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There is much speculation as to where the term 'massage' originated from but experts believe it was born from the Greek word 'Massein' meaning 'to knead' or the Arabic word 'mash' which means 'to press softly'.
These two terms describe massage perfectly as though there are many variations of massage all of them primarily involve the use of touch and manipulation techniques to move muscles and body tissue to relieve stress, tension, pain and a whole host of other ailments.
Today massage is considered to be one of the fastest growing forces in healthcare, beauty therapy and sports and is now in use within certain NHS faculties which are recommending it in many instances to complement conventional medicine.
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History of massage
Massage has long since been used to heal aches and pains throughout history, the earliest known reference dating all the way back to 2700 BC in the Yellow Emperor's Book of Medicine from China which describes massage techniques and their use. Since then numerous cultures have built upon those foundations and we can now see a huge amount of varied massage styles and approaches.
Massage originated in the East where most cultures were unified in their belief that the body's energy needs balance and equilibrium in order for good health to be maintained, for instance massage techniques such as acupressure were developed based on energy meridian points which are stimulated during treatment to restore energy flow.
Asian and African families also championed the use of massage for their newborns and head massage has always played an integral part of a haircut in their culture.
The West first saw the introduction of massage during the ruling of the Roman Empire during which many Gymnasia were established in a number of Greek cities. This was around the time that massage began to be used in conjunction with exercise as a remedy for pain and this contributed to developments that were made in knowledge of anatomy and physiology.
Post Roman Empire the Arabs continued the development of massage and encouraged its use in public baths which are still in use today in parts of North Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean, Pakistan and Asia.
Between 1450 – 1600, knowledge of massage began to reach Europe and after it had established itself among medical schools news began spreading to other cities. During the sixteenth century French doctor and founder of modern surgery, Ambroise Para, began to use massage as a treatment for stiff and injured joints. Other European physicians began to follow suit and integrated the treatment into their practice to be used alongside conventional medicine.
One type of massage which most individuals will be familiar is Swedish massage, a style which was developed from techniques already used in Swedish gymnastics by Henrik Ling. From the early nineteenth century onwards Ling began teaching this system in Stockholm and prior to his death a pupil established a clinic in St Petersburg which continued to promote awareness of the treatment.
During the 1840's, Dr Mathia Roth, another former student of Ling, brought massage across the pond to Britain and two other students, American brothers Charles Taylor and George R Taylor MD laid the foundation for the therapy in the U.S around 1856. The next thirty years saw the popularity of the treatment rocket in popularity and as the years passed knowledge, availability and literature on the subject grew.
In recent decades we have come to associate massage very strongly with sports as professionals began to recognise the medical merits of the treatment for injuries and their prevention. Another area which has taken massage by the reins and helped to bring it into mainstream awareness was that of beauty therapy which champions the treatment for its relaxation and health benefits alike.
Types of Massage
There are numerous different types of massage to choose from, and you will need to research them in order to find out which one is right for you and your individual circumstances. For instance if you are in search of a practitioner who needs to help you recover from a sporting injury then you will probably opt for neuromuscular or remedial massage, both of which aim to aid the healing of an injury using techniques such as locating and treating the damaged muscle. Contrastingly, those seeking a relaxing, pampering spiritual experience will probably opt for something which offers both physical and mental benefits such as hot stone massage.
Listed below are a number of massages, all of them with different aims, approaches and benefits:
Acupressure is a term which describes a technique based on similar principles to those of acupuncture. Similarly to many other holistic therapies, both acupuncture and acupressure believe that all physical and mental illnesses are caused by an imbalance within the body.
When an individuals 'qi' otherwise known as vital energy is unable to flow freely throughout, the body's energy meridians may become obstructed and clogged with built up energy. The aim of both these therapies and indeed many other holistic treatments is to alleviate this build up of 'qi' re-stimulating it once again so that the body can reach its equilibrium.
The difference between acupuncture and acupressure lies in the method of application. Acupressure does not involve the use of needles and instead applies gentle pressure with the fingers and thumbs to stimulate the stagnant 'qi' in the meridians. When this pressure is applied muscular tension is released and blood and 'qi' circulation is stimulated, helping the body to repair itself.
This treatment can be beneficial for both physical ailments and emotional issues.
Amatsu believes that physical and emotional tensions caused by incidents of the past often become trapped inside the body. The aim of amatsu is to release these tensions allowing individuals to cope more effectively in their lives.
