Massage Therapy

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Massage Therapy


The practice of massage therapy is
rapidly growing in the United States. It has numerous
benefits to offer and is becoming more widely accepted as
a medical practice by doctors and the general public.
Massage is defined as: …the systematic manual or
mechanical manipulations of the soft tissues of the body by
such movements as rubbing, kneading, pressing, rolling,
slapping, and tapping, for therapeutic purposes such as
promoting circulation of the blood and lymph, relaxation of
muscles, relief from pain, restoration of metabolic balance,
and other benefits both physical and mental (Beck 3).
There is much historical evidence to indicate that massage
is one of the earliest remedies for pain relief and for the
restoration of a healthy body. It is said to be the most
natural and instinctive means of relieving pain and
discomfort. The roots of massage can be traced back to
ancient civilizations. Many artifacts have been found to
support the belief that prehistoric people massaged their
muscles and even used some form of rubbing oils on their
bodies. According to research, some form of massage was
practiced in almost all early civilizations. Ancient Chinese,
Japanese, India, Hindu, Greek, and Roman civilizations
used some form of massage as a medical treatment. In
many of these civilizations a special person, such as a
healer, doctor, or spiritual leader, was selected to
administer massage treatments. With the decline of the
Roman Empire in 180 A.D. came a decline in the
popularity of massage and health care in general. There
was little history of health practices recorded during the
Middle Ages (476-1450). The Renaissance period
(1450-1600) revived an interest in health and science.
Once again, people became interested in the improvement
of physical health and by the second half of the fifth
century, massage was a common practice. By the sixteenth
century, medical practitioners began to incorporate
massage into their healing treatments. Massage has been a
major part of medicine for at least five thousand years and
important in Western medical traditions for at least three
thousands years. In the early part of the nineteenth century,
Per Henrik Ling, a physiologist and fencing master, from
Smaaland, Sweden, developed and systemized movements
that he found to be beneficial in improving physical
conditions. His system of movements, based on the science
of physiology, became known as Medical Gymnastics. In
1813, Ling established the Royal Swedish Central Institute
of Gymnastics, which was financed by the Swedish
government. From this institute Ling and his students were
able to educate people about his Medical Gymnastics
movements, which became known as the Swedish
Movements. By 1851, there were thirty-eight institutions
for Swedish Movement in Europe. Today, Per Henrik Ling
is known as the father of physical therapy.

