Massage therapy is a luxurious treat. The ultimate me-time and self-care. But there’s more to massage than self-indulgence: massage therapy is healthcare. It’s effective preventative care, and massage facilitates health maintenance and healing.
The health benefits of massage are so well recognized that many medical insurance plans offer some form of coverage for massage therapy. For those who have a Healthcare Flexible Spending Account (FSA), most programs allow you to claim whatever expenses you do incur from massage.
Consider massage therapy, then, a glorious two-birds, one-stone situation: you are both proactively attending to your health, and you’re pampering yourself.
The Many Benefits of Massage Therapy
The “ahhh” of massage is something people readily understand: massage therapy feels good. But how exactly is it healthcare? What are the health benefits of massage?
The American Massage Therapy Association lists twenty-five benefits of massage, including:
- Relieves stress
- Reduces anxiety
- Promotes better sleep
- Improves balance in older adults
- Relieves tension headaches
- Helps chronic neck pain
- Lowers blood pressure
Massage also helps heal injuries involving muscles and connective tissue, like strains, knots, and tendonitis. It facilitates recovery from surgery and helps you maintain or regain your range of motion, which is especially important as we age.
Hands-on therapy is great for your body, but it’s also contributes to psychological and emotional well-being. Massage helps lower levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone,” and increase levels of serotonin, a “feel good” chemical in the brain. So, in addition to reducing anxiety and stress—both of which have a strong negative impact on your psychological state—“massages treat a number of psychological issues: depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity, post-traumatic stress, and more,” states Indigo Triplett in an Inc. article. On an experiential level, massage simply helps you clear your mind and feel more emotionally balanced.
Anatomy of a Traditional Massage
There are many different types of massage, sometimes called massage modalities. The style most people have in mind when they talk about massage is Swedish massage. A Swedish massage session is typically 60 or 90 minutes and is a full-body massage using long, even strokes along the muscles with gentle to moderate pressure. The therapist may use their hands, fingers, or forearms.
Some people prefer the therapist to use stronger pressure, which can be particularly effective for relieving intense knots or freeing up areas that are really stiff or stuck. This is a deep tissue massage, or sometimes called a sports massage. For pregnant women, there is prenatal massage, which focuses on relieving the aches and strains of pregnancy while being sensitive to the unique precautions required when doing body work on someone who is pregnant. These are all variations on the Swedish massage.
Many massage therapists are trained in different modalities and techniques, and they may incorporate those into a massage if appropriate. For instance, a therapist may use short, fast strokes across the muscle fibers to break up tight muscles. Or they may use pressure-point therapy, pressing on certain spots of the body to help the muscles release.
Therapists certified to practice other modalities may offer sessions using only that style. For instance, at Body Balance massage in Pleasanton, therapists offer many wellness therapies, including Lomi Lomi, Gua Sha, Cupping, and La Stone Therapy. Every body responses differently to different treatments. Explore different modalities to find what works best for your body. We welcome queries about any of the therapies we offer.
Massage at Home
You don’t have to reserve massage solely for when you book with your favorite therapist. You can trade massages with a friend or your partner, or do self-massage. This seven-minute video shows how to relieve neck and shoulder stiffness:
You can easily massage your own feet and legs, too. Regular stretching or a yoga practice is another way to keep muscles long and relaxed, and to maintain a healthy range of motion and mobility outside of your (regular) massage appointments.
Let’s get real though, there’s nothing that compares to a great massage therapist giving you a great massage. And you’ll experience greater health benefits with a skilled professional. How wonderful is it that the great pleasure of massage therapy is also an effective wellness practice.