Swedish massage is a popular choice. It involves rubbing the muscles with long gliding strokes in the direction of the blood returning to the heart. Swedish massage goes beyond just a relaxation; it increases the oxygen level in the blood while decreasing toxins in the muscles, improving circulation while easing the tension. This is great for those who are in need of headache or insomnia relief.
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Most deep tissue massages normally focus on major muscle groups — such as the neck or lower back — along with joints and tendons that are susceptible to straining or injuries. Certain areas of the body that tend to tense up in times of stress, including the shoulders, neck and hips, can often benefit the most from this type of deep manipulation. Many people consider “sports massages” to be a form of deep tissue massage, which involves physical treatment primarily to neuromusculoskeletal systems to treat pain and disability, improve muscle recovery and joint mobilization, and prevent injuries.
Unlike Swedish massage, which has a relaxing effect and uses lighter pressure, deep tissue massage is done using deep finger pressure with strokes that are firm and slow. Deep tissue massage has several therapeutic effects and can be used to treat many different conditions. This type of massage is ideal for the treatment of major muscle groups like the neck or lower back. It can also be used to relieve strain and treat injuries in your joints and tendons.
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The researchers also note there are psychological benefits for athletes receiving massages, which other research shows can include improved focus and confidence. Although more research is still needed on a long-term scale, both tissue healing and the psychological effects of massages are areas that seem promising for both professional and recreational athletes.
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“Good pain” is at the heart of the pressure question: a strange, potent sensory paradox that many people actually seek out as the goal of therapy, consciously or unconciously. Either it isn’t literally painful (just intense), or it’s painful but desired anyway because of relief or belief: an actual biological relief or at least the belief that there is one. But it’s important to note that not all satisfying, relieving sensations are genuinely helpful (e.g. scratching a mosquito bite).
Studies have shown that reflexology can be very beneficial for pregnant women, particularly in terms of labor lengths and their need for analgesics during labor and postpartum recovery time. Beyond that, due to many of the health benefits already outlined above, it can reduce the chances of postpartum depression and can also help a woman’s body heal itself faster and get back to its normal metabolic activity quickly.
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Manipulative approaches to naturally treating pain and other health problems have been utilized for over 3,000 years, dating back to Ancient Egyptian and Chinese civilizations. Pressure massages were used to improve “Qi” (life force or energy), detox the body and promote better liver function — which today can be explained through the process of activating the lymphatic system.
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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.
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Sometimes you're not intimate partners, just traveling with someone you don't get to see often enough — a sister, mom or best friend — and you want to spend as much time together as possible. All of these scenarios are fine, really, because you make the rules up. If you want to talk to each other during the massage, you can. If you want to quietly commune, that's good, too. The therapists will follow your lead.
Neck pain. Neck pain is tied with headaches as the second most common pain experienced by adult Americans (also 15 percent), and massage can typically help with this too. For instance, a systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2014 in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine analyzed 15 studies and found that there was “moderate evidence” that massage therapy helped provide relief.
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A deep tissue massage can help with small or large muscle injuries or aid in the healing of chronic problems. Deep tissue massage targets deep muscles, tendons, as well as protective and connective tissue known as fascia. It requires total relaxation of superficial muscles, as the lessened tension allows deeper muscles to come into contact and be manipulated (hence "deep tissue massage"). Individuals with chronic muscle tension or injury are more prone to adhesions, or thick "knots" that form in muscle fibers. These adhesions may not only be painful, but can disrupt blood flow and circulation, diminish natural movements, and result in inflammation. Undergoing deep tissue massages helps break down the adhesions and restore proper body functions.
Be warned, if it’s your first massage or you don’t get much exercise, steer clear of deep tissue — you could end up very sore the next day. A deep tissue massage can help heal injuries and release knots caused by stress. Deep tissue massage requires a solid understanding of anatomy, but top therapists don’t just have technical skill: They’re highly sensitive and aware of reactions taking place in the body during the work and know when to back off. For more on Deep Tissue massage, review our guide.
