Many people confuse reflexology with massage, Reiki, or acupuncture, but there are essential differences between these therapies. Massage therapists manipulate larger areas of soft tissue in the body while reflexologists apply pressure to specific points on the feet, hands, and ears. Unlike either massage or reflexology, Reiki does not involve any physical manipulation or pressure, but instead uses light touch to work with the subtle vibrational field thought to surround the body. Finally, while acupuncture and acupressure, like reflexology, use reflex points on the body to influence other parts of the body, the points are not the same and acupuncture uses points over the entire body.
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If a person wants to increase the length of his or her muscles, he or she has to actively use muscles while stretching with the help of a therapist. Doing this increases the muscle’s power as well. Shorter muscles are less powerful than longer ones and can negatively influence the body’s posture. Sports massage is for people who want to be physically active and who expect the most from his or her body.
Similar to Thai massage, in a Swedish massage the client’s joints and muscles are compressed and stretched. This can cause an immediate release of energy that might cause the skin to flush. Clients might also experience a few temporary aches as the body readjusts itself, depending on their level of flexibility and any current physical ailments. For example, a person who arrives at a practitioner’s office with an ultra-tight muscle that has been traumatized may experience some pain while the trauma is massaged out and worked through. In massage, areas of stress and pain can act as blockages to the body’s circulation, energy flow, and overall well-being.
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Swedish massage therapy is the modality that comes to mind when most people think about massage. As the best-known type of bodywork performed today, one of the primary goals of the Swedish massage technique is to relax the entire body. This is accomplished by rubbing the muscles with long gliding strokes in the direction of blood returning to the heart. But Swedish massage therapy goes beyond relaxation. Swedish massage is exceptionally beneficial for increasing the level of oxygen in the blood, decreasing muscle toxins, improving circulation and flexibility while easing tension.
Neuromuscular therapy is a form of soft tissue manipulation that aims to treat underlying causes of chronic pain involving the muscular and nervous systems. This medically oriented form of massage addresses trigger points (tender muscles points), circulation, nerve compression, postural issues, and biomechanical problems that can be caused by repetitive movement injuries.
Good pain. In massage, there is a curious phenomenon widely known as “good pain.” It arises from a sensory contradiction between the sensitivity to pressure and the “instinctive” sense that the pressure is also a source of relief. So pressure can be an intense sensation that just feels right somehow. It’s strong, but it’s welcome. Good pains are usually dull and aching, and are often described as a “sweet” aching. The best good pain may be such a relief that “pain” isn’t even really the right word.
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.
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A satisfying sensation doesn’t necessarily imply successful treatment, unfortunately. Scratching mosquito bites feels great… but it’s not helping them! Trigger points may be like mosquito bites: it may feel terrific to massage those mysterious sensitive spots in soft tissue, but it may not be doing much to actually “release” or resolve them. It may be a purely sensory experience, the satisfaction of dealing with an “itch” that we cannot easily reach on our own.
Typically, sports massage therapists hold a certification and maintain licensure. A good option is to become board certified through the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) and have an active membership with an association, like AMTA, to keep up to date with industry trends. Exact requirements depend upon the state in which the sports massage therapist practices.
In ashiatsu, the practitioner uses their feet to deliver treatment. The name comes from the Japanese, ashi for foot and atsu for pressure. This technique typically uses the heel, sesamoid, arch and/or whole plantar surface of foot, and offers large compression, tension and shear forces with less pressure than an elbow, and is ideal for large muscles, such as in thigh, or for long-duration upper trapezius compressions. Other manual therapy techniques using the feet to provide treatment include Keralite, Barefoot Lomi Lomi, Chavutti Thirumal.
Quick muscle knot orientation: Muscle knots — myofascial “trigger points” — are a factor in most of the world’s aches and pains. Their biology is still mostly mysterious: conventional wisdom says they are tiny spasms, but they might also be a more pure neurological problem. Regardless, they can cause strong pain that often spreads in confusing patterns, and they grow like weeds around other painful problems and injuries, making them quite interesting and tricky. Although they are well known to many specialists and researchers, most doctors and therapists know little about them, so misdiagnosis is epidemic. For more information about how trigger points might be involved in your own medical history, see PainScience.com’s best-selling tutorial: