What aches and pains can massage ease, and how does it work its magic?
"Ouch, not too hard please, masseuse. That hurts!" I say before the scent of sandalwood oil has had time to calm my nerves and silence my tongue. "It's 'massage therapist', Miss. 'Masseuse' is sometimes used for those working in the sex industry," he responds, gently. "Whoops, sorry. Ah, carry on. No pain, no gain," I mumble.
My mind has drifted. I'm talking to president of the Australian Association of Massage Therapists (AAMT), Geoff Waldron, and he's just asked me if I've ever had a massage. Yes, and I managed to offend the masseuse I mean "therapist" pretty early on, I say. "I'm sure that was no problem at all," he assures me, "Why did you need it?" As I start to explain, he interrupts: "Desk work? That old chestnut?"
"Computers are massage therapists' bread and butter," he says. "There are a rising number of people coming to be treated because of neck and shoulder problems incurred from sitting at a desk all day."
And other common reasons for seeking a massage? "Usually people have a massage because they don't feel well from a musculoskeletal point of view," Waldron says. "They're stiff, they have headaches, they can't sleep properly or they're sports people treating or preventing injuries."
Waldron is a remedial massage therapist, or in his humble words, "the best kind". As he explains, two main schools of massage exist: "remedial", which helps with soft tissue dysfunction and injuries, and "therapeutic and relaxation" massage, which sometimes embraces styles like aromatherapy and hot-stone treatments.
"Both areas are growing, not just because of 'pamper culture' but also because an increasing number of people have conditions that bother them, such as stress," Waldron says.
When it comes to stress management, remedial massage lends a helping hand by relieving tension. "Massage releases the muscles so you relax and sleep better. You tend not to sleep well when you're stressed," he points out.
In a similar vein to therapeutic and relaxation massage therapy techniques, remedial massage aims to restore function and promote a sense of wellbeing by combining a mixture of therapies. Within Waldron's practice, these include bowen therapy (using gentle strokes), cupping (an oriental technique that employs vacuum cups) and trigger point therapy, among others.
For most types of massage, the pressure applied ranges from superficial to deep, but for therapeutic massage in particular, the ideal amount has recipients feeling some discomfort (in other words, "hurting in a good way"). This activates tissue's natural healing response, whereas pressure that's too deep can trigger a trauma response from muscles.
"When a client is experiencing tightness, sometimes pain relief comes instantly, and sometimes it takes a series of sessions, depending on the initial condition. We try to do ourselves out of business by getting people back on track as soon as possible," says Waldron.
And while it may be a key way to relieve aches and pains, there's no denying massage also carries a hint of hedonism. A little soreness aside, massage generally feels great, right? According to the New Zealand Health Network, this is because the therapy refreshes tired and knotted muscles by stimulating the nerve endings in the superficial layers of the skin.
What's more, massage increases blood circulation in the capillaries by improving deep circulation, and now here's the icing on the cake by stimulating the production of endorphins, the brain's natural opiates.
But before you leap away from the computer and onto the massage table, first do your homework, advises Waldron. For consumer protection, the best approach is to see a therapist who's a member of the AAMT, the Australian Tradition Medicine Society (ATMS) or the Australian Natural Therapists Association (ANTA). Also make sure your therapist takes your history to work out whether massage can help you, or whether you need to be referred to another health professional like a physiotherapist or a chiropractor.
With that out of the way, simply relax, revive and let the therapist's fingers work their massage magic.
For more information and to find an AAMT registered therapist in your area, visit www.aamt.com.au.
Benefits of massage
- Massage improves circulation and relieves congestion in the tissues.
- It stimulates the production of red blood cells, and counters anaemia.
- It promotes lymph flow which hastens the elimination of cellular wastes.
- It helps clear muscles of lactic and uric acid which form during exercise.
- It relaxes muscle hypertonicity and relieves muscle tension.
- It improves muscle tone and delays muscle atrophy resulting for inactivity.
- Deep massage can separate fascial fibres, and prevent the formation of adhesions.
- Massage helps reduction of inflammation and oedema in joints and soft tissue.
- It can alleviate or reduce pain, stiffness or soreness.
- It stimulates increased proprieties and kinaesthetic awareness of the body.