By Dr. Kathy Gruver
Massage loosens tight muscles by stretching out muscle fibers, bringing blood to the area, flushing out toxins and eliminating trigger points. Trigger points are tight bands of muscle that refer pain in a specific pattern. For example you may have a trigger point under your shoulder blade that is actually referring pain up into your neck. Eliminate the point eliminate the pain. Massage is also great for improving circulation and reducing swelling in the limbs (great for the elderly). Lymph drainage massage is a specific modality that works by flushing the lymph out of the limbs, back to the lymph nodes found in the armpits, groin and neck. There are times you don’t want to move lymph however and that is when cancer is involved. There is a chance of spreading it further through the body. Check with your oncologist to see if massage would be safe for you.
Massage can improve flexibility and help with athletic performance. Massage is also a great post-exercise addition as it gets the toxins out that may have built up during the sport. It can also help with muscle cramping and helps reduce scar tissue thus freeing up movement.
Massage calms and invokes what is known as the relaxation response. This is in opposition to the stress response; that fight or flight reaction. Massage releases feel good hormones in the brain like oxytocin. Oxytocin is what mothers produce during labor, it makes us feel good and kind and loving towards others. And massage calms the entire system. Massage has been shown to lower blood pressure and slow heart and respiratory rates. We are seeing more and more research being done on the benefits of a good rub down. The findings include reduced depression and anxiety, better heart health, improved health for pre-term infants and better sleep.
Though massage is proving to be a valuable addition to your life there are a few things that it doesn’t do. Massage is not going to help you lose weight or reduce cellulite. It could act as a temporary fix by flushing the toxins out of the area, but ultimately the cellulite will return. Sorry. Also, massage does not give you the flu. I’ve had a few clients tell me they don’t want deep tissue because they don’t want to get sick. I can’t say they didn’t have the flu. I can say that the massage DIDN’T give it to them. What they were experiencing was a healing crisis or herxheimer reaction. This occurs when toxins are mobilized too fast and they settle back in the body rather than being eliminated. Though uncomfortable, a healing crisis is perfectly normal and can be avoided by drinking lots of water after your massage, stretching, taking it easy and some people take a pain reliever like Advil.
Here are some tips for better enjoyment of your massage.
- When you go for your massage communicate openly with the therapist about what your expectations are and if you have any injuries or recent surgeries that they should be aware of. If you are uncomfortable during the massage, especially if something is hurting, please tell the therapist. You must communicate this to them for your own safety and enjoyment.
- Most therapists will have you fully disrobe, however there are some modalities that don’t require that like shiatsu, Thai massage and Reiki. Check with the practitioner for guidance.
- For general relaxation choose a modality like Swedish, which is the basic, light touch massage. Deep tissue and trigger point are better for pain, increasing range of motion, athletes and people who want more intense work done. Be careful of hot stone massage. If you are going to have that done, make sure the person is well trained as an inexperience therapist can hurt you.
- Find a qualified practitioner for what you need. Regulations for licensing vary from state to state, sometimes city to city. Ask how long they’ve been practicing and be picky. Be careful of some of the new shopping center massage chains, as often their therapists are fresh out of school and not very experienced. This might be fine for a general relaxing massage, but if you have an injury or health concern, they might not have the experience to help you.
- And get regular massages, they not only feel good, they are good for you!
- Kathy Gruver, PhD has been involved in massage and natural health for over two decades. She has produced the DVD, Therapeutic Massage at Home; Learn to Rub People the RIGHT Way and has written multiple books on the subject of health.