In order to achieve this there are certain components which must be in balance. The physical body, nutrition, 'qi', mind/emotions and environment can be levelled through the stimulation and manipulation of the body's energy system. Motion tests may also be used to check the body's structure and functions.
Though there is currently no concrete evidence proving the efficacy of amatsu, many practitioners and patients believe the process encourages co-ordination, stabilises the skeleton, removes toxins from circulation and balances the cranio-sacral system.
Bowen is an energy vibrational therapy in which the therapist rolls their fingers and thumbs over the muscle, nerve and connective tissue areas in a sequence which incorporates periods of rest.
The aim of bowen is to reset our body's system and trigger it's natural self healing process. Bowen is able to achieve this through its comfortable and pain free sets of moves. In most cases pain is a catalyst for response, meaning that the moment we are in danger we very quickly determine how to respond. Because bowen moves are painless and don't provoke a response, our bodies are given a much needed break.
Deep Lypmphatic Therapy
The lymphatic system is a collection of vessels and nodes which collect and neutralise alien protein or ingested bacteria in the body. Often when we experience something traumatic in our lives these vessels and nodes become congested and over time this congestion will build until eventually there are areas which are surrounding by fluid. It is this action which causes ailments within the body and some people have even reported seeing an increase in body size.
The aim of deep lymphatic therapy is to release the built up fluid using deep tissue massage which is performed on each part of the body before hot fomentation is applied (otherwise known as steam heat). This process is used to liquefy everything the massage has managed to break down and returns the body to its normal state.
Deep tissue massage
Chronic muscle tension is usually caused by ligaments and bands of painful rigid tissue known as adhesions. Adhesions can block our circulation, causing inflammation and limiting our movement.
Deep tissue massage aims to physically break down adhesions which relieves pain and restores normal movement as well as releasing chronic patterns of tension in the body. To do this the massage therapist applies slow and pressurised movements using deep strokes and finger pressure on concentrated areas following muscles, tendons and fascia.
A key aim of deep tissue massage is to eradicate the blockages that often cause muscle tightness by increasing the circulation of blood, lymph, cerebro-spinal and interstitial fluid - though as yet there is no scientific evidence to prove the treatment is effective in doing so.
In the 1970's an aerospace engineer named Joseph Heller developed a form of bodywork which we know today as hellerwork. Hellerwork is a therapy which aims to re-educate the body's movement by manipulating soft tissue. The treatment differs from conventional medicine because much like other holistic therapy it recognises the relationship between the body and the mind.
Hellerwork believes that each part of the body is related to a certain emotion, for instance the feet and arms are linked to childhood and the core muscles of the spine and abdomen are linked to repressed emotions.
An initial consultation is usually standard practice before treatment commences and it will usually involve a discussion between you and your therapist regarding medical history, lifestyle, symptoms and emotional well being. This will allow your practitioner to formulate an appropriate treatment plan.
The session itself will be a combination of deep tissue massage, instructions to reduce movement and emotional counselling and it is a particularly popular treatment for chronic pain.
Hellerwork is said to be effective in relieving pain caused by certain injuries as well as assisting in stress and tension relief.
Indian Head Massage
Indian head massage is an Ayurvedic form of healing and relaxation which has been practiced in India for over 1000 years. Though the treatment was first applied only to the head and hair area as a remedy for dry scalp conditions in India, it is now a much broader therapy which incorporates the upper back, shoulders, upper arms and face in the belief that they are all important centres of energy.
This massage is usually performed on a client whilst they are sitting down and the therapist will use a range of pressure and rhythms to stimulate the head, neck, upper back and shoulder areas.
Indian head massage has been championed for its therapeutic properties, not only providing relief from certain physical ailments but also promoting relaxation, concentration and energy.
Hot Stone Massage
A hot stone massage does exactly what it says on the tin and is the term used to describe a variation of massage which employs the use of hot stones to treat a number of health concerns.
Before you arrive your therapist will be busy preparing for your massage by sanitising and heating the stones to precise temperatures in water. Generally therapists warm up the body with traditional Swedish massage before gradually beginning to introduce both hot and cold stones. The massage will continue with the use of the stones and often your therapist may leave heated stones along your spine, on your belly or on other various points of your body. As a stone begins to cool it will be replaced with another.
The cold stones are used to reduce inflammation and swelling and are thought to have a pain relieving effect. The combination of hot and cold is said to stimulate the blood flow, increasing lymph drainage which subsequently improves cell and physical metabolism.
