What is Massage Therapy and How Does It Work

Introduction to massage therapy

How would you classify your activity level? Are you an active person, engaging in recreational and physical exercise on a regular basis? Do you work or study from home and find yourself sitting in front of the computer for long hours each day? Regardless of your current activity level, the fact of the matter is that the human body was designed to move, push, pull, stretch, and expend energy in ways that promote greater rest and relaxation. If we are not given these opportunities to move, we find ourselves with more muscle tension, more stress, and greater discomfort in the form of aches and pains. Packing on a few extra pounds further exacerbates the strain on our muscles, tendons and joints, making even the most routine movement painful.

Who knew that a sedentary lifestyle could have such adverse effects on the body? Unless you make a conscious effort to exercise or remain physically active, you may find yourself in need of some massage therapy to work out those stiff and sore muscles and give you relief from nagging pain.

What is massage therapy

Massage therapy is a type of treatment during which a trained massage or physical therapist manually stimulates soft tissues in your body—-your muscles, connective tissue, tendons, ligaments and skin—in an effort to stimulate the release of toxins and promote greater relaxation. A massage therapist will apply various methods of pressure and movement to remove muscle knots, help to release toxic build up, and improve circulation to all areas of the body. While it is still largely regarded as a complementary integrative medicine, more and more insurance companies and medical practitioners alike are beginning to see the necessity of regular massage therapy as part of a total health and wellness plan.

Best types of massage for me

In order to find a massage therapist that will provide effective treatment, it is a good idea to know what you are looking to get from this type of therapy. What issues or conditions do you presently struggle with? Has your pain been chronic, or is it the result of a recent acute injury that needs attention? Do you have a medical condition that is accompanied by low grade, chronic pain, or are you merely seeking preventative care to look and feel your best? Whatever your reasons for seeking out massage therapy, knowing a bit more about the options that are available to you will help you determine what kind of treatment to look for. Some of your massage options include:


1. Swedish massage

If you are someone who is new to massage therapy, or you are particularly sensitive to touch, Swedish massage may be the perfect way to dip your toes into the therapy pool. Ideal for those who want full-body relaxation and relief from problematic muscle knots, this type of muscle manipulation will leave you feeling calm and relaxed, while experiencing welcome relief from tension. Your therapist will use a combination of kneading, long sweeping strokes to improve circulation, and gently tapping to work out areas of the body that need relief.


2. Hot stone massage

You’ve seen it before—this luxurious spa scene in which people are lying facedown amidst serene beauty, large stones placed along the spine as part of their self care session. What are those stones for, anyway?

Hot stone massage uses heated stones in place of manual stimulation to ease muscle and joint pain, remove tension from areas of the body, and provide greater relaxation. Gentle pressure is applied around the area in which the stones are placed, and the warmth of the stone penetrates deep into the body, aiding in improving circulation and stimulating a healing response within the body.


3. Aromatherapy massage

The use of aromatherapy and essential oils in massage therapy is like a breath of freshened, enhanced air, for the results are enhanced through application of therapeutic grade essential oils. The intention behind the use of essential oils is to combine mental and emotional health benefits with physical stimulation of the body to bring whole brain, whole body relief. Oils can be inhaled, applied directly to the skin, or used in a diffuser during your massage session. Tell your massage therapist if you have preferences or a certain intention for your session, and they will work with you to design the perfect massage experience.


4. Deep tissue massage

Not for the faint of heart or the delicate in constitution, deep tissue massage is likely to bring up some body and mind issues if you have them. Deep tissue massage works to get deep into muscle and connective tissue, working out years of pain and toxic residue that live in our bodies. The more you can stimulate the release of this stress and toxicity, the more rejuvenated and alive you’ll feel. Please note that deep tissue release can have temporary side effects of nausea, pain, and headache, but these pass as your body begins to adjust to a lighter load. Deep tissue massage may not be for new massage clients; talk to your therapist to see what type of therapy will work best for you.

Several other types of massage therapies are used to relieve pain and promote total body health, including:

  • Sports massage–to relieve pain due to injuries
  • Trigger point massage–used to target specific conditions or areas of the body that are causing you pain
  • Reflexology–ideal if you are not comfortable with the concept of a full body massage
  • Shiatsu–A Japanese technique that allows you to be fully clothed while enjoying the benefits of traditional massage
  • Thai massage–specific combinations of strokes and stretches mimic a yoga session
  • Prenatal–specific type of massage used for expecting mothers
  • Chair massage–targets the head, neck, shoulder, and upper body areas


Knowing what your specific needs are will help you to determine which type of therapy will be effective, and it will allow you to find the best massage therapist to target and eliminate your pain once and for all. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits that stand to be gained from a massage session, and what you can look forward to as a result of incorporating this into your overall health and wellness plan.

Benefits of massage therapy

While most people initially book a session with a massage therapist to rid themselves of problematic or chronic pain, many are surprised to find that the benefits of massage extend far beyond just physical comfort. Some of these additional benefits include:

1. Deep relaxation and a sense of peace—something about the healing power of touch helps to promote the release of endorphins, or feel good chemicals, within the brain. These chemicals stimulate positive feelings of well-being and happiness, and they prompt us to seek other opportunities for stimulating those endorphins and feeling good more frequently.

2. Increased mental clarity–when the body feels good, brain function is optimized, and you find yourself with fewer incidents of stress, anxiety, and depression. You think more clearly, more positively, and you can tackle tasks on your daily list with more efficiency. Everything seems to flow better.

3. Increased flexibility–When muscles, connective tissue, and joints are all stimulated and “warmed up” by the process of massage, you can expect greater flexibility and range of motion. A body that remains in motion can move much more fluidly than one that is not stimulated; regular massage sessions help to loosen up stiff, immobile joints and provide a better quality of life through improved movement.

4. Stimulation and cleansing of the lymphatic system–the use of gentle strokes and pressure on muscles during a massage improve circulation and help to expel toxins from the body. When used in combination with a commitment to hydrating the body, these therapies have an incredibly cleansing effect on the lymphatic system.

5. Improved skin tone—a surprising effect that massage has on the body is the improvement to the skin. Through improved circulation, blood flow beneath the skin is increased, making cellular renewal and repair more efficient. Stimulation of the skin helps to remove dead skin cells from the surface of the body, and through this process of renewal and detoxification, impurities both below and at the surface of the skin are efficiently removed. The end result is a youthful, more toned glow from your head to your toes. Looking younger, longer becomes a bit easier with the implementation of massage.

How much does massage cost?

Depending on the type of work needed and the length of your session, a massage can range anywhere from $50-$200 for most sessions. Those involving the use of hot stones and essential oils are more expensive than traditional therapies, but they are well worth the cost for the benefits that you receive from them. Some insurance plans have begun to cover massage therapies for their clients, as they see the preventative benefits that managing pain can do for long term health care costs. Talk to your insurance carrier and your massage therapist to see what session options and payment plans will work best for you.

Getting started with Massage Therapy

Talk to your family, friends, and even medical professionals about finding a therapist near you who can address your unique medical concerns and put you on the road to vibrant health and wellness. Of course the easiest way to find the best massage therapist near you is to search below. You deserve to look and feel your best; give massage therapy a try, and see how it can improve your quality of life in unexpected and wonderful ways!

Find a massage therapist near you​

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