The Massage Melting Pot
A world of techniques comes together in modern massage
By Amy Lynn Smith
Throughout history, people have used massage to relieve the
aches, pains and stresses of daily life.
Massage therapy techniques have migrated to the United States
from every part of the globe. And in typical American fashion,
massage therapists have put these techniques into a melting pot,
combining them to create modalities that can be tailored to each
"It's really an evolution of what people all over the world have
been doing for hundreds and thousands of years," says C.G. Funk, a
licensed massage therapist and vice president of Industry Relations
and Product Development for Massage Envy. "Today's massage
therapists use different modalities in combination- taking a little
bit of this and a little bit of that to create an art form."
The Global View
Nearly every full-body massage session incorporates Swedish massage, which is
a system of long flowing strokes and kneading motions. "It promotes
general relaxation, improves circulation and range of motion, and
relieves muscle tension," says Maureen Moon, a massage therapist
and member of the American Massage Therapy Association.
massage is closely related to Swedish massage, says Funk, but
addresses the deeper layers of the muscles. After warming up the
muscles with Swedish massage, the massage therapist will gradually
apply more pressure by using body weight and sometimes the forearms
or elbows to get into the deeper layers. Deep tissue massage is
particularly good for tight back and leg muscles.
Then there's sports
massage, which often seems similar to Swedish and deep tissue
massage. But the difference comes in the customization for each
client and the sport in which he or she participates. Techniques
will vary depending on whether the massage is being done before or
after athletic activity.
"If you're a runner, before an event you might want to get a
massage that's lighter and quicker to get the blood going, along
with a lot of compression and shaking the muscles," Funk says.
"After the event or if the client comes to me on a regular
basis," Moon adds, "I'll do more deep tissue work, along with
passive and active stretching, to enhance the body's recovery
Other massage modalities are more focused on smaller areas-but
still have an effect on the entire body.
point therapy, for example, involves applying direct pressure
to knots or tender points in the muscles or near the muscle
attachments. The massage therapist applies the pressure for 30
seconds and then releases it, bringing a surge of circulation and
blood to the area and helping to dissipate those knots.
According to Funk, the knots frequently refer pain to other
parts of the body. So, for example, a trigger point in your neck
sometimes can cause pain down your arm, and releasing the knot can
relieve all of the pain.
Trigger point therapy can be especially beneficial for people
who experience migraine headaches, carpal tunnel, TMJ
(temporomandibular joint) disorder or lower back pain.
Another focused modality is Cranial Sacral
Therapy, which Moon describes as a technique for finding and
correcting cerebral and spinal imbalances or blockages.
This modality involves gentle holds applied to the skull and
spine to relieve stress in those areas using a very light touch.
Cranial Sacral Therapy can be helpful for people with high
headaches, neck or back injuries, or TMJ disorder. Plus, Funk says,
it's a good option for people who have been advised against having
circulatory massage, such as Swedish massage.
Reflexology is another modality that can be used by people who
can't receive circulatory massage. A system developed about 5,000
years ago, reflexology is based on the belief that zones of the
hands and feet relate directly to parts of the body. Pressure is
applied to specific areas, such as the big toe side of the foot
where the heel begins, which is related to the lower back, Moon
"When I'm a client, it's one of my favorite massage
modalities-everyone should ask their therapist to include 15 or 30
minutes of reflexology in their session," Funk says. "And although
a combination of techniques can be very beneficial, don't ever be
shy about asking for an entire session that emphasizes a particular
modality. The right touch therapy can make a huge impact on a
person's life and well-being."