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Massage: The Power of Touch

Getting a massage is a good way to relax — learn about other benefits it may have.

woman getting a massage

For centuries, medical practitioners have relied on their hands. The laying on of hands has been a powerful healing tool. In our culture today, massage therapy is one form of laying on of hands.

Massage therapy is made up of many different techniques. Massage therapists manipulate soft tissues using their hands and fingers. But some therapists may even use their arms, elbows or feet. There are other types of manipulation therapy techniques, but the most common types of massage include:

  • Swedish massage. One of the most common forms of massage in the United States, this uses long strokes, kneading to help relax muscles. Circulation may improve .
  • Deep tissue. This massage focuses on the deeper layers of muscle tissue to release tension. It uses slow strokes and deep finger pressure.
  • Sports massage focuses on muscle systems that are used in a specific sport.
  • Chair massage. A massage of the shoulders, neck and back can be done while you are fully clothed and sitting in a massage chair.

What to expect

The therapist may begin by asking about your health history and stress level, and if any part of your body is especially sensitive or needs more attention. The therapist may also take into account your lifestyle and medications.

You will be asked to remove as much clothing as you are comfortable with — unless you’re getting a chair massage during which you remain clothed. For a full-body massage, you typically lie on a padded massage table. For modesty and comfort, a sheet is usually draped over your body. The therapist will fold it back to work on a specific body part. Often, the room is darkened and soft music is played.

Lotion or oil is typically used to reduce friction during massage. If you have allergies or sensitivities to scents, let your therapist know before he or she begins. It is important to let the therapist know if you have any discomfort during the massage or if the pressure is too light or too deep for you.

Health benefits

In a recent survey by the American Massage Therapy Association of people who had massage in the past year, 50 percent said the main reason was to help deal with a medical condition. Another 28 percent used massage to help relieve stress.

Some believe massage helps relieve symptoms of cancer and other chronic diseases. While more research is needed to prove these claims, some studies suggest that massage therapy may help:

  • Lower heart rate
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce symptoms of anxiety
  • Decrease depression
  • Relieve some types of pain
  • Improve sleep

Massage therapy is not meant to replace regular medical care or as a reason to postpone seeing a doctor. Discuss the pros and cons of massage with your doctor, especially if you are pregnant, have certain medical conditions, cancer or unexplained pain.

Most people can benefit from massage. However, massage may not be appropriate if you have:

  • Bleeding disorders or take blood-thinning medication
  • Burns, open or healing wounds
  • Blood clots
  • Severe osteoporosis
  • An infection

Finding a massage therapist

For names of qualified massage therapists in your area, contact the American Massage Therapy Association or the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).

By Susan G. Warner, Contributing Writer

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Massage therapy for health purposes: What you need to know. Accessed: November 23, 2016.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Massage therapy. Accessed: November 23, 2016.
American Massage Therapy Association. Types of massage. Accessed: November 23, 2016.
American Massage Therapy Association. What to expect at your massage session. Accessed: November 23, 2016.

Last Updated: November 23, 2016