Massage therapy is a broad term used to describe various techniques of manual (hands on) therapy which is used to promote tissue health, relieve pain and increase functionality of a body, be it human or animal. The type of massage therapy which will benefit an individual varies greatly according to his or her particular issue or injury and state of health. There is something for everyone, and it is wise for clients to investigate their options to find what works for them.
The most commonly recognized type of massage is Swedish Massage, developed by Per Henrik Ling in the late 1700 and early 1800’s. Swedish massage techniques consists of long, smooth strokes (effleurage), tissue kneading (petrissage), or tapping (tapotement), and can be used to either relax muscle or increase its tone depending on the application and technique. Pressure can be very light or deep, depending on the therapist, your needs and your tolerance to pressure. During a massage therapy treatment that primarily consists of Swedish techniques, other modalities, which may require further or specialized training, can be used.
Relaxation, sports, pregnancy, infant and geriatric massage all contain elements of Swedish techniques.
Relaxation massage tends to be slower and more rhythmic than a treatment oriented therapeutic massage and its primary goal is to increase relaxation of the client. In infant massage, therapists teach parents how to work on their own infants, which is a great bonding experience and may help parents relieve colic and help their babies sleep better. For special populations or conditions, such as pregnancy or geriatric massage, the application of techniques needs to be modified to suit the needs of the client.
Sports massage therapy consists not only of Swedish techniques, but also of stretching, including “active inhibition” techniques, and can be performed either pre or post-event. Sports massage therapy that is performed pre-event uses quick, rhythmic movements to warm up and stretch the muscles, preparing them for the demand to be placed on them. Post-event sports massage is slower and is done to relieve pain, swelling, assist in the removal of metabolic waste and to decrease recovery time. Massage therapy for athletes and fitness enthusiasts is also a great maintenance tool which can address muscular imbalances and injuries and help them achieve optimal performance.
Deep Tissue Massage Therapy basically consists of Swedish techniques which are used at a deeper level of the tissue. To perform any type of massage effectively, but especially deep tissue, the muscles must be warmed up at a superficial level to allow the therapist to go into the deeper layers and address restrictions found there. It is advisable for therapists who want to practice “deep tissue” to have a hi-lo table and get specialized training to help hem maintain their own body, back and joint health. It is advisable for new massage therapy clients to work up to a deep tissue type of therapy as it is not suitable for everyone and may be painful for someone who is not accustomed to manual therapy.
Myofascial Trigger Point Therapy is also know as trigger point release. A myofascial trigger point is a hyperirritable area within a tight band of muscle. The goal of this therapy is to reduce or remove the trigger point, thus alleviating pain. Referral pain often has a very specific pattern depending on the muscle in which it is found, and can often present in a seemingly unrelated area. Trigger point therapy is integrated into Swedish massage treatments which assists in warming up and stretching the tissue pre and post release respectively.
Frictions or Friction therapy is a very localized, specific technique used to break down adhesions and scar tissue which may cause pain and inhibit movement. Friction therapy is not used alone, but is integrated into a routine where Swedish techniques are used to warm up the tissue and to aid circulation to remove metabolic waste post friction.
Myofascial release therapy, also called fascial release, consists of manipulation and stretching of the fascia – connective tissue which encases muscles, nerves, organs and bones in the body. To properly anchor and engage the tissue, no oil or other mediums are used, as “glide” over tissue is ineffective in most myofascial techniques.
Manual lymph drainage, also called lymphatic, lymph or lymphedema massage, is a series of gentle movements used to stimulate the flow of lymphatic fluid in the body, thereby relieving pain and congestion. This type of therapy is perfect to assist in the reduction of swelling post injury, and is also used to reduce swelling post surgery. MLD, as it is commonly known, is also used with great success for women who have a mastectomy, however, special training is required for therapists to treat when lymph nodes have been removed.
In most massage therapy training, the focus is primarily on Swedish techniques, but the above modalities may be learned as an adjunct to Swedish massage, or as continuing education.
Active release is a patented therapy which encompasses various movements while tissue is being manipulated. The term “active” refers to the fact that the patient voluntarily contracts his or her muscles as techniques are applied. This therapy requires specialized training and certification.
Craniosacral Therapy – is a gentle manual therapy developed by William Garner Sutherland, a student of Osteopathy, in the early 1900’s. Craniosacral therapy, or CST, is believed to work by addressing soft tissue restrictions around the central nervous system, which in turn affect the circulation of cerebrospinal fluid. Craniosacral therapy often relieves pain, induces deep relaxation and may encourage a more restful sleep.
Shiatsu is a manual therapy originating in Japan, and consists of finger pressure along various meridian or energy points throughout the body. Shiatsu is believed to work by removing any blockages along the meridians so energy travels more freely and the body can function normally.