By Rachel Hogancamp, LMT
There are many ways in which we can take care of ourselves. Eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and engaging in regular exercise are aspects of self-care that we all understand and accept. However, many people raised in the culture of Western medicine still consider massage therapy to be an indulgence and, in overlooking its therapeutic benefits, deprive themselves of an extraordinarily effective avenue for healing.
There are many circumstances in which massage is beneficial. When we are under stress, either personal or work-related, massage therapy can help clear those feelings of stress; it has a very grounding effect. People who have been sick find massage helpful in pushing through the last phase of their illness. During recovery from orthopedic injuries such as sprains, strains, and healing bones, massage can ease soreness and help restore range of motion.
People suffering with chronic illnesses, from fibromyalgia to cancer, often turn to massage for comforting touch and peace of mind. Victims of abuse or sexual assault seek out skilled massage therapists to help overcome their lack of trust and fears around being touched.
What if I’m under a doctor’s care?
Massage therapists often work in consultation with physicians to ease retracted tissue in patients with back injuries and herniated disks. As patients transition out of clinical physical therapy, we collaborate with physical therapists to continue the healing process through different types of bodywork. We also collaborate with area orthopedists, sports medicine physicians, and athletic trainers to help athletes become more flexible and improve their ability to ward off potential injuries. Professional athletic teams all provide regular bodywork for their athletes: this was not the case twenty years ago but today the value of massage therapy for athletes is undisputed.
What happens to the body during a massage?
Bodywork can trigger a number of physiological responses that enhance healing. These responses vary depending on the type of bodywork you’re having done. Generally speaking, massage enhances blood circulation, increases the flow of oxygen to the tissues and organs, releases toxins, loosens and elongates tight muscles, and slows the heart rate, all of which serve to reduce stress and increase energy flow, or chi, in the body. The overall effect for most people is a state of relaxation and an enhanced sense of wellbeing.
How will I know which type of bodywork is right for me?
When an experienced, licensed therapist meets a client for the first time, they determine together which modalities are best for that person based on the client’s needs and goals. For example, if you are looking for a deeply relaxing experience to reduce stress and release toxins from your body, you might opt for a Swedish massage or a hot rock massage. If you suffer from myofascial pain, fibromyalgia, or limited range of motion, you might benefit from neuromuscular work with trigger-point massage. If you are an athlete seeking peak performance, sports massage can help you recover from overexertion and avoid injury.
Shiatsu is a form of Eastern acupressure that addresses the meridians in the body, relaxes muscles, increases energy flow, and is helpful if you are suffering from stress and fatigue. Thai bodywork concentrates on stretching tight muscles; reflexology applies gentle pressure to the hands and feet to help balance internal body systems; craniosacral and polarity therapy help to rebalance the body’s energy fields. There are many approaches to healing bodywork that address a range of both acute and chronic problems. Having so many modalities to choose from is beneficial because different approaches work for different people.
Massage is not about indulgence it is about taking care of yourself. Relaxation enhances healing, both physically and emotionally. Taking time to settle into your body, to breathe deeply, and to lower your level of stress should be part of preventive health care for all of us.
Rachel Hogancamp is a licensed massage therapist. She is the director of RasaSpa and works in collaboration with Cayuga Medical Center at the Island Health Center, where she can be reached at (607) 273-1740.