In terms of benefits, whilst there is no scientific proof to demonstrate that the massage treatment actually works for the following, it is also commonly used in the treatment of muscular problems and to promote the body's innate ability to self-heal. In addition, the change between hot and cold temperatures is also said to clear the body of toxins, cleanse the lymphatic system, release pent up emotions, reduce inflammation, relieve muscular tension, enhance mobility and leave individuals feeling rejuvenated.
Manual lymphatic Drainage
The lymphatic system is a network of vessels that carry a clear fluid known as lymph which bathes cells and carries nutrients to them before returning to the blood stream. The lymphatic system plays an essential part of the immune system and helps to fight infection within the body.
The purpose of manual lymphatic drainage is to remove toxins and any excess lymph from the body by stimulating the lymphatic system with the use of specialised massage techniques.
Massage techniques involving rhythmic and gentle moves will encourage the lymph towards the lymph nodes where the body is able to eject waste more easily. This technique also helps to stimulate any build ups, which have been known to cause swelling of the tissues.
Benefits are said to include improved functionality of the immune system, clearer and more healthy looking skin and an increase in energy and vitality (though as yet there is no scientific evidence to prove the treatment is effective in doing so).
Neuromuscular therapy is a form of massage which applies concentrated pressure to specific muscle areas in order to break the cycle of muscle spasm and pain. The discomfort and pain will usually be caused by overworked, hypersensitive muscles which are sending pain messages to the brain and spinal chord.
Treatment aims to locate the muscles, use the pressure point technique and eliminate the dysfunction by releasing the build up of lactic acid in the muscles, returning the blood and oxygen flow to normal.
This technique is often used in combination with remedial and sports massage and is used primarily for rehabilitation and injury work, though there are many additional benefits.
Neuromuscular therapy is said to help individuals on a number of levels from physical right through to mental and emotional. On a physical level muscle tension, stiffness, trapped nerves and spasms can be reduced - all of which contribute to an increase and ease of movement. Mentally and emotionally individuals are likely to experience a greater feeling of overall well-being, a reduction in stress and anxiety and a heightened awareness of mind body connection. (Please be aware, there is currently no concrete evidence to prove the therapy can trigger the above effects.)
Reflexology involves the massage and pressure application to certain areas of the feet. It is based upon the principle that each reflex in the foot is linked to the area of the body which they effect, for example the tips of the toe correspond to the head, the left side of the foot to the left side of the body and the ball of the foot to the heart and chest.
Pressure is applied to the reflexes linked to the area of the body in which the ailment is occurring in order to promote healing but is also known to have additional benefits.
Reiki is a system of healing which originates from Japan. The aim of the therapy is to promote overall well-being through the application of a healing touch which conducts energy from the giver to the receiver. A channel of positive energy is passed over to the receiver through touch, working on the mind, body and spirit by stimulating the body's self healing system.
Reiki and massage are two separate things, but many massage therapists who are trained in reiki have chosen to combine the two practices and vice versa. This enables them to provide individuals with spiritual well-being as well as physical well-being in their treatments.
Remedial massage is an effective way of preventing and treating muscle injuries and pain, using deep tissue massage to remove blockages and damaged cells in order to reduce recovery time and encourage healing. It can also effectively remove scar tissue from old injuries which reduces chances of a repeat injury. It is commonly used to treat back pain as it increases blood supply to soft tissue and if used regularly it can prevent small sporting injuries from becoming more serious and reducing sporting performance.
Shiatsu is a form of Japanese massage which uses pressure from fingers, thumbs, knees, elbows and feet to improve the body's flow of vital energy known as 'Ki'. The technique involves applying the pressure to areas of sensitivity along the energy meridians to promote good health and relaxation as well as preventing stress build up and treating specific ailments.
Shiatsu is thought to have many benefits on both a physical and emotional level.
Sports massage aims to lighten the stress and tension which builds in the body's tissues as a response to physical activities. Sporting injuries usually occur as a result overexertion and massage works extremely well at breaking them down efficiently through the manipulation and rehabilitation in the soft tissues of the body including muscles, ligaments and tendons.
The techniques employed by practitioners have been developed in such a way to ensure effective results are gained from each massage. Those who seek out this therapy for sporting performance will find that it can be of assistance throughout all stages training, during and post competition as well as providing injury recovery and prevention. However, it is not just the sports men and women who can benefit as sports massage has much to offer to everyone. It is known improve circulation and lymphatic flow as well as helping the flushing out of metabolic waste and assisting the increase or decrease of muscle tone and length.
Sports massage has long since been used by athletes to help heal and prevent injuries, popularly used for pain and anxiety reduction and relaxation.
