However, since having the feet or hands rubbed is an enjoyable and relaxing experience for most people, there is little doubt that hand and foot reflexology can promote stress relief and a sense of well being in much the same way as any other form of massage. This therapy may be an especially useful complementary treatment for neuropathy of the legs, feet and toes. It can also be useful for sore hands and feet after a workout, running or taking a long walk.
Some possible justifications for painfully intense massage (these aren’t endorsements) include the destruction of motor end plates to “de-activate” trigger points; somatoemotional release (pain often strongly “resonates” with strong emotions like grief); moving tissue fluids; or just creating a strong, novel sensory experiences (which may have many subtle benefits).
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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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.
The whole Swedish experience is also a potential stress reliever, which is a benefit unto itself. Plus, it can improve blood flow, delivering more oxygen to cells. A lesser-known benefit—moisturized, glowing skin—results from the application of massage oils. Many therapists prefer to use sweet almond oil because it absorbs slowly into the skin, yet doesn’t leave clients feeling like they’re covered in grease. Other favorite oils include grapeseed (non-greasy, no smell) and jojoba oil (easily absorbed, mixes well with aromatherapy oils).
Finally, sports massage is designed specifically for the very physically active (whether you're a professional athlete or not). It combines Swedish, Shiatsu, and other techniques to concentrate on the areas that are related to your sport. Athletes often get sports massages to prepare for peak performance, prevent injury, and also treat injury. Sports Injury Clinic, which offers several demonstration videos, says:
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“I received a gift package of 3 massages, and have had two different therapists, both were fantastic. I have had injuries where I have had massages, deep tissue and sport and medical at different facilities throughout Denver. This tops all! Therapists are knowledgeable, intuitive and willing to concentrate on areas that need extra attention. Scheduling appointments has been a breeze. the overall experience is easy, seamless and straight forward. The facility is clean, not overly spa -ish and soothing. Big winner in my book!”