Many of my patients see massage therapy as an indulgence. They might go to a spa a few times a year as a special treat, or to relax after a period of stress. As an orthopedic surgeon, I know there are more benefits to massage than simply an hour of relaxation. It is an important component in many treatment plans, and it can target your individual needs if you understand the difference between massage techniques. Here is what you need to know about the most popular types of massage to discover which one is right for you.
If you go to a day spa or make an appointment at hotel spa, you are almost certain to get a Swedish massage. Considered an all-purpose therapy, Swedish technique is certainly relaxing and beneficial to a wide range of people. The goal is to stimulate circulation with the use of long, flowing strokes, all focused in the direction of the heart. Massage oil or lotion may be used to reduce friction. A well-trained therapist should discuss with you beforehand any specific injuries or areas you may be concerned about. The massage may be light or firm, based on your preference. By increasing circulation, this technique may reduce swelling and speed healing.
This Japanese technique uses firm pressure applied with the fingers. By stimulating the traditional acupressure points, increased energy and balance in the body is encouraged. The technique is surprisingly relaxing and gentle for people who are concerned about muscle soreness. Shiatsu is a popular alternative method of relieving pain. By restoring balance in the organs and circulatory system, it is believed that this method helps the body resist disease.
Hot Stone Massage
This technique, in which smooth, flat stones are heated and placed on various pressure points, is enjoyable for its novelty. It is highly relaxing and the warmth is comforting to many people. If Swedish massage is too vigorous for you, the gentler nature of hot stone massage is a good choice. Although somewhat light, this technique may effectively ease muscle tension. It is a good choice for people whose main goal is stress-relief.
This technique stands apart from other forms of massage. Instead of lying passively on a table, you are guided through various stretches and positions by a therapist working on a mat. One may compare Thai massage to a gentle yoga session without doing the work yourself. Like Shiatsu, specific pressure points are utilized to stimulate the body’s organs and promote circulation. The therapist may use his or her body weight to massage different parts of the body, and you will not have to disrobe for Thai massage. It is a good choice if you are not managing an injury and want to improve flexibility and energy.
This technique is centered on scented plant oils, called essential oils. It is critical that the therapist discusses your goals ahead of time so he or she can choose the essential oils that will best complement your treatment. Certain scents are known to promote various outcomes, such as relaxation, energy, calm, balance and focus. The scent should be defused throughout the room, and will also be applied as massage oil. Throughout the session, you may be given various scents to sniff to enhance your experience. If you would like to use massage as a relief from emotional trauma or stressful situations with strong emotional components, aromatherapy is a good choice.
This type of massage is useful not only for athletes, but anyone who engages in a lot of physical activity. The strokes are similar to Swedish massage, but may be more vigorous. It can be used before an event to increase energy and circulation; after an activity to calm the nervous system, soothe tired muscles and reduce recovery time; and after an injury, to increase flexibility and stimulate healing in the muscle tissues. Sports massage is always geared to your specific activity, physical condition and goals.
Whatever technique you choose, massage is a highly rewarding experience. If you consider your goals beforehand and discuss them with your therapist, it can have a dramatic effect on your treatment and well-being.
Mark Bromson, M.D.
Photo Credit: Healingdream