What is a massage?

Quick Answer
The intentional and systematic manipulation of the soft tissues of the body to promote health and healing
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Indications and Procedures

Massage is used in both wellness and treatment models of health care. Wellness implies the achievement of an optimal state of well-being. The health enhancing effects of massage such as relaxation, stress reduction, and increased body conditioning or awareness contribute to general wellness. In the treatment model, massage is considered a modality indicated to alleviate the symptoms and/or pain of a specific condition. A particular massage technique may be more or less effective for each illness or injury. The treatment model includes the subspecialty of sports massage, a beneficial intervention for athletes and people engaged in strenuous physical activity.

Two men were instrumental in the development of classic Western massage: Pehr Henrik Ling (1776–1839) and Johann Mezger (1838–1909). Ling developed an approach for treating medical conditions called the "Swedish movement cure" in the nineteenth century. Mezger defined four categories of massage using French terminology: effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, and frictions. The work of these men was further developed by their students and incorporated into both regular and alternative medicine. Other common techniques of massage are deep-tissue massage and trigger-point massage.

The physical effects of massage include healthy skin, relaxation, increased blood circulation and immune system functioning, metabolic balance in the muscles, connective tissue pliability, increased joint mobility and flexibility, and pain reduction. The mental and emotional benefits include increased mental clarity, reduced anxiety, and emotional release.

Uses and Complications

Massage has proven benefits for mind and body health. Research in the twentieth century showed a positive relationship between the reduction of pain and stress after massage. Other studies revealed that massage promoted weight gain in premature infants and reduced anxiety in adolescents hospitalized for psychiatric conditions. It may help slow the aging process among older adults and bring comfort to the terminally ill.

A basic tenet of massage practice is “Do no harm.” Massage practitioners are trained to identify “endangerment sites.” These are areas of the body that are less protected and more vulnerable to damage. “Contraindications” are conditions under which receiving massages are not advisable, such as when it could worsen a condition or spread infection. Health history information is essential for a safe massage session.

Perspective and Prospects

Massage has been used for centuries in native and folk cultures all over the world. It has periodically lost and regained popularity in the Western world. After a decline in the 1950s, it experienced a revival of credibility and value during the human potential movement of the late 1960s. Since then, it has been increasingly incorporated into medical treatment and prevention programs.

Bibliography

American Massage Therapy Association. http://www.amtamassage.org.

Beck, Mark F. Theory and Practice of Therapeutic Massage. 5th ed. Clifton Park, N.Y.: Milady, 2010.

Fritz, Sandy. Mosby’s Fundamentals of Therapeutic Massage. 5th ed. Maryland Heights, Mo.: Mosby/Elsevier, 2012.

"Massage: Get in Touch with Its Many Benefits." Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, January 30, 2013.

"Massage Therapy." Health Library, March 26, 2013.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "Massage Therapy: An Introduction." National Institutes of Health, US Department of Health and Human Services, August, 2010.

Salvo, Susan G., and Maureen Pfeiffer, eds. Massage Therapy: Principles and Practice. 4th ed. St. Louis, Mo.: Saunders/Elsevier, 2011.

Trivieri, Larry, Jr., and John W. Anderson, eds. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. 2d ed. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 2002.

Werner, Ruth. A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology. 4th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2009.