How Therapeutic Is Massage?
Massage is an ancient art that dates back to the dawn of civilization. The name is derived from the Greek word meaning “to work with the hands, as in kneading dough.” And in 400 B.C., Hippocrates wrote that the physician must be experienced in many things, especially in rubbing.
Medicine has come a long way since the Father of Medicine wrote those words. Doctors no longer rely on the laying on of hands to heal their patients. Massage has come a long way, too. Masseurs are no longer viewed simply as high-priced locker room specialists (much less as shady ladies who need dough of a different sort), but as therapists.
Massage is respectable, but is it therapeutic? An estimated 25 million Americans visit about 90,000 practitioners 60 million times a year. Many feel better—but are they actually healthier? It’s a particularly interesting question for athletic men, who are increasingly using massage to treat exercise-related muscle soreness and to prevent sports injuries.
Massage therapy gained a foothold in American medicine some 150 years ago when two New York doctors introduced the technique developed by Per Henrik Ling in Sweden. Within a few years, many hospitals and clinics began to offer massage to their patients, and doctors themselves often performed the procedure. As medicine grew more complex, nurses and physical therapists took over the task. In time, they, too, turned to other roles, and massage was all but abandoned in the 1930s. Since the 1970s, however, it has staged a comeback, this time as part of alternative medicine.
Practitioners define massage as the manual manipulation of the body’s soft tissues to reduce discomfort and stress and promote wellness and health. It’s a broad definition, and it covers at least 80 different systems of massage.
Swedish massage still relies on Ling’s basic work, and it remains the most widely used method in the United States. The typical Swedish massage is performed with the client lying on a special table. The client may be naked or wearing undergarments. The therapist will usually ask if the client wishes to leave some parts of his body untouched. If so, those regions, along with the “privates,” are covered with a towel or sheet. The body is usually coated with oil. Dim lights, soothing music and scented candles are common, but optional.
Swedish massage uses:
Kneading using the fingers and thumbs
Friction using the palm, heel of the hand, forearm or elbow to apply force.
Rhythmic slapping or tapping motion
Vibration using a rapid trembling motion of both hands
A full Swedish massage is usually performed in a private area of the clinic for your privacy. A typical session lasts 30–60 minutes and costs $60–$100.
Many other types of massage are available, each with its own goals and claims; they include neuromuscular massage, sports massage, deep-tissue massage, myofacial release, and myotherapy. Similar soft tissue manipulations are also incorporated into many other systems, including Rolfing, the Trager and Alexander Methods, and Shiatsu.