Massage is one of the ancient arts of wellness. First mentions of massage occurred in China in 2700 BCE, but it was not long before it spread to the Middle East, Greece, and India. Massage is the manipulation of the soft tissues of the body. The goal of this manipulation is to promote relaxation and stress relief while easing pain and promoting an overall feeling of wellness. Physically speaking, massage also increases oxygen and blood flow to muscles, which can, in turn, promote the brain’s release of serotonin, the relaxation chemical.
More and more people are turning to massage therapy to treat their chronic pain. Muscles that are overused or used incorrectly can become shortened and bound to other tissues in the body. These adhesions can cause weak muscles, tendinitis, and compressed or trapped nerves. All of these consequences can be addressed through massage, but not all styles of massage are good for all types of pain. Here are five types of massage that can help with different types of pain.
Swedish massage may be the first thing that springs to mind when you think about massage. This type of massage focuses on deep and complete relaxation but can also be used to release cramped muscles. Swedish massage uses a number of different techniques, including the following:
- Effleurage: These are long sweeping strokes from the top of a muscle to the bottom, usually at the beginning or the end of a massage (or both).
- Petrissage: Rolling and kneading the muscles, like kneading bread dough. Pressure can vary according to the client’s sensitivity. The massage therapist may focus attention on a “crunchy” or tense area, starting first with light petrissage and increasing the pressure to help the muscle release.
- Tapotement: Light and rhythmic tapping or drumming. This technique can vary in pressure and speed and can be either relaxing or energizing.
- Friction: Deep pressure is applied to a particular muscle to encourage it to release.
Swedish massage is an excellent choice for stress relief and for people who experience the whole body pain of muscle cramping. Therapists are trained to gently help sore, tense muscles to release so that the patient can feel some relief and rest.
2. Deep tissue
Deep tissue massage is not for everyone. Just as it sounds, this type of massage features a massage therapist who goes deeply into each sore muscle, reaching as far down through the muscle to the bone as possible. This can help to release scar tissue and assist in relaxing tightly knotted muscles that can cause chronic neck and upper back pain. Deep tissue massage uses many of the same techniques as Swedish massage.
In this type of massage, it is crucial that you speak up while you are on the table. While this is not the same type of deeply relaxing massage as a Swedish massage, you should not be in so much pain that you cannot let your knotted muscles release. Qualified deep tissue therapists are happy to vary their levels at your request, including starting lightly and going deeply over the course of the massage.
Deep tissue massage is excellent for people with chronic pain due to a build-up of scar tissue or those with stiff, painful areas in the neck, shoulders, and back. You should expect to feel sore for a few days after the massage, but a warm bath with Epsom salts can help with that.
3. Trigger point
Trigger point massage is similar to deep tissue in that is goes much more deeply into the muscle than Swedish massage. The goal of trigger point massage is to identify and release a tight point within a tight muscle: the trigger point. Trigger points are tight areas within a muscle that cause pain in another area of the body. For example, a trigger point in the neck may cause migraine pain, or one in the back may cause radiating pain down the leg.
Trigger point massage does not necessarily work the entire body or the entire length of a muscle. The emphasis is on releasing the specific trigger point to alleviate pain. This is done by adding deep pressure to the trigger point and then releasing it, over and over again until the trigger point releases.
This type of massage is best for chronic muscle pain and tension, as well as migraines brought on by muscle tension.
4. Myofascial release
Myofascial release is similar to trigger point massage in that it targets trigger points in the fascia to relieve pain throughout the body. Because the fascia, the thin layer of connective tissue that covers all of the muscles in the body, connects to every muscle in the body, myofascial release focuses on a broad expanse of muscle all over the body.
The massage therapist will first gently massage all over the body to feel for any spots of tension or tightness in the fascia. Under normal conditions, fascia should be pliable. If there are areas of tightness, the therapist will work those areas gently, increasing pressure across the area as the fascia begins to release.
You can practice this technique on your own at home using rigid foam rollers on legs, arms, and backs. For plantar fasciitis, a tennis ball rolled along all three arches of the feet can help release fascial tension.
This massage technique can be pain relieving for those who suffer from fibromyalgia, but it will not necessarily be relaxing on the table. Myofascial release is also indicated as a treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome.
5. Craniosacral therapy
Craniosacral massage therapists use a very light touch to encourage proper movement of cerebrospinal fluid around the brain and spinal cord. The goal is to help release physical imbalances and restrictions in the body’s muscles and connective tissues to relieve pain gently.
Because of its light nature, craniosacral massage is excellent for fibromyalgia and other whole-body pain syndromes. It can also relieve neck and back pain and migraines and help counteract the effects of chronic fatigue syndrome.
The quality of the massage and the success of massage therapy depends on the quality of the massage practitioner. Use the American Massage Therapy Association’s online tool to find a qualified and skilled massage therapist near you!