Massage is an ancient healing art that comes from both Western and Eastern traditions. Eastern traditions can be traced back centuries in China and India, as early as 1800 B.C. whereas Western traditions date back to ancient Greece and Rome. It is a scientific system of manipulations on the muscles and connective tissues of the body through the use of the hands or devices that mimic the action of the hands. Massage is generally used for relaxation, rehabilitation or health maintenance. Through research, massage has been found to be beneficial in the reduction of stress responses in the body, elevating immune responses, the reduction of blood pressure, improving senses of positive well-being, and pain reduction. These are just a few of the areas that have been researched over the past decade, in particular.
Swedish massage, developed by Per Henrick Ling, a 19th-century Swedish fencing master and gymnastics instructor, is also known in the profession as the Modern Western or classic style of massage. His approach, which combined hands-on techniques with active movements, now is perhaps the most common therapeutic massage modality in the West and the basis for many specialty massage practices. In Swedish massage, there are five basic strokes: effleurage, petrissage, friction, tapotement (or percussion), and vibration.
Effleurage strokes are long, fluid, and gliding and are often used as the first technique in a massage session. Through effleurage, oil or lotion can be distributed to the area of the body receiving the work, such as the back. It also starts the warming of the muscles and allows the massage therapist to assess areas of muscle tension. Petrissage is a kneading of the muscles that further warms the muscles, stimulates circulation to the area, and begins the relaxation of the muscles. Friction is a focused application to a particular section of a muscle generally used to relax taut muscles. Tapotement is a tapping or percussion technique that soothes the nerves and tones the skin. Vibration is a rhythmical trembling movement that also helps to soothe the nerves while relaxing the muscles.
There is no such thing as a “standard” massage therapy practice. Many massage therapists develop areas of specialty after their entry level training. Specialties might include relaxation therapy, on-site massage, spa-oriented massage, myofascial release, trigger point or neuromuscular therapy, and sports massage. Massage therapists might also specialize in a particular type of client, such as pregnant mothers, infants, athletes, geriatrics, or stressed employees. The use of on-site chair massage has increased in workplace settings. Other specialties include animal massage, particularly for dogs and horses (equine massage)
Education standards vary across the United States for entry level massage therapy, oftentimes driven by the regulation of the profession within the state. However, not all states require licensure, registration, or certification of massage therapists. In NC, a therapist is required to be licensed and has to have graduated from a school that provides 500 hours of education and has been approved by the Board of Massage and Bodywork Therapy. Additionally, the therapist has to pass a national certification exam from an agency that meets specific standards as stated in the practice act for massage and bodywork therapy.
What can an individual expect when going to receive a massage? The therapist should have you complete a health history and/or provide a background of any conditions that can be affected during the massage. The therapist should ask and answer questions as well as address any concerns that the client may have. Treatment options should be discussed prior to the start of the massage as well as clarification of procedures such as draping procedures and the length of the session. At any time before or during the massage, clients should feel free to ask questions and state if they experience any pain or discomfort.
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