As the term therapy implies, massage can be much more than a simple back rub. Many traditional therapies incorporate the use of therapeutic massage. It is a cornerstone of ancient healing traditions like Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. In this form of body work, muscles are tapped, stroked and kneaded, which helps loosen the muscle fibers and relieve spasm. Massage therapy may promote flexibility because it relaxes and stretches the muscles. It has also been found to lower blood pressure, relieve stress, improve circulation and strengthen the immune system. Therapeutic massage is often used in combination with other treatments like chiropractic and acupuncture. The combination of therapies is thought to have a synergistic effect that provides more benefits than any one method alone.
There are well over 200 different massage techniques and at least a dozen styles of massage. Each style has some specific characteristics, such as the vigorous kneading of Swedish massage – which is used to promote better circulation – and the gentle, flowing strokes of relaxation massage. It also includes techniques like trigger point massage, in which the therapist focuses on specific areas of spasm and tension in the body. Massaging the trigger points can help release muscle tension some distance away from the actual trigger point and relieve pain caused by the tense muscles. Deep tissue massage, another form of therapeutic massage, focuses on the deep muscles of the body and is used to loosen the tight muscle covering (called fascia), which can restrict muscle movement.
The skin contains special receptor cells that help people distinguish sensations like touch, heat, and cold. Cells can secrete a variety of chemical messages to the brain. Massage stimulates these cells to “tell” the brain to release pain-killing chemicals called endorphins (sometimes called feel-good chemicals). In addition, therapeutic massage acts on the lymphatic system by stimulating it to promote the drainage of toxins.