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Mathias Roth
was an English physician who had studied at one of Ling’s
institutes. In 1858, he published the first book in English on
Swedish Movements and then established the first institute
in England. Charles Fayette Taylor, a New York physician,
studied, under Roth, and in 1858, Taylor introduced the
Swedish Movements to the United States. The beginning of
the twentieth century brought with it a decline in the use of
massage. There were several possible reasons for this
decline. One reason was that there were too many false
practitioners who gave poor care and hurt the reputation of
all massage practitioners. A second reason for the decline
in the popularity of massage therapy was the advancement
made in medicine. “Technical and intellectual advances
developed new treatment strategies that were based more
on pharmacology and surgical procedures. The old ideas of
treating disease through diet, exercise, and bathing gave
way to the more sophisticated practices of modern
medicine.” (Beck 13). Beginning around 1960, another
massage renaissance took place in the United States and
continues to this day. This popularity boom was due in part
to the increased cost of traditional medicine and in part to
an increased awareness of physical and mental fitness.
Since the 1960s massage therapy has gained popularity
and acceptance. In 1992, the first National Certification for
Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork exam was given,
making recognition for a massage therapist official.
Massage therapy offers numerous benefits to the human
body. Renslow Sherer, M.D., states, "Massage therapy
has clearly been shown to me to be very beneficial,
particularly in areas where conventional medicine has not
been as successful, including chronic arthritis,
musculoskelatal syndromes and chronic headache, among
others” (Enhancing Your Health…). Massage is a natural
and instinctive way of relieving minor aches and pains,
nervous tension and fatigue. It has direct benefits such as
increased circulation, stretching of muscle tissue, and
loosening of scar tissue, as well as indirect effects such as
reduced blood pressure, and the general relaxation of
muscles. Massage therapy offers benefits in four major
ways: the muscular system, the nervous system, the
circulatory system, and psychologically. Massage therapy
encourages the nutrition and development of the muscular
system by stimulating its circulation, nerve supply, and cell
activity. In general, it relaxes and refreshes muscles. “A
muscle fatigued by exercise will be more quickly restored
by massage than by rest alone because massage helps to
remove from the muscle the lactic acid and metabolic
wastes that cause it to tighten or become sore”(What Can
Massage Treat). Muscle tissue that has been injured will
also heal more readily and with fewer complications when a
therapeutic massage is applied because it prevents, or
breaks down, the formation of scar tissue. Massage also
eases the pain of an injury to a ligament or tendon by
dispersing the inflammation an injury would cause. Because
of the benefits massage therapy offers the muscular system,
massage is an effective means of improving muscle tone as
well as muscle stamina and strength. “Massage has the
ability to prevent or at least delay muscular atrophy that
stems from inactivity” (Enhancing Your Health…).
Massage will help to relieve, or even prevent, muscle
cramps or spasms. The nervous system can be stimulated
or soothed depending on the type of massage applied.
Massage stimulates the nerve endings in the skin and
muscle tissue. As easily as massage can stimulate a nerve, it
can bring about a sedative effect to the nervous system.
Massage can induce deep relaxation and even relieve
insomnia. A therapeutic massage effects the quality and
quantity of blood flowing through the circulatory system.
“Massage dilates the blood vessels, which improves the
circulation of blood” (Beck 250). An increase in blood
flow causes an increase in the blood supply and the
nutrients that muscles and other vital organs receive.
Massage eases the strain on the heart by helping push
venous blood and lymph toward the heart. It also improves
the blood-making process, resulting in an increase in the
number of red and white blood cells. Because of the
benefits a massage offers to the circulatory system, it can
eliminate swelling in the extremities. The psychological
effects of massage can not be underestimated. Massage
relieves mental fatigue by oxidizing and removing toxins
from the body. Beck (252) states that “It [Massage] has
been proven to be an effective tool to rebuild a positive
self-image and sense of self-worth.” Many people who
suffer from stress find that massage promotes both mental
and muscular relaxation. Overall, massage helps to create a
greater sense of self-awareness and well being. There are
many different types of massage that are used in order to
obtain a desired outcome. The most commonly used
massage is known as Swedish Massage. It is a collection of
techniques that are designed to relax muscles, increase
circulation, remove metabolic waste products, and help the
recipient obtain “a feeling of connectedness, a better
awareness of their body and the way they use and position
it”(Basics of Massage). The Swedish system emphasizes
applying pressure against muscles and rubbing in the same
direction as the flow of blood returning to the heart.
Swedish Massage is used to shorten the recovery time
from a muscular strain because it flushes the tissue of lactic
acid and other metabolic wastes. It stretches ligament and
tendons, keeping them supple. Swedish Massage can help
reduce emotional and physical stress and is often used in
stress management programs. While Swedish Massage is
the most commonly used, there are a variety of other
systems that offer a wide range of benefits. One type is
Shiatsu; it is a massage system based on the body’s energy
meridians. The practice of Shiatsu involves the pressing of
certain points on the body and the stretching and opening
of energy meridians. Proponents of it view Shiatsu as a
form of treatment alternative to medicine or surgery.
Closely related to Shiatsu is Polarity Therapy, it asserts that
energy fields exist everywhere in the body and that the flow
and balance of this energy in the human body is the
underlying foundation of health. A second type is
Reflexology; it is based on the belief that there are points
on the hands and feet that correspond to other parts of the
body and that the manipulation of one of these points will
have a direct effect on a corresponding body part. It is
unclear why Reflexology works, but one currently accepted
theory is that it works by way of nero-reflex points found in