In broad terms, reflexology is intended to reduce generalized stress and help the body achieve a state of deep relaxation and homeostasis (that is, optimal balance of the body’s biochemical and other systems). Yet efficacy studies are few, and a 2009 systematic review of randomized controlled trials conducted by researchers at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, UK, concluded that “the best evidence available to date does not demonstrate convincingly that reflexology is an effective treatment for any medical condition.”
Practices resembling reflexology may have existed in previous historical periods. Similar practices have been documented in the histories of China and Egypt. Reflexology was introduced to the United States in 1913 by William H. Fitzgerald, M.D. (1872–1942), an ear, nose, and throat specialist, and Edwin F. Bowers. Fitzgerald claimed that applying pressure had an anesthetic effect on other areas of the body. It was modified in the 1930s and 1940s by Eunice D. Ingham (1889–1974), a nurse and physiotherapist. Ingham claimed that the feet and hands were especially sensitive, and mapped the entire body into "reflexes" on the feet, renaming "zone therapy" reflexology. "Modern reflexologists use Ingham's methods, or similar techniques developed by the reflexologist Laura Norman."
AD 1776: Jean Joseph Marie Amiot, and Pierre-Martial Cibot, French missionaries in China translate summaries of Huangdi Neijing, including a list of medical plants, exercises and elaborate massage techniques, into the French language, thereby introducing Europe to the highly developed Chinese system of medicine, medical-gymnastics, and medical-massage.
Soft tissue techniques employed by sports massage therapists are effective in the management of both acute and chronic injuries. For example, adding lymphatic massage to the "standard care" procedure in the acute stage of injury will improve control of secondary, hypoxic injury and enhance edemous fluid removal throughout the healing cycle. Trigger point techniques reduce the spasms and pain that occur both in the injured and "compensation" muscles. Cross-fiber friction techniques applied during the subacute and maturation phases of healing improve the formation of strong and flexible repair tissue, which is vital in maintaining full pain-free range of motion during rehabilitation.
Pre-event sports massage is done to help prevent serious athletic injury. It helps to warm up the muscles, stretching them and making them flexible for optimal athletic performance. A pre-event massage stimulates the flow of blood and nutrients to the muscles, reduces muscle tension, loosens the muscles, and produces a feeling of psychological readiness.
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.
Sometimes confused with pressure point massage, this involves deactivating trigger points that may cause local pain or refer pain and other sensations, such as headaches, in other parts of the body. Manual pressure, vibration, injection, or other treatment is applied to these points to relieve myofascial pain. Trigger points were first discovered and mapped by Janet G. Travell (President Kennedy's physician) and David Simons. Trigger points have been photomicrographed and measured electrically and in 2007 a paper was presented showing images of Trigger Points using MRI. These points relate to dysfunction in the myoneural junction, also called neuromuscular junction (NMJ), in muscle, and therefore this technique is different from reflexology, acupressure and pressure point massage.
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Sports massage therapy can help a person manage stress. When a person receives a sports massage, their body releases neurotransmitters called endorphins. According to American Spa, endorphins are released by two centers of the brain known as the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, and they act as the body's natural pain reliever. Endorphins that are released due to receiving a sports massage help to decrease anxiety, provide pain relief, improve mood and enhance a person's state of well-being.
"Back before we started wearing shoes everywhere, we developed natural stimulus points from the ground [making direct contact] with our feet," Colin says. "By walking and getting that stimuli, we would relieve stress. We don't get that anymore. So the idea of reflexology is going back and mimicking that stimuli to specific points and feeling where that stress sits."
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Deep tissue massage involves manipulation of the deep layers of tissue in the body, including the fascia and other supportive tissue that make up the muscles and joints. Compared to other popular massage techniques — including Swedish massage or acupressure, which tend to be lighter in pressure and can involve moving the body into certain positions — deep tissue massage is usually slower and firmer. (2)