount of pressure you want, making sure the massage is both effective and comfortable. This can be a meditative practice and a form of self-care to help you manage pain in addition to physical and mental stress. With practice, you can learn to focus on specific parts of your body, like your neck, shoulders, hands, forearms, calves, and other areas. This can help you relax, improve flexibility, and improve your sense of wellbeing.
Massage balls are small, portable, and multipurpose tools that you can use for massage and to ease muscle tension and help with recovery. Some massage balls are made for specific purposes, like the Rad Roller, Rad Rounds, and Rad Neuro Ball.
The RAD Roller is a peanut shaped massage roller with a smooth texture that can be used to release tension in the legs, back, and neck, among other places. It comes in two different densities, so it is important to select the best one for you. The RAD rounds are three different sized, round massage balls. They are smaller than a lacrosse ball and have different densities, which makes them helpful in applying pressure to specific trigger points or muscle knots for a more targeted massage. The larger sizes are great for larger muscle bellies, and the smallest ball is great for the hands, feet, and TMJ. The Rad Neuro Ball is a textured ball with Naboso technology that is meant to stimulate nerve endings and holds the smallest RAD ball within the core. This helps to release muscle tension and improve circulation of the feet and hands, using the split halves as domes or the interior micro round - find instructions for a 5 minute massage release here, or you can roll your muscles with it in the ball configuration.
Massage balls are a good addition to regular massage therapy as they are portable and can be used on their own, at home or on the go, to relieve tension, help with pain relief. When using massage balls, it's important to start with light pressure and gradually increase it as needed, paying attention to any pain or discomfort. Massage balls can also be used with stretching or other types of exercise to increase flexibility, function, and range of motion.
Foam rollers can be a good way for people to release muscle tension and improve physical function. You can put pressure on the legs, back, or arms by placing the foam roller between the body and a sturdy surface like the floor. Foam rolling helps you to ease muscle tension and improve blood flow to the area of focus. Foam rollers can be good for recovery and rehabilitation as a way to challenge your balance while lying down or assisting with mobility work. A foam roller can be used by moving the roller back and forth or by holding still on a given area or segment and waiting for release. You can also use the foam roller to assist with stretching. While lying with the roller under your back lengthwise, you can open your arms to the sides to stretch the chest. To release the muscles in your upper back, lie on the roller and backstroke your arms. A foam roller is a cylindrical piece of foam that can be of different densities. They can also come in different lengths with different textures. Some can be portable while others are not; be aware of the material your foam roller is made from and avoid wearing jewelry that could damage your roller.
Acupressure balls are small balls of different densities that you massage parts of your body by rolling or using for trigger point release to help relieve muscle tension. Most of the time, these balls are made of rubber or plastic and may change density with body heat. You can hold them in your hand or put them on certain parts of your body. Acupressure balls work by applying pressure to specific acupressure points, helping release tension and improving circulation in the area. This type of self-massage is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine, including acupuncture and trigger points.
Acupressure balls can be used to target specific areas of tension, like the feet, hands, neck, pelvic floor, chest, or back. They can be especially helpful for people with tight or painful muscles. It's easy to use acupressure balls, and you can do it anywhere. To use the balls, you just place them in the area that hurts and apply gradual, gentle pressure to them for a few minutes or until the pain eases. Regular use of acupressure balls can help improve overall physical function and flexibility. They can also be a convenient and cost-effective way to supplement regular massage therapy. Start with a light pressure and slowly increase it as needed, paying attention to any pain or discomfort.
Eva Foam Ball
The Eva foam ball is a small foam ball that can be used to massage your muscles and release tension. It is great for the calves, sides of the hips (TFL), lats, and glutes, in addition to other areas of the body. Start by applying gentle pressure to tight or painful areas and holding them until you begin to feel release and a reduction of pain. The Eva foam ball is lightweight and portable, and you can do it anywhere, which makes it a great tool for people who want to use it every day, whether at home or on the go. Regular use of the Eva foam ball can help improve overall physical function and flexibility. It can also be a convenient and cost-effective way to add to regular massage therapy.
The Wave Tool is a versatile tool that can be used for massage, myofascial release, gua sha, and the Graston Technique. When used for massage, it can help target specific muscle groups and provide deep tissue therapy, which can help relieve tension and improve range of motion. Myofascial release is a type of manual therapy in which fascia, the connective tissue that wraps around muscles, is released by applying steady pressure along the length of the tissues. The Wave Tool is a great tool for this kind of therapy due to its shape, as it lets the person control where they want to apply it and how much pressure is used. This multi-purpose tool can be used on the body or as a face massage tool to aid in circulation, lymphatic drainage, recovery, and the breakdown of adhesions between the skin and the myofascial layers.
