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Massage Therapy

Saturday, 08 January 2011 19:44

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What is Massage therapy?

The word massage is most likely to have emerged from the Greek word 'Massein', meaning 'to knead' or the Arabic word 'mas'h' meaning 'to press softly'. Massage is the oldest form of physical medicine known to man and can be traced back to the early Chinese medical manuscripts around 400BC. Massage was advocated by Hippocrates who was born in the fifth century and was known as 'the father of medicine'. It was widely used and written of in Roman times with history recording how Julius Ceaesar received massage to relieve neuralgia!

Very little was recorded about massage in Europe between the Roman times and the early Middle Ages, but by the sixteenth century medicine slowly started to re-learn what had been lost. Between 1776 and 1839, a Swedish professor, Peter Ling, created a scientific system of therapeutic massage known as Swedish massage and established a teaching institute in Stockholm.

Today, massage therapy is one of the fastest growing forces in the field of health care.

How does it work?

Massage is simply the manipulation of the soft tissues of the body - the muscles, tendons and ligaments. A massage therapist's hands are his most important tool through which he not only treats the patient but also detects physical and emotional problems. The massage therapist palpates the patient's body to determine the condition of the tissues and the likely source of any pain, and thus the correct form of remedial treatment.

Massage works through the various body systems in one of two ways, a mechanical action and a reflex action. A mechanical action is created by moving the muscles and soft tissues of the body using pressure and stretching movement, thereby cleansing them of acids and deposits. This mechanical action breaks up fibrous tissue and loosens stiff joints.

A reflex is created when treatment of one part of the body affects another part of the body, much like pressing a light switch on a wall to turn on a light in the centre of the room. Just like this electric connection, so too are different parts of the body connected to eachother not just by flesh and bone but by nerve pathways, or flows of energy known as 'meridians'. So, by using reflex action, some therapists will treat a patient's stomach complaint by massaging the arms, and will alleviate pain in the legs by massaging the lower back.

What does treatment involve?

Each massage session will last 60-90 minutes, and will take place in a quiet room on a massage table. The patient will lie down undressed and the therapist will cover the parts of the body not being worked on with towels. Therapy will often start with the feet or with light stroking on the back to introduce you to the touch and for relaxation. The therapist will use either oils or talc and will work methodicaly around the whole body. The number of appointments required will depend upon the seriousness of the health problem.

The massage therapist will treat the patient through four stages of healing - relief, correction, strengthening and maintenance. For relief, the therapist will aim to alleviate any pain by sedating the sensory nerves, stimulating blood flow and reducing muscle tension, possibly by using hot and cold compresses. Secondly, for correction, the therapist will need to alleviate the underlying cause by rebalancing the muscles, clearing away lymph congestion and unknotting any fibres through various techniques of massage.

For strengthening, the weak joints and tissues should undergo continuing treatment to avoid repeated or additional injury. Finally, the massage therapist will recommend a monthly or bi-monthly maintenance programme to help keep the tissues and ligaments healthy as ligaments never regain their original strength once they have been damaged.

Research (What it can help)

Massage can improve circulation and aid digestion and has been known to help insomniacs and migraine sufferers.

Relaxation massage has been shown to help reduce blood pressure by as much as 20 points. (2) One nurse who measured a patient's blood pressure before and after a half hour massage, confirmed that blood pressure nearly always falls. In some cases the reduction was quite dramatic, for example, from 180 over 130 to 140 over 110 nmHg.(3)

Massage improves the blood circulation in several ways without putting additional strain on the heart. It helps the flow of blood through the veins and also stimulates the nerves which control the blood vessels. It has the added benefit of relaxing tense muscles and tight connective tissues which may have been constricting blood vessels and thus enable blood to flow more freely. It is for this reason that soothing massage helps reduce emotional tension, it enduces relaxation and calms stress-related cardio-vascular conditions.

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