Massage Therapy

People have been practicing massage as a healing therapy for centuries. Massage is currently the most widely used muscular therapy, with an estimated 100,000 practitioners in the U.S. Today, the term “therapeutic massage” refers to a range of manual therapies involving the manipulation of the soft-tissue structures in the body. In most cases, massage relieves muscle tension, reduces stress, and evokes feelings of calmness. Varieties of massage range from gentle stroking and kneading of muscles and other soft tissues to deeper manual techniques. Some focus on one specific function of the body (see lymphatic massage below). Others, such as trigger point and myotherapy, seek to relieve muscle contraction in a target area. Most practitioners rely on a combination of techniques. Currently, few clinical trials examine the effects of massage. However, practitioners believe that the therapeutic benefits of massage are due, in part, to its ability to affect changes in the musculoskeletal, circulator-lymphatic, and nervous systems.

Lymphatic Massage
You use lymphatic massage to stimulate lymphatic circulation, which helps the body eliminate toxins. Lymph stagnation may cause swelling and pain. Although all types of massage stimulate lymph flow, Vodder Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD), developed by Danish physical therapist Emil Vodder in France in the 1930s, focuses on draining excess lymph. In Europe, physicians frequently prescribe MLD for sprains, bruises, and muscular spasms caused by overuse or chronic tension. These physicians recommend it following certain surgeries to shrink swelling. Therapists generally use a very light pulsing touch along the lymph vessels.

Rolfing (structural integration)
Rolfing, developed in the 1940s by biophysicist Ida Rolf, seeks to realign the body so that it conserves energy, releases tension, moves more easily, restructures itself, and functions better neurologically. Rolfers apply pressure to the fascia-connective tissues between layers of muscle-to stretch it, lengthen it, and make it more flexible. Rolfing generally requires a basic series of 10 sessions-usually one per week. Practitioners take 700 hours of graduate-level courses at the Rolf Institute to become certified.

Myofascial Release
Myofascial release is based on a whole-body approach; the ultimate objective is to help the patient achieve postural changes and optimal body alignment. Injuries to fascia, or connective tissue, in one area of the body can put tension on adjacent areas-even areas far from the site of the injury. Therapists trained in myofascial release apply gentle, sustained pressure and stretching to injured fascia. Once the therapist identifies the problem area, he or she gently stretches the tissue along the direction of the muscle fibers until he or she feels resistance. The therapist holds this position until the soft tissue releases and repeats this process until all tissues are fully extended.

Trigger Point and Myotherapy
Trigger-point massage and myotherapy are pain-relief techniques for soothing muscle spasms and cramping. Therapists apply pressure to trigger points-tender areas where muscles have been damaged-and thereby increase blood flow to these areas. Because muscle spasms reduce the blood supply to involved tissues, applying pressure to these trigger points restores this decreased blood supply and soothes the spasms.

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