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What does a massage therapist do?
A trained therapist uses oil, lotion or aromatherapy as she or he strokes, kneads, rolls, pummels, taps and stretches the muscles and soft tissues while you lie — warm and covered with a sheet or blanket — on a padded table.
There are as many types of massage as there are nationalities. Common types in the United States include:
Swedish massage: Employs gliding, stroking and friction techniques as well as passive movements, including foot rotation and leg bends. Swedish massage approaches the body from an anatomical, physiological point of view.
Deep-tissue massage: A type that works deeper into the body’s tissues. This kind of massage can feel less relaxing, but is well-suited for relieving chronic pain and helping rehabilitate the body after injuries.
Ayurvedic massage: Detoxifies and rejuvenates the body through vigorous massage using warm, herbal oils. In one technique, shirodhara, the therapist pours a steady stream of warm oil over the forehead to calm and balance the nervous system.
Japanese massage: Called anma, Japanese massage is based on the 5,000-year-old principles of Chinese medicine and features choreographed movements that emphasize rhythm, pacing, precision and form.
Thai massage: Is influenced by yoga and incorporates stretching facilitated by the therapist.
Key principles of massage
Stimulation of the body’s tissues enhances its ability to heal and relax. Much of this is due to the power of touch. Gentle massage has been shown to trigger the release of endorphins, natural pain-killers, to bring about a feeling of well-being.
In addition to the soothing effect of massage, this holistic form of health care also stimulates circulation, muscle relaxation and lymphatic flow. The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, which studies the effects of massage, found that premature infants who were stroked daily gained more weight faster and were more active.
Which types of conditions are best treated by massage?
A host of mind-body benefits can be attributed to the ages-old and multi-national practice of therapeutic massage. Depending on the style and focus, massage can increase circulation, reduce muscular tension and emotional stress, enhance flexibility and athletic performance, correct posture, stimulate lymph drainage, control musculoskeletal pain, increase alertness and energy levels, and boost feelings of well-being.
Massage is commonly used to help with:
• back pain, neck pain, whiplash
• chronic headaches
• arthritis stiffness
• high blood pressure
• digestive disorders
• depression and anxiety
• rehabilitation after a musculoskeletal injury
There are more than 900 massage schools across the country with training periods that range from a month to two years. The nationwide standard is typically 500 hours for a massage therapist and most states administer a written or practical exam in addition to the educational requirement. Typically, a well-trained massage therapist is schooled in several types of massage and has an excellent knowledge of anatomy and physiology. More than half of the states regulate massage therapists, requiring them to be either licensed, registered or certified in that state.
What to look for when choosing a massage therapist
The best way to find a good therapist is to check whether she or he is registered/certified and is a member of an organization such as the American Massage Therapy Association or the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. Check www.amtamassage.org to locate a member therapist near you.
After determining a therapist’s credentials, try a session or ask if they offer a free 10-minute “test” massage. You should feel comfortable and relaxed with the therapist. Here are some other criteria:
• Allows you privacy while you disrobe
• Covers your body with a sheet or blanket for modesty and warmth
• Inquires before beginning about what parts of the body to focus on during the massage.
• Asks for feedback regarding the quality of touch — whether it’s too hard or too gentle.
• Immediately accommodates your requests for less or more intense pressure.
Questions to ask a massage therapist
• Are you certified to practice massage?
• How long have you been practicing?
• What types of massage do you specialize in?
• What types of massage do you recommend for my condition?
• How many massage sessions will I need for my condition?
• What kinds of oils or lotions do you use?
• Will there be any after-effects from the massage?
• Do I need to check with my medical doctor before having massage?
• How much does a massage cost?
• Can I claim this session on my medical insurance?