Massage is a system of treatment by stroking, kneading or pressing the soft tissues of the body with the aim of achieving mental and physical relaxation and well being.
What can Massage treat?
Massage, particularly if received on a regular basis, can be used as a preventive therapy to help maintain good health and well-being and is beneficial for a wide range of conditions including:
- stress-related disorders such as high blood pressure and insomnia
- aches and pains caused by muscular tension
- headaches and migraines
- eating problems
- bloating, back pain and other conditions associated with pregnancy
- deficient immune functions
- sports injuries
Massage is one of the oldest forms of healing. Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician, recognised the benefits of body massage and massage therapy was also used by the Chinese thousands of years ago. However, it is Per Henrik Ling’s (1776-1839) ‘Swedish Movement Massage’ which forms the basis for many of the techniques used in the West today. The term ‘Swedish massage’ pays tribute to his work. However, the term ‘remedial massage’ is now increasingly used to distinguish between therapeutic massage, which can help maintain health and fitness, and general body massage, which is applied for its toning effects.
There are a huge number of different types of massage which are recognised and taught as specific disciplines. They include baby and neuromuscular massage as well as forms of massage associated with complementary and alternative therapies such as Shiatsu and Ayurveda. While there are differences of focus and practice, all massage involves forms of stroking and kneading applied to the body.
The therapeutic effects of massage are now widely recognised. Gentle massage can trigger the release of natural painkillers; stronger, more vigorous massage can help decongest tense muscles, increase muscle tone, encourage blood circulation and stimulate the lymphatic system, helping to eliminate toxins. It can also aid relaxation, directly affecting the body systems that govern heart-rate, blood pressure, respiration and digestion.
Consultation and treatment
During the initial consultation, you may be asked about medical history, lifestyle and general state of health including any current medication.
From there on, treatment varies. Swedish massage, for example, is based on body structure and muscles and is usually given on a special table. You may need to undress and therapists will use their hands to massage the back, the neck and the legs. During a Shiatsu massage, however, where treatment is given on a mat or futon, the practitioner may use his or her body weight to apply pressure. While Western massage is based on body structure and muscles, Oriental massage may work on acupressure points. Some forms of massage are soft and gentle; others vigorous, brisk and uncomfortable.
Pick the right kind of massage for you. Western massage, for example, is good for relieving stress; baby massage can help treat conditions such as colic and sleeplessness, chest infections; remedial massage can help with sports injuries. Treatment times vary, ranging from 20 minutes for a head, neck and shoulder massage to 2 hours for a full body massage.
Costs start from £20 for an hour and tend to be higher for initial consultations and home visits.
Self-massage is beneficial, although it is best to get someone else to do it for you! Simple techniques can be learnt from the many books available.
How to find a practitioner
Massage is unregulated. Many colleges and training establishments offer massage courses and training can vary in length from a couple of weekends to a couple of years.
The British Massage Therapy Council (BMTC) is a national organisation which incorporates over 1,000 practitioners of body massage in the UK. It has a register of trained therapists and a list of organisations and training schools. Currently, the Council recommends a minimum of nine months’ part time training.
Some practitioners may have qualifications from the International Therapy Examination Council (ITEC). ITEC provides short basic courses in massage, which comprises a minimum of 100 hours tuition. Contact the Institute of Complementary Medicine for a list of ITEC practitioners.
Those undergoing medical treatment should seek the advice of their GP before commencing treatment. Do not have a massage if you have:
- varicose veins (unless the therapist is highly experienced)
- high temperature or inflammation
- infective skin conditions
- the acute inflammatory stage of arthritis
- a history of strokes
- high blood pressure