Almost all cultures have developed therapeutic massage systems. Massage techniques play an important role in traditional Chinese and Indian health care. European massage was systematized in the early 19th century by Per Henrik Ling, who developed what is now known as Swedish massage.
Ling believed that vigorous massage could lead to healing by improving blood and lymphatic circulation. Over the past 20 to 30 years, complementary therapists have adapted Swedish massage to place greater emphasis on the psychological and spiritual aspects of treatment. The benefits of massage are now described more in terms of “calm” or “fullness” than in terms of loosening stiff joints or improving blood flow. Unlike the vigorous, standardized treatment recommended by Ling, today’s massage techniques are gentler, calming, fluid, and intuitive.
The different techniques are derived from different traditions of European massage. In reflexology, the areas of the foot are believed to correspond to the organs or structures of the body. Damage or disease in an organ is reflected in the corresponding region or “reflex zone” of the foot. Palpation of this area causes pain or a stinging sensation, regardless of how gently pressure is applied. Reflexology treatment consists of massaging the messy reflex areas.
In aromatherapy, oils of plant origin (“essential oils”) are added to a base massage oil, which is a lubricant during treatment. Although often used solely for their fragrance, the oils are said to have a wide range of medicinal properties, including effects on wound healing, infection, blood circulation, and digestion. In addition, it is believed that they act both from a pharmacological point of view, by absorption into the blood through the skin, and by olfactory stimulation. Many masseurs use essential oils without pretending to practice aromatherapy.
Other complementary disciplines are primarily touch-based or have a substantial tactile component (see box).
WHAT HAPPENS DURING A TREATMENT?
The massage treatment takes various forms and can last from 15 to 90 minutes. Treatment follows a medical history, which is usually relatively short compared to other complementary therapies, but the duration varies according to the patient’s condition and the indications for massage. During a standard massage, professionals will also collect palpatory information, which helps tailor the treatment to individual needs. For example, a doctor will spend more time massaging an area with increased muscle tension.
Ideally, the patient is naked on a specially designed massage table. This table usually incorporates a soft but firm padding and a hole for the face. The treatment room is warm and quiet; Sometimes soft music is played.
Professionals generally treat the entire body, using oil or lotion to help their hands move over the patient’s body. A variety of strokes are used, including rubbing, massaging, kneading, and rubbing (see chart below). Massage professionals treating sports injuries and musculoskeletal disorders may incorporate techniques derived from physical therapy, osteopathy, and chiropractic, including deep massage, passive and active stretching, and muscle energy techniques (in which the patient moves against the resistance of the practitioner ).
The massage can be adapted to the limitations of conventional sanitary facilities by limiting the work to the head, hands, feet or back or even massaging the neck and shoulders with clothing with the patient sitting in a chair.
Patients often find the massage deeply relaxing and enjoyable. Some techniques include strong pressure, which can cause painful sensations, but are generally short-lived.