Each type of sports massage uses different massage techniques. Effleurage is a light stroking that can be performed with the palms or the thumbs. The pressure and speed is varied depending on the muscle and the desired result. Effleurage increases blood flow to the muscle. Petrissage is a form of two-handed kneading in which both hands pick up the muscle and compress it. This technique loosens tight bunches of muscles. Percussive strokes are blows or strikes on the muscle, often performed with the little fingers. They are used to tone the muscles. Cupping involves percussing or striking the muscles with cupped hands. It stimulates the skin and causes muscle contractions that help tone the muscles. There are variations on all these strokes, such as deep cross-fiber friction to separate muscle fibers and break down scar tissue, and jostling to relieve muscle tension. A good sports massage therapist will combine techniques to achieve the maximum desired result. Sports massage sessions generally last 30-60 minutes.
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A recent study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine examined the effects of one session of Swedish massage therapy on the body’s hormonal response and immune function. Researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, randomly assigned fifty-three healthy adults to receive one session of either Swedish massage or light touch (in which the therapist used only a light touch with the back of the hand). Both groups had sessions lasting forty-five minutes and were performed by a licensed massage therapist. Blood samples taken before and after the sessions were used to determine blood levels of certain hormones and circulating lymphocytes (white blood cells). The researchers found that participants had shown that Swedish Massage Therapy or resting an hour weekly significantly reduced blood pressure levels.
Swedish massage is rooted in Western practices of anatomy and physiology. To perform this type of massage, licensed therapists apply an arsenal of pressure styles that include stroking, kneading, striking, rubbing, and vibrations. Using massage oil to help their strokes glide, they focus the pressure along the muscles that run the length of the body.
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“If your hands and fingers start to scream while you're working, you need to modify what you're doing,” says Bykofsky. “Also, if you notice that you’re sore at the end of your work day, Bykofsky also recommends that you “do the things you suggest to your clients: ice, apply something to help, perhaps take an anti-inflammatory, and, the hard one, rest!”
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You can usually choose which type of massage you’d like to receive, and you and your partner can each get a different type of massage depending on your preference and the offerings at the spa. Your partner and you will be on tables side-by-side, and you’ll each have your own massage therapist working on your body. You can talk during the massage if you wish.
Interestingly, many patients and therapists swear by massage as a way to reduce constipation or digestive upset, since the increased circulatory benefits and relaxation of the abdominal and lower back muscles can help relieve symptoms. In fact, a 2014 study from the British journal Nursing Standard highlights a number of the ways abdominal massage encouraging muscle contraction, nudging the gut to move things along.
The light-touch, free massages often offered at finish line festivals can help calm the nervous system by allowing the body to commence its natural repair state quicker, explains Rosemarie Rotenberger, an orthopedic massage therapist in Mertztown, Pennsylvania. And Denunzio says that racers can schedule a recovery-focused sports massage within several hours up to 48 hours after an event, although she recommends massage newbies wait three to four days, as they may be too sore within the first few days fully benefit from (and appreciate) the experience.
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Prenatal massage uses mild pressure similar to Swedish massage. The therapist will focus on areas such as your lower back, hips, and legs. You can be fully or partially undressed depending on your comfort level. During the massage, you’ll either lie on your side or on a specially designed table with a cutout for your belly. If you’ve had pain in your calves or other parts of your leg, see a doctor before you have a massage.