Massage is hindered from reaching the gold standard of scientific research, which includes placebo-controlled and double blind clinical trials. Developing a "sham" manual therapy for massage would be difficult since even light touch massage could not be assumed to be completely devoid of effects on the subject. It would also be difficult to find a subject that would not notice that they were getting less of a massage, and it would be impossible to blind the therapist. Massage can employ randomized controlled trials, which are published in peer reviewed medical journals. This type of study could increase the credibility of the profession because it displays that purported therapeutic effects are reproducible.
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People do have clear pressure preferences: they often fire massage therapists who give treatments that are too painful or too fluffy. Pressure that’s fine for you may cause severe pain, emotional distress, “sensory injury” (sensitization) in others, or even physical injury, so pressure should be customized but often isn’t. Brutal massages might be appreciated or even helpful, but most people can’t tell the difference between the kind of pain that might be a necessary part of therapy, and ugly pain that is just abusive and dangerous.
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The primary goal of deep tissue massage is to reduce pain and discomfort, while improving the body’s ability to heal itself. Deep tissue massages are not only relaxing — they also help “lengthen and release muscles” that frequently feel tense and get stuck in uncomfortable holding patterns. (1) Let’s explore what, exactly, deep tissue massage is and all the ways it can benefit your body and mind.
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To put it bluntly, it’s not clear that massage has any musculoskeletal benefits at all. It probably does, but mostly quite temporary and highly unpredictable. There’s not nearly enough science, and therapists are hopelessly biased assessing their own efficacy. See Does Massage Therapy Work? A review of the science of massage therapy … such as it is. BACK TO TEXT
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A sports massage is typically a combination of several massage techniques that are tailored to your affected muscle groups based on the activities that you do. A properly administered sports massage can help flush the lactic acid out of your body. There are two types of sports massages that can benefit triathletes depending on when you schedule your appointment and your race schedule.
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Many people confuse reflexology with massage, Reiki, or acupuncture, but there are essential differences between these therapies. Massage therapists manipulate larger areas of soft tissue in the body while reflexologists apply pressure to specific points on the feet, hands, and ears. Unlike either massage or reflexology, Reiki does not involve any physical manipulation or pressure, but instead uses light touch to work with the subtle vibrational field thought to surround the body. Finally, while acupuncture and acupressure, like reflexology, use reflex points on the body to influence other parts of the body, the points are not the same and acupuncture uses points over the entire body.
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The standard type of massage offered in most clinics, gyms, spas, and wellness centers, Swedish massage is virtually synonymous with massage therapy. Swedish massage is based on the Western concepts of anatomy and physiology, compared to the energy-centric style more common in Asian forms of massage. Using lotion or oil, massage therapists typically begin with broad general strokes and then transition to specific strokes to address problem areas.
In Mexico massage therapists, called "sobadores", combine massage using oil or lotion with a form of acupuncture and faith. Sobadores are used to relieve digestive system problems as well as knee and back pain. Many of these therapists work out of the back of a truck, with just a curtain for privacy. By learning additional holistic healer's skills in addition to massage, the practitioner may become a curandero.
The proper design, control, and intervention protocols of research on reflexology remain debatable. The use of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) is the golden standard in assessing the efficacy of complementary therapies such as reflexology.34 Verhoef et al. have described the challenges when researching complementary therapies: standardization of regimented treatment that limit the individualization of treatment; client's focus on health with restricted roles for disease treatment; ethical issues involving the recruitment and randomization due to participants pre-conceived belief on reflexology; practicality of applying sham reflexology; interference of psychological influence on rapport between patient-provider.35
Adequate recovery is also a major factor in avoiding the over-training syndrome. Over-training is characterized by irritability, apathy, altered appetite, increased frequency of injury, increased resting heart rate, and/or insomnia. It occurs when the body is not allowed to recover adequately between bouts of heavy exercise. Therapeutic massage helps you avoid over-training by facilitating recovery through general relaxation, and its other physiological effects.
In South Africa, massage is regulated, but enforcement is poor. The minimum legal requirement to be able to practice as a professional massage therapist is a 2-year diploma in Therapeutic Massage and registration with The Allied Health Professions Council of SA (AHPCSA). The 2 year qualification includes 240 credits, about 80 case studies, and about 100 hours community service.
There’s rarely any justification for extremely painful massage, unless it clearly produces a better result than gentler treatment — which is rarely clear!1 It is possible that a few “brutal” deep tissue massages could do the trick where gentler treatment would fail — but there is no way to know this in advance, and massage is expensive stuff. If you’re going to gamble on a treatment, gamble on cheaper and less painful ones.
Massage is the manipulation of soft tissues in the body. Massage techniques are commonly applied with hands, fingers, elbows, knees, forearms, feet, or a device. The purpose of massage is generally for the treatment of body stress or pain. A person who was professionally trained to give massages was traditionally known as a masseur (male) or a masseuse (female), but those titles are outmoded, and carry some negative connotations. In the United States, the title massage therapist has been recognized as a business norm for those who have been professionally trained to give massages.
For example, I worked on the Indiana Sports Massage Team starting in 1989, as well as the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships and National Championships. I coordinated massage for the 1992 Olympic Trials and was on the 1996 Olympic Massage Team for the Atlanta Olympics—the first time massage therapy was part of the medical staff for the Olympics. These were all volunteer positions, but I loved it!
Swedish massage is focused primarily on the body and, therefore, is a more physical approach to relieving stress, aches, pains, and tension. One benefit of Swedish massage is its ability to relax the mind-brain connection—the mind being the energy and thoughts, and the brain being the physical matter. This is thought to contribute to a more balanced, stimulated, and integrated system. A healthy mind-brain connection may also help facilitate better physical health.