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The Rubdown on Massage: A Mainstream Phenomenon

By Sheila O’Hearn

Humans and apes – what don’t we have in common, even the need for a relaxing massage! Apes groom each other and so do humans. In fact, whether animal or human, there’s nothing like a good body rub. After all, massage is “an extension of a basic instinct seen in animals and humans,” says Clare Maxwell-Hudson in the preface of Handbook of Clinical Massage (Elsevier Health Sciences, 2004) . Unlike the animal kingdom, however, we bipeds have developed massage both as an art form in its application and a welcome eco-friendly science in its technique.

Although the word, massage, comes from the Greek, masso, meaning “to knead”, artifact discoveries and cave wall etchings reveal that earlier prehistoric peoples used ointments and herbs, not only to ward off injury and infection, but also in massage to promote well-being. The Nei Ching, a Chinese medical text, is the earliest recorded reference of massage, written before 2500 BC. Hippocrates in 480 BC wrote extensively about massage and its benefits, while Avicenna of Arabia expounded the importance of herbal friction massage, exercise and hydrotherapy in the 10th century AD. Ambrose Pare in the 19th century developed Swedish massage, borrowing the best techniques from a variety of ancient cultures. During WW1 and WW2, shell-shocked soldiers were administered massage as a prescribed treatment. The list goes on.

Interestingly, massage fell from grace during the 1960s and ’70s, thanks to the rise of red-light status massage parlours and, also, new pharmaceuticals on the market, breakthrough antibiotics, and new time-saving techno-scientific bells and whistles. Today, the trials and errors of medication have made us wiser consumers. The need for an eco-friendly world has extended, microcosmically, to our bodies. From this standpoint, it is logical that massage would make a comeback – and what a homecoming it has received! One US report states that consumers spend $2 – 4 billion a year on visits to massage therapists, and 54 percent of primary care physicians and family practitioners refer their patients to a massage therapist.

This resurgence of massage has opened the door for new professional standards, education and delivery, in order to meet the growing demand. The words “licensed” or “registered” are the catchphrases for today’s trained massage therapist. Many spas and private practices have added a more extensive menu of massage treatment to reflect the cultural diversity of their clientele. Tantric, G-spot, four-handed massage — but a mere sampling of types. Techniques abound – Aruyvedic, Swedish, Thai, Asian-based, and more. Combinations of techniques may be applied for a more medically induced massage: acupressure, lymphatic drainage, reflexology, pregnancy massage. There is massage specific to sinus problems or headaches, as well as an assortment of deep tissue massage techniques: Rolfing, Trigger Point, Lomilomi, or Myofascial Release. Herbs, oils, floral fragrances, crystals, stones, even sound – are but a few tools in the massage therapist’s kit. In the present age, mobile therapists are the bomb! — bringing calm to the workplaces they visit on their rounds, helping to boost employee productivity.

Understandably, the many types of therapies can seem overwhelming to someone newly seeking treatment, but here’s the best rub of all — an educated, registered practitioner can help you decide quickly what’s right for you. Note that common to all massage-goers is the release of stress they feel and an ability to tackle the world with renewed confidence and energy – surely one up on the apes! And remember, although grooming each other began with our simian ancestors, we bipeds have perfected the ‘couples massage’. It’s the next ‘best kept secret’ at the spa, and at home. Learn to help your loved one relax and enjoy, and vice versa. Technique training and shared how-to’s are growing in popularity wherever spa massage can be found. Two is always better than one – aye, there’s the rub!

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Abbreviated Checklist of Massage Styles

Acupressure Massage Therapy
In which acupuncture points on the body receive pressure to stimulate the flow of energy or chi.

Deep Tissue or Muscle Massage Therapy
Focuses on body’s deeper muscles/connective tissues through stretching, movement and pressure.

Myofascial Release
Consists of heat from the therapist’s hands and gentle stretching of tissues (fascia) wrapped around muscles (myo) to make them more flexible.

Lomilomi Massage Therapy
Inspired by the ancient Polynesian islands. Considered soothing. Gently stretches various muscle groups.

Lymphatic Drainage
Uses gentle rhythmic, pumping movements that follow same direction as lymphatic flow under skin. Bolsters immune system, reduces swellings, eliminates toxins from the body.

Orthopedic Massage Therapy
Addresses chronic pain, especially in joints, repetitive stress and sports injuries.

Pregnancy Massage Therapy
Also called prenatal massage on women during and after pregnancy. Swedish massage techniques are used.

Reflexology Massage Therapy
Focuses on zone therapy, in which different body parts are stimulated in order to treat corresponding body areas – foot and hand most common.

Reiki Massage Therapy
Inspired by ancient Tibet, Reiki means “Univeral Life Energy” or “chi”. Aligns chakras and brings healing energy to muscles, organs, and glands. This massage is considered passive and gentle.

Rolfing Massage Therapy
Also called structural integration, the goal is less pain, more strength, by aligning body along the vertical by manipulating the myofascial tissue and muscle groups.

Shiatsu Massage Therapy
Ancient Japanese technique also called “finger pressure”. It combines acupuncture and modern massage styles: increases flow of oxygen by manipulating muscles.

Sports Massage Therapy
For stress and pain reduction and prevention, this combines with traditional physical therapy, blending Swedish techniques along with pressure point therapy, hydrotherapy, shiatsu, etc.

Swedish Massage Therapy
Known as “classic” or “Western” style, it’s used to relax, rehabilitate muscles and connective tissues. Five basic strokes help with blood circulation, speed of healing, swelling and pain reduction.

Thai Massage Therapy
Using oils and menthol creams, this is an intense therapy, combining Swedish, shiatsu massage therapy and yoga.

Trigger Point Massage Therapy
Massage to remove kinks, spasms, cramping where muscles or connective tissues are damaged or misaligned.