The Rolflex Pro is a massage tool that you can use on yourself. It is used to target specific muscle groups, relieve tension, increase range of motion, aid in recovery, and reduce pain. The Rolflex Pro is easy and comfortable to use because of its design. Using the Rolflex Pro for massage can help relieve pain, improve blood flow, and make you feel more relaxed. The Rolflex Pro is a wonderful tool for hard to-reach areas like the forearms, biceps, calves, neck, glutes, and other areas. The design is great for helping climbers, healthcare professionals, and people who use their hands a lot to recover.
Small massage tools like rollers, including the Tiger Tail, foot massage rollers, the Naboso Sensory Stick, and the thumb roller, are portable massage tools. These tools can help ease muscle tension, improve blood flow, and improve your health as a whole. The Tiger Tail is a firm rod with a foam roller cover that is made for deep tissue massage and can be great for the legs. As the name suggests, a foot massage roller is made to massage the feet. This helps relieve tension in the plantar fascia, increase circulation, and release the muscles within the feet. The Naboso Sensory Sticks are a pair of 8 inch round bars weighing 2lbs, covered with Naboso texture technology. They are designed to stimulate the senses and massage deep tissue in specific areas, including the hands and feet. The thumb roller, on the other hand, is a mini roller that can be used to massage the hands, particularly around the thumb. This helps to relieve tension and improve circulation in the fingers. Small rollers can be used as part of a regular massage routine to help you manage muscle tone, improve circulation, and improve your overall health. These tools are portable and easy to use at home or on the go.
How Massage Helps Relieve Muscle Pressure, Pain, and Muscle Soreness and Tension
Easing Pain and Tension
Massage is a great way to ease pain and stiffness, and when done on a regular basis, it can help improve circulation. As a result, this can increase the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the affected area, reducing pain and soreness in the muscles. Massage can aid the body in releasing endorphins, which can help improve pain tolerance and mood and make you feel more relaxed. A massage can also help reduce muscle tension, which often contributes to pain and soreness. Massage can ease pressure on joints by relaxing the muscles, therefore temporarily improving range of motion. This can reduce pain and improve overall physical health and a sense of wellbeing.
Massage is a great way to combat muscle tension throughout the body. The application of pressure to trigger points in addition to sweeping strokes over shortened muscle fibers can help with tension release in the back, and provide relief for muscle pain. Stressors and anxiety may decrease as the tone decreases and the pain releases. Regular massage techniques can also help prevent tension from building up in the future, resulting in healthier muscle tone. Adding massage to your daily routine can be a good way to support your physical and mental health, whether you need to release tension in your neck, shoulders, back, or other trouble areas.
Improving Circulation, Energy, and Alertness
Massage is a simple and effective way to improve circulation, energy, and alertness. Improved circulation helps improve oxygen and nutrient transport, which the muscles need to work at an optimal level. A side effect of this can include an increase in general energy, allowing you to feel more awake and alert. Massage is beneficial for your mental health in that it can improve your mood and reduce fatigue due to a reduction in stress and anxiety. In summary, massage can help you improve your physical performance, reduce stress, or just improve your overall health.
Improving Exercise Recovery
Self massage can be a good way to help your body recover after exercise. Muscle fibers sustain a certain amount of damage with exercise, which is necessary for there to be adaptations including strength and endurance. This results in the sensation of feeling stiff and sore. Massage can help you manage these symptoms in ways that have been discussed previously, including by increasing circulation, assisting the release of hormones like endorphins, and increasing oxygen flow and circulation to the affected area. All of this can help the body recover and heal. Massage is a simple and effective way to improve your physical health and recovery, whether you are a professional athlete or just want to feel better after your workout.
Massage Techniques for Improving the Cardiovascular System
Lowering Heart Rate and Blood Pressure
Massage is a good way to reduce your heart rate, which will help lower your blood pressure. Massage can slow down or stop the "fight or flight" response by changing vagal tone. This makes you feel calmer and less stressed, which is good for your heart health and lowers your risk of heart disease. Massage also helps lower your cortisol levels, which is a stress hormone that will increase your blood pressure and heart rate if it is not well managed.
Self-massage is a simple, affordable, and effective way to invest in your own health and well-being. Massage provides many different benefits, and adding it to your daily routine is beneficial. Massage can help you manage and release physical pain, reduce stress and anxiety, improve your flexibility, functionality, and mobility, and make you feel more relaxed and healthy overall. There are many different ways to give yourself a massage, such as using your hands, a massage tool, or a foam roller. By giving yourself a massage on a regular basis, you can invest in your health and enjoy the many benefits it can have on both your body and mind.
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