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Massage Therapy

Massage therapy is a manual means of rubbing and kneading soft tissues of the body to stimulate circulation and promote relaxation of muscles. There are many forms of massage therapy in use throughout the world, including Swedish, deep tissue, Tui Na, Hawaiian, and others. For the most part, this article discusses the form most commonly used in sports medicine in the United States, a derivation of Swedish massage therapy.


Purpose of Massage Therapy

Massage therapy helps the muscles relax by stimulating a reflex response of the nervous system. The application of smooth, steady, rhythmical massage therapy can relieve tension and soothe sore muscles. This decrease in muscle tension causes the muscle to become more relaxed and elastic. Also, massage therapy's effect on the circulatory system is beneficial for the healing of soft tissue injuries.

massage therapy's ability to aid in the recovery from soft tissue injuries, such as sprains and strains, is an important use of massage therapy. Many soft tissue injuries are not serious enough to cause a visit to the doctor or hospital for treatment. Therefore, many injuries are treated with first aid; but they still may cause some discomfort and disability long after the initial injury. massage therapy can speed and improve the rate of recovery and reduce discomfort from such mishaps.

To understand how massage therapy helps healing in cases of soft tissue injury, it is important to understand the inflammatory process. Inflammation begins because blood circulates to the injured area to bring important chemicals essential for healing. After a period of time, the initial inflammation stops. If applied at this point, massage therapy will help again increase circulation, and thus promote healing, as the increased blood flow brings additional oxygen and nutrients to the injured area. In this way, massage therapy helps bridge the gap between common neglect of injury and major expensive medical intervention.

Massage therapy can also help stimulate the flow of lymph, the fluid that helps the body remove waste products. massage therapy helps facilitate the flow of lymph to areas where pain has slowed down the ability of this natural cleanser to remove the waste products of the injury.

Massage therapy can affect muscles directly by stimulating inactive muscles whose inactivity is due to illness or injury. Deep continuous massage therapy can relieve muscle tension and help prevent painful muscle spasms, which are common following injury. Also, massage therapy can stretch and break down fibrous scar tissue that is not healing properly because it is not aligned to the adjoining muscle fibers.

Massage therapy affects pain through the central nervous system. In one particular theory of pain called the "gate theory," message therapys of pain which normally travel from the injury to the brain, are blocked before reaching the centers responsible for interpreting pain. massage therapy helps stimulate and close the so-called gate of pain massage therapy therapys. As a result, the intensity of the pain perceived by the brain is decreased.

Psychosomatic studies show how stress factors can cause migraines, hypertension, depression, some peptic ulcers, etc. Some researchers have estimated that 80% of disease is stress related. Soothing and relaxing massage therapy therapy can help reduce illness by counteracting stress effects.


    massage therapy usually is not recommended for individuals with a circulatory problem; it could produce complications in individuals with high blood pressure or a history of heart trouble. Injury to bone can occur if massage therapy is performed too soon after injury over an area of advanced osteoporosis or bone fracture. Also, in cases of cancer, massage therapy is contra-indicted because an increase in circulation might help the cancer spread more rapidly. Severe diabetes, skin infection, tubercular joints, burns, or abrasions may also be indications that massage therapy should be avoided.

    When selecting a massage therapy therapist, it is important to check his or her credentials, including whether he or she has graduated from a school approved by a credible accrediting agency, such as the Commission for massage therapy Training Accreditation (COMTA). Also one could check whether the therapist is a member of AMTA (American massage therapy Therapy Association).


    massage therapy is a valuable tool in the management of many musculoskeletal disorders. While there are many forms of massage therapy in use around the world, Swedish type massage therapy is the type most commonly used in sports medicine in the United States. Sports medicine massage therapy can be separated into five basic categories.


    Effleurage is primarily a stroking technique that is divided into light and deep methods. Light stroking methods are used to sedate, while deeper stroking provides a method to compress the soft tissue and encourage circulation.


    Petrissage is a kneading procedure used on loose, heavy tissues found in larger muscle groups of the body. This kneading action wrings out the muscle, which results in loosening adhesions left from the healing process, and squeezing out unwanted waste materials, thus facilitating movement of these waste products back into the circulatory system.

    Friction massage therapy

    Friction massage therapy is a useful method applied around joints and other areas where tissues are thin and more resilient. This includes scars and adhesions -- the goal being to stretch underlying tissues and exert friction on the area. Friction massage therapy is also utilized to increase circulation, especially around a joint.


    In the massage therapy technique termed tapotement, a portion of the body is tapped in a rhythmic manner with the fingers or sides of the hands, using short, rapid repetitive movements. This method can be performed by several techniques including cupping with the hands to create a dull hollow sound, or hacking, using the little finger side of the hand to strike the surface of the skin and rhythmically tapping with the finger tips.


    Vibration produces a quivering or trembling in the muscle and soft tissue. It is used primarily to soothe and promote relaxation. Vibration may be produced either manually or with the aid of a electrical vibrator machine.


    The client will undress and lie, totally draped, on a massage therapy table. Only the area being massage therapyd will be undraped. Since the client may have to be helped to relax prior to the massage therapy, coaching the subject to feel at ease becomes an important aspect of the preparation. Then, in many instances, heat or ice may be applied prior to the massage therapy. Heat is helpful to enhance relaxation and circulation. Cold, in the form of ice, can be helpful for pain reduction if the area is slightly tender.


During the final portion of the massage therapy, light stroking methods are used to help relax tissues that may have been previously stimulated from more aggressive kneading techniques. The individual is often shown stretching exercises he may use to help continue the benefits the massage therapy has produced in muscle flexibility and pain reduction.


massage therapy can have adverse effects if not used properly, or if used over inappropriate areas. massage therapy will also have a negative effect if applied over an area that is infected. massage therapy over a recent injury may increase the inflammation and possibly cause additional soft tissue injury.

Normal results

If massage therapy is applied properly and under the correct conditions, muscle relaxation occurs along with increased circulation resulting in the enhancement of the healing process for the individual.

Abnormal results

If an individual has poor circulation, abnormal results are possible, such as a decrease or unwanted fluctuation in blood supply to critical areas of the body. As noted, massage therapy can produce abnormal blood flow in individuals with high blood pressure or a history of heart trouble. Injury to bone can occur if massage therapy is performed too soon over a bone fracture, or over an area of advanced osteoporosis.


This web site is intended for your own informational purposes only. No person or entity associated with this web site purports to be engaging in the practice of medicine through this medium. The information you receive is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a physician or other health care professional. If you have an illness or medical problem, contact your health care provider.


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