the hands and feet. When an organ doesn’t function
properly, the neural signals along the network change
patterns. These changes can be detected through the reflex
points on the hands and feet. The chemistry at the reflex
point relating to the dysfunctional organ may change
causing a hard painful spot. When this spot is massaged
away, the area begins to become less tender and the organ
to which the reflex point corresponds also functions better.
A third type is Aromatherapy; it is the use of fragrant
substances for a remedial treatment. Aromatherapy is often
combined with massage since oils can be used to carry
fragrances while also allowing more pressure to be applied
to muscles. It is believed by many that certain health
benefits are associated with specific scents. A fourth type is
an On-Site Massage; it is a short, 15-20 minutes, massage.
The client sits in a portable massage chair while the
shoulder, neck, upper back, head and arms are massaged.
This type of massage is popular at the office as an
employee benefit and at conferences and workshops. A
fifth type of massage is Trigger Point or Myotherapy; these
are pain-relief techniques that ease muscle spasms and
cramping. Trigger Point reduces muscle spasms by
introducing new blood flow to an affected area.
Myotherapy relieves muscle pain and stiffness. It is usually
most beneficial to those with chronic muscle tensions. A
sixth type is Craniosacral Therapy; it is especially suited to
addressing tensions in the membranes of the head and
spinal column as well as the cranial bones to which these
membranes are attached. The release of these tensions is
deeply relaxing and may relieve certain types of headaches,
spinal nerve problems, and stress. One last type of
massage is Reiki, it is a gentle, hands-on healing technique
used to reduce stress, relieve pain, and promote healing. It
is based on the belief that energy can be channeled through
a practitioner to energize the various body systems of a
client. Reiki practitioners hold that an imbalance of the
energetic nature manifests in the body to cause stress or
even life-threatening diseases and that re-channeling the
energy in the body can reverse these conditions. In addition
to these types of massage is an athletic massage, it refers to
a method of massage that is especially designed to prepare
an athlete for an upcoming event and/or to aid the body in
recovering from a workout or competition. For many years
athletes have included massage as part of their training.
Recently, in 1984, massage was made available for all
athletes who were competing in the Olympic Games. Since
then, massage areas have become common at many athletic
events. Athletes have recognized massage as a valuable
asset to improving their ability to perform better with fewer
injuries. “Athletic massage enables athletes to attain their
highest potential by accelerating the body’s natural
restorative processes, enabling the athlete to participate
more often in rigorous physical training and
conditioning.”(Beck 505) It helps to reduce the chance of
injury by identifying and eliminating conditions in the soft
tissue that are a possible risk. An athletic massage allows
an athlete to reach their peak performance sooner and to
sustain it longer. It stretches and broadens muscles,
tendons, and ligaments, which improves the flexibility,
quickness and power of an athlete's muscles. An athletic
massage eliminates muscle stiffness by removing excess
acid buildup from the muscles. With a massage, an injury
will heal quicker and stronger, without a loss of strength. In
general, a sports massage is based on the Swedish system
with a few practical variations. There are four basic
applications for an athletic massage, pre-event, post-event,
training massage, and rehabilitative massage. A massage
given previous to an event will prepare an athlete for the
strain of an intense competition. A massage given after an
event will normalize the muscle tissues and relax the athlete.
A training massage is given during a workout to allow an
athlete to train harder with fewer injuries. A rehabilitative
massage helps an athlete to recover from an injury more
quickly with less of a chance of re-injury. In the United
States, the laws and regulations for massage vary greatly
from state to state and city to city. The regulation of
massage therapy may be controlled by the state, the
county, the city, or may not exist at all. Currently, just over
half of the states regulate the practice of massage therapy.
Among the states regulating massage therapy is Nebraska.
The State of Nebraska requires one to complete at least
one thousand hours of course study and training in massage
therapy, to be at least nineteen years of age, to be a
resident of Nebraska, and to have received a passing score
on the licensure examination. There are many career
opportunities for a certified massage therapist. There are
positions available as a massage therapists in many
chiropractic offices, in health clubs or day spas, in resorts
or on cruise ships, in hair salons, and in hospitals. Many
certified practitioners will either establish or work in a
massage clinic. Another opportunity for a massage therapist
exists in the sports realm. Many professional baseball,
football, basketball, hockey, ice skating, and swimming
teams keep a professional massage therapist on its staff.
The vast number of benefits realized by massage therapy
make it one of the most used and useful tools for dealing
with mind and body stresses. Massage therapy has proven
to be an effective method for treating many conditions for
thousands of years and it will continue to be used for
thousands of years to come.

Works Cited

Basics of Massage. 8 Feb. 1999. Alt.Backrub Newsgroup. 11 Nov.
1999.

Beck, Mark. -- Theory and Practice of Therapeutic
Massage. Ed. Joseph Miranda. 2nd ed. Albany: Milady
Publishing Company, 1994.

Enhancing Your Health with Therapeutic Massage. 1999. American Massage Therapy
Association. 1 Nov. 1999.

What Can Massage Therapy Treat?. Alive! Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. 4
Nov. 1999.

Works Consulted

Calais-Germain, Blandine. Anatomy of Movement. Seattle: Eastland Press, 1993.

Higley, Connie, comp. Reference for Essential Oils. Olathe: Abundant Health Publications, 1996.

Jacobs, Jennifer, ed. The Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Boston:
Journey Editions, 1996.

Massage Careers. 1999. Natural Healers. 30 September 1999.

Premkumar, Kalyani. Pathology A to Z: a Handbook for Massage Therapists.
Calgary: VanPub Books, 1996.

Young, Gary D. An Introduction to Young Living: Essential Oils and
Aromatherapy. Payton: Young Living Essential Oils, 1998.


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