Swedish massage is considered to be among one of the first styles of massage to be developed, dating back to the 1700's during which is was established by Swedish doctor Henrik Ling. Over the years it has evolved into the popular therapy we know today but the five core techniques still remain almost exactly the same as they did back in the 1700's.
The five core techniques administered in Swedish massage are as follows:
- Effleurage: Long gliding strokes.
- Petrissage: Lifting and kneading the muscles.
- Friction: Firm: Deep circular rubbing movements.
- Tapotement: Brisk tapping or percussive movements.
- Vibration: Rapidly shaking or vibrating specific muscles.
The aim of Swedish massage is to increase the body's absorption of oxygen which helps the body to rejuvenate. It also contributes to the detoxification process which speeds up the rate at which cells eliminate waste in a process which involves flushing the lactic acid, uric acid and other waste from the tissues.
Additionally it stimulates the skin and nervous system and exercises the ligaments and tendons to ensure they are kept supple. The entire process is extremely relaxing and is championed for its ability to reduce both emotional and physical stress.
Lomi Lomi Massage
Hawaiian lomi lomi, otherwise known as 'the loving touch' was kept a secret within certain families for many years, until esteemed elder Aunty Margaret Machado decided to teach anyone who wanted to learn. The technique has since been passed down for generations to those who are considered 'the chosen ones' , once the torch has been passed to them they will spend their life learning and practicing the art of healing until it is time to pass their knowledge to someone else.
Like many variations of massage lomi lomi relaxes the body and treats muscle pains extremely well but in addition to this it is also known for its ability to establish a deep connection between practitioner and patient and this contributes to a very intense experience.
Similarly to many other holistic therapies, Lomi Lomi is based on the premise that the body requires balance to function at its optimum level and any blockages of energy could result in sickness. Lomi Lomi intends to release these blockages and restore the energy with the use of its specialist set of techniques.
Lomi Lomi massage is said to help let go of built up tension, improve circulation, assist with waste removal, enhance flexibility, increase concentration and reduce anxiety.
What training and qualifications does a Massage Therapist need?
Though in some parts of the country local authorities require massage practitioners to obtain a license to practice there is generally very little legislation to regulate the profession. Up until August 2008 the London Local Authorities Act used to require all premises where 'special treatments' such as massage took place, to hold a license from the local authority. However this act was given an overhaul and many organisations became exempt from this requirement.
Like many other complementary and alternative therapies, the massage therapy profession has seen the establishment of many professional associations which have taken on the role of voluntary self regulation. Massage Therapists can choose to register with these organisations and become accredited but in order to do so must meet certain requirements which have been set by the organisation as well as agreeing to comply with their code of ethics and complaints procedure.
Though the requirements set will differ from one association to the other, generally they will involve a high standard of training and experience.
Listed below are a number of professional associations which have taken on a voluntary role of self regulation for massage therapy. The list is not exhaustive, but does feature the main organisations. Please note this information is subject to change and for full information about accreditation visit the professional bodies' websites below:
The Association of Biodynamic Massage Therapists is a professional association which lists therapists who have completed a minimum of one year's training. All are required to be in supervision and must agree to adhere to a professional code of ethics and carry full insurance.
The International Association of Infant Massage is an association which is dedicated to supporting and promoting the practice of infant massage through training, education and research.
The Institute of Sport and Remedial Massage works to support the interests and development of those within the profession. Members must agree to adhere to the associations code of ethics and conduct and also carry out continued professional development.
The Massage Training Institute is a professional association which accredits training schools offering practitioner level courses leading to the MTI Diploma in Holistic Massage with Anatomy, Physiology & Pathology. In order to become accepted onto the MTI Practitioner Register, practitioners must hold insurance, agree to be bound by the Code of Ethics and must present evidence of continued professional development each year they renew their membership.
The National Association of Massage and Manipulative therapists aim to represent and promote remedial massage and manipulative therapists throughout the UK.
All members are governed by a code of ethics and professional conduct and must be fully insured.
The Sports Massage Association (SMA) was launched in 2002 as a way of helping the public to understand which practitioners were appropriately qualified. Over the years the association has developed and not only aims to protect and inform the public but also to support the profession and encourage further training and practice.
All content displayed on Therapy Directory is for provided for general information purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for advice given by your GP or any other healthcare professional. Whilst some people have benefited from complementary and alternative therapies, no claims can be made to treat, cure or heal, and we strongly advise individuals with any health problem to seek independent medical advice from their GP before considering complementary or alternative medicine or treatment.Submit feedback on this page