"Back before we started wearing shoes everywhere, we developed natural stimulus points from the ground [making direct contact] with our feet," Colin says. "By walking and getting that stimuli, we would relieve stress. We don't get that anymore. So the idea of reflexology is going back and mimicking that stimuli to specific points and feeling where that stress sits."

Flushing. If massage can “improve” any tissue — unknown — one way it might do it is through simple hydraulics: physically pumping tissue fluids around, and/or stimulating the circulation of blood and lymph. I won’t get into the evidence about it here. Suffice it to say that it might be true, and if it’s true then it may not much matter if the process is uncomfortable. While gentler massage may feel pleasant and satisfying, it is possible that more biological benefits can only be achieved hydraulically — whether it’s comfortable or not. This is even more plausible because of trigger points: it’s likely that the tissue fluids of a trigger point are quite polluted with waste metabolites, and the need for flushing is greater, but it’s especially uncomfortable to squish those polluted patches of tissue.
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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Several mechanisms for deep massage’s natural stress-relieving effects include its ability to dilate blood vessels and also lower activity of the limbic system (including the hypothalamus), which is responsible for autonomic nervous system regulation and cortisol secretion. Massage has been shown to improve relaxation by boosting activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, as measured by heart rate, blood pressure and heart rate variability. (8, 9)

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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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Post-event sports massage is given after a competition and is mainly concerned with recovery. It is geared toward reducing the muscle spasms and metabolic build-up that occur with vigorous exercise. Recovery after competition involves not only tissue normalization and repair, but also general relaxation and mental calming. A recovery session might be 15 minutes to 11/2 hours in length. Post-event sports massage is given after a competition and is mainly concerned with recovery. It is geared toward reducing the muscle spasms and metabolic build-up that occur with vigorous exercise. Recovery after competition involves not only tissue normalization and repair, but also general relaxation and mental calming. A recovery session might be 15 minutes to 11/2 hours in length. 

Empathy: Most people opt for massage therapy because they are in pain or because they are stressed out and need to calm down. As a massage therapist, it is imperative that you are empathetic to the needs of your clients, regardless of your day is going. If you appear or feel anxious or stressed, you are not going to be able to make your client feel calm and relaxed. Create trust with your patients by being personable and communicating effectively. Be receptive to their needs.

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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The best we can say is that there is some reason to believe that painful pressures on muscles might be therapeutic for some people some of the time. Pretty decisive, eh? This is why it drives me nutters that so many therapists insist that strong pressures are “essential” to achieve “a complete release.” It really isn’t possible to know! It really does depend! Why would anyone pretend to “know”?
While there is certainly carryover between who can benefit from each type of massage, the deep tissue massage may be better suited for people who are experiencing a specific injury or who have chronic, nagging pain in a particular area. Athletes or individuals in the midst of training for a more intense event may also find this technique particularly helpful.

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It’s just a theory: no one knows if this is actually effective.11 However, it may explain why so many massage patients report a “gets a bit worse before it gets much better” response to quite painful treatments: motor end plates are (painfully) destroyed by strong pressures, and then that tissue is quite sensitive and a bit weak as it heals over a day or two … and then you finally feel much better after that!

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Many training programs are now available throughout the world that require a minimum of 500 hours of basic massage therapy training, in addition to continuing education credits that can require up to another 400–500 hours. (19) Always make sure you’re “in good hands” by first checking that a therapist has proper qualifications and experience, specifically asking about training in NMT, trigger point therapy, sports massage, pain management, myofascial release and orthopedic massage.

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In the United Kingdom, reflexology is coordinated on a voluntary basis by the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Registrants are required to meet Standards of Proficiency outlined by Profession Specific Boards,[12] but since CNHC is voluntary anyone practicing can describe themselves as a reflexologist. When the CNHC began admitting reflexologists, a skeptic searched for, and found, 14 of them who were claiming efficacy on illnesses. Once pointed out, the CNHC had the claims retracted as it conflicted with the UK's Advertising Standards Authority code.[13]

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The literature on reflexology is only beginning to emerge since early 1990. Several methodological shortcomings in the previous studies of reflexology safety and efficacy are worth mentioning. Firstly, the number and the methods of reflexology treatment given are not standardized. Furthermore, most studies have small sample size (around 20 participants). 

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I am a science writer and a former Registered Massage Therapist with a decade of experience treating tough pain cases. I was the Assistant Editor of ScienceBasedMedicine.org for several years. I’ve written hundreds of articles and several books, and I’m known for readable but heavily referenced analysis, with a touch of sass. I am a runner and ultimate player. • more about me • more about PainScience.com


Trust and pain. Bear in mind that feeling safe is critical to the experience of good pain. Tiny differences in trust and comfort can make the difference between an intense pain being good or bad. Much of the “goodness” of good pain comes from mental context, from knowing that a pain is not dangerous or pointless, that it will not increase suddenly, or anything else yucky or shocking.
Massage in China is an extremely popular therapy, the city of Shanghai alone playing host to over 1500 foot massage centers while there are more than 3000 in Shenzhen. It is one of the biggest service industries in China with workers in Shanghai numbering in the tens of thousands.[17] The average rate of pay for a worker in the massage industry in China is over 10000 yuan per month, making it among the highest paid jobs in China’s service sector.[18] China’s massage parlors are frequently linked to the sex industry and the government has taken a number of measures in recent times to curb prostitution and the spread of disease. In a nationwide crackdown known as the yellow sweep ("Yellow" in Mandarin Chinese refers to sexual activities or pornographic content), limitations on the design and operation of massage parlors have been placed, going so far as requiring identification from customers who visit massage establishments late at night and logging their visits with the local police.[19][20]

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Sports massage has become an integral part of the new athletic regimen from sports medicine clinics, to college training rooms, to professional locker rooms to Olympic training. Growing number of trainers believe that massage can provide an extra edge to the athletes who participate in high performance sports. Massage has become a necessary ingredient for a complete workout. More and more people are realizing that a complete workout routine includes not only the exercise itself, but also caring for the wear-and-tear and minor injuries that naturally occur with strenuous movement. The physiological and psychological benefits of massage make it an ideal complement to a total conditioning program.

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