Massage therapist Michelle Clemens likes to compare the human body to a car.
It’s an easy way to explain how “routine maintenance” needs to be performed.
“We forget that our body is really a machine,” Clemens said. “It’s just like with a car. We need regular oil changes.”
The “oil change” she refers to is massage. Something that was once thought of as a relaxation method is now much more commonplace and is viewed by medical professionals as necessary to keep the body healthy.
In fact, according to Netwellness.com, massage can be used as a way to increase circulation, enhance the immune system, promote nervous system function, reduce blood pressure, relieve muscle tension and pain, and improve mood, intellectual reasoning and job performance.
While most of the clients Clemens sees are referred to her by a physician or chiropractor for therapeutic massage, more and more, people are using massage as a way to maintain good health.
“When a doctor refers someone, it’s usually because of a specific problem, like a muscle strain or sprain, or post surgery for a torn rotator cuff, or even for headaches,” she said. “We start with a clear diagnosis and work on the soft tissue.”
But some clients come for routine maintenance, as a way to get rid of the tightness, stress and tension that is brought on by every day work.
“I think we sometimes under value the benefits of massage,” she said. “So often today, we sit at a desk all day and the tension and stress builds up in our body. The more stress in our body the worse it performs.”
Massage, however, can counteract that by allowing muscle tissue to loosen and hence, restoring better blood flow to all parts of the body, she said.
Specifically, people with circulatory problems can benefit from massage, which lengthens muscles so that they are not contracted. Too, the fascia, a thin sheath of fibrous tissue enclosing a muscle or other organ, is helped.
“Fascia is intertwined into every muscle tissue in the body,” Clemens said. “It’s a huge part of our structure. It’s wrapped around all of our organs and it plays a big factor in our overall health.”
Massage keeps the fascia hydrated and keeps fluid reaching all of the muscles, she said.
“When both are tight, it limits our ability to move properly.”
And she added that drinking fluids after a massage can help rid the body of the toxins that have broken loose during a massage.
Another benefit of massage is that it can help our thinking processes.
“Massage regulates the nervous system,” she said. “Mood can be improved because massage helps release the good endorphins. And when you feel better, you can work more productively.”
When the myofascia surrounding muscle tissue and organs is tight, the body will not function at optimum health. It can be a cause of paiun and dysfunction.
“The digestive system can be affected,” she said. “And if you are tight and tense, you don’t breath properly. So routine massage can help with these body functions, too.”
Often times people will experience problems with their sciatic nerve which results in numbness down the leg. This happens when tight muscles put pressure on the nerve.”
“That happens when the muscles near the spine invade the sciatic nerve,” she said. “Working on loosing the muscles near that nerve to clear that up relieves the numbness and pain.”
Another benefit of routine massage, is to strengthen the body to prevent injury, Clemens said.
“We want to be able to prevent injuries in those people who are athletic,” she said. “By strengthening muscles and keep them elastic, it means less chance of injury.”
She also suggests that anyone considering massage look for someone who is licensed by the state and if possible, get referrals from previous clients. Consult the state’s website at http://www.doh.wa.gov/LicensesPermitsandCertificates/ProfessionsNewReneworUpdate/MassageTherapist to find if a therapist’s credentials are current.
Look for therapists who also are members of the American Massage Therapy Association. For more go to www.amtamassage.org.
Here is a quick guide to some of the most popular types of massage therapy.
Swedish Massage Therapy: This is the most common type of massage therapy in the United States. It is also known as Swedish massage or simply massage therapy. Massage therapists use long smooth strokes, kneading, and circular movements on superficial layers of muscle using massage lotion or oil. Swedish massage therapy can be very gentle and relaxing. If you’ve never had a massage before, this is a good one to try first.
Aromatherapy Massage: Aromatherapy massage is massage therapy with adding one or more scented plant oils called essential oils to address specific needs. The massage therapist can select oils that are relaxing, energizing, stress-reducing, balancing, etc. One of the most common essential oils used in aromatherapy massage is lavender.
Aromatherapy massage is particularly suited to stress-related conditions or conditions with an emotional component.
Hot Stone Massage: Heated, smooth stones are placed on certain points on the body to warm and loosen tight muscles and balance energy centers in the body. The massage therapist may also hold stones and apply gentle pressure with them. The warmth is comforting. Hot stone massage is good for people who have muscle tension but prefer lighter massage.
Deep Tissue Massage: Deep tissue massage targets the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue. The massage therapist uses slower strokes or friction techniques across the grain of the muscle. Deep tissue massage is used for chronically tight or painful muscles, repetitive strain, postural problems, or recovery from injury. People often feel sore for one to two days after deep tissue massage.
Shiatsu: This is a form of Japanese bodywork that uses localized finger pressure in a rhythmic sequence on acupuncture meridians.
Each point is held for two to eight seconds to improve the flow of energy and help the body regain balance. People are normally pleasantly surprised when they try shiatsu for the first time. It is relaxing yet the pressure is firm, and there is usually no soreness afterward.
Thai Massage: Like shiatsu, Thai massage aligns the energies of the body using gentle pressure on specific points. Thai massage also includes compressions and stretches.
You don’t just lie there – the therapist moves and stretches you into a sequence of postures. It’s like yoga without doing any work. Thai massage is more energizing than other forms of massage. It also reduces stress and improves flexibility and range of motion.
Pregnancy Massage: Also called prenatal massage, pregnancy massage is becoming increasingly popular with expectant mothers. Massage therapists who are certified in pregnancy massage know the proper way to position and support the woman’s body during the massage, and how to modify techniques.
Pregnancy massage is used to reduce stress, decrease swelling, relieve aches and pains, and reduce anxiety and depression. The massage is customized to a woman’s individual needs.
Reflexology: Although reflexology is sometimes called foot massage, it is more than simple foot massage. Reflexology involves applying pressure to certain points on the foot that correspond to organs and systems in the body. Reflexology is very relaxing, especially for people who stand on their feet all day or just have tired, achy feet.
Sports Massage: Sports massage is specifically designed for people who are involved in physical activity. But you don’t have to be a professional athlete to have one – it’s also used by people who are active and work out often. The focus isn’t on relaxation but on preventing and treating injury and enhancing athletic performance. Strokes are generally faster than Swedish massage. Facilitated stretching is a common technique. It helps to loosen muscles and increase flexibility.
Back Massage: Some massage clinics and spas offer 30-minute back massages. If a back massage is not expressly advertised, you can also book a 30- or 40-minute massage and ask that the massage therapist to focus on your back.
This article originally appeared in Kitsap Living – Winter 2017.