Massage therapy offers some specific medical benefits. For example, it has been found to relieve stress and lower high blood pressure. Massage can also improve circulation, which means the muscles are better nourished by increased blood flow. Finally, massage can strengthen the immune system. Not surprisingly, massage can improve flexibility and range of motion as well as posture because it helps reduce muscle spasm. Many clients find they breathe more deeply and easily after massage treatments. Massage has also been found to relieve headaches. People who have had surgery often find their rehabilitation progresses faster when coupled with massage therapy.
The stroking, kneading and other techniques of massage therapy tap into the human need for touch. The skin is loaded with special receptor cells that send messages to the brain, and massage stimulates these cells, producing pleasurable sensations. Many massage techniques stimulate the brain to release natural painkillers called endorphins. Runners describe the pleasure of a “runner's high,” which results from endorphins; massage can have similar effects. Massage helps individual muscles relax, but it also relaxes the entire body. The physical pressure of massage increases blood flow to the area, which helps promote healing and remove waste products from the muscles. Massage also stimulates the lymphatic system, helping to clear toxins from the body.
Although many massage techniques are the same or similar, each type of massage has certain characteristics and effects. Relaxation massage is just what it sounds like, gentle, flowing strokes, kneading, and gentle muscle manipulation, with the goal of relaxation. Swedish massage is typically more vigorous than relaxation massage and uses firm circular pressure, tapping, stretching and bending. The purpose of sports massage is to improve athletic performance and prevent injury. Deep tissue massage is used to realign the muscles, with very firm pressure and a focus on the deeper muscle layers, tendons and fascia (the tight covering over a muscle).
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