Massage For Every Body
If you’re heavy lifting a few days a week, you hurt—a lot. I know, because I hurt—a lot. It’s just part of the game, and that’s what makes people dedicated to the stacks different than the average population.
Sometimes, though, the pain and tension get to be too much. It interrupts good sleep, interferes with productivity and makes you want to skip workouts. When you reach that point, some professional help may be in order.
Not mental help, but physical help, in the form of a licensed massage therapist. This guy (or girl) will become your body’s best friend once you’re able to find the right type of massage and pressure for your body.
What to Look for:
1. Make sure to see a licensed massage therapist. Regulations vary from state to state, but basically you want someone who has been to massage therapy school and has passed an exam stating that they have the knowledge to properly perform the techniques on your body.
2. Ask if the therapist performs the type of massage you’re interested in. If you find a therapist who is great at Swedish massage, but you want shiatsu, what’s the point?
3. Check the cost. Is the therapist within your budget? There’s a wide price range for each type of massage, and some are more expensive than others (such as prenatal and hot stone). For example, I can pay $50 to $180 for a 60-minute massage within ten miles of my home!
4. Find a convenient location. If the therapist is amazing, but her location isn’t convenient to your home or office, you may not go as often as you need to. Some therapists will come to you, so be on the lookout for that perk if you have an especially hectic schedule.
5. Make sure the therapist listens and adapts to your comfort level. A massage can be great, or it can be grueling. I’ve had therapists who couldn’t give me enough pressure, and those who worked so hard I couldn’t breathe. Both situations make for a miserable hour!
With the variety of techniques available, let’s wade through what you’re most likely to find on any given menu of spa services.
If you’re looking for calmness and relaxation, Swedish massage may be the technique you’re looking for. This method of massage uses gentle strokes following the flow of blood to the heart. It sometimes uses light kneading, friction, tapping and stretching.
Generally, the therapist will use massage oil during a Swedish massage, so be sure to mention if you have a nut allergy (some therapists mix almond oil into a carrier oil). Also, mention if you’re averse to any particular fragrance, such as lavender.
If you want to be nurtured and get some trouble spots worked, this may be the type of massage for you. Personally, I could sleep through a massage of this kind, and many people do. It’s generally performed on a massage table, and you will undress to your level of comfort (underclothes only to fully nude).
If you’re a bit shy, I got a great tip from a friend who is a massage therapist. Always turn away from the therapist when they’re holding the sheet for you. That way you don’t flash the therapist and you keep yourself a bit more covered.
This is my favorite massage, getting deep into the muscles and fascia. It’s sometimes called “sports massage” because it’s great for athletes, and the pressure is, as you can imagine, firm to “intense.” I tell my therapist that it’s not too much until I can’t breathe (and this has happened)!
Deep tissue massage is a great way to relieve trigger points. The thing that will likely cause the greatest degree of pain is when the therapist is working to break down a trigger point and is moving against the grain of the muscle. Effective, but painful!
This type of massage is also done as nude as you feel comfortable and uses oils. It’s great for stiff necks and shoulders, as well as lower back pain. These are the areas most of us carry tension, so if you’re game to give deep tissue a try, talk to a massage therapist.
Communication with the person working on you is the absolute most essential part of this form of massage therapy, as people vary greatly in the pressure they prefer. Whether it’s too much or not enough, be sure to speak up!
It’s normal to be sore for a day or two after a deep tissue massage, as the muscles are releasing toxins. It’s important to drink extra fluids to facilitate moving these wastes out of your system.
Shiatsu is a type of acupressure massage developed in Japan. It’s supposed to help align your energy meridians and enhance the flow of Qi (also known as Chi or Ki).
During your first shiatsu massage, the practitioner will interview you and deeply probe your belly to determine the health of your internal organs and identify where your Qi is blocked.
Shiatsu is performed fully clothed, generally on a mat on the floor. It can be done on a massage table, but part of the beauty of this type is massage is allowing the therapist’s body weight to assist in the stretching portions. Don’t be surprised to feel elbows, knees or feet working your meridians!
Shiatsu massage is generally gentle, and will not use oils. Your best bet, in my experience, is to ask around at an Asian-owned establishment. This is where I’ve found the best prices and practitioners while avoiding the seedy places that advertise on highway billboards.
Prenatal massage is great for helping the body release extra fluid and relieve the minor aches and pains associated with pregnancy. It can help relieve sciatica, edema and muscle pain.
Generally, this type of massage is performed side-lying with a body pillow between the knees to help reduce pressure on the lower back. It’s best to avoid the tables with a cut-out for the belly, as this puts undue stress on both the lower back and the uterine ligaments.
As with other aspects of wellness in your pregnancy, please be sure to discuss prenatal massage with your health care provider. Also be sure to choose a therapist who is certified in prenatal massage, which isn’t standard in every program.
You’ll be hard pressed (har har) to find someone to do more than moderate pressure at most (and if you DO find someone in Atlanta, leave me a comment with the phone number). It’s relaxing, but I haven’t gotten any significant pain relief from prenatal massages.
Thai massage has some similarities to shiatsu in that it is performed clothed and close to the ground. Thai massage is based on the body, mind and spirit. It also uses dynamic stretching and energy meridians. These meridians are different from Chinese and Japanese medicine, because in Thai medicine the energy isn’t connected to the recipient’s internal organs.
I hope you’ve been practicing your yoga, because in Thai massage the body is often manipulated into yoga positions by the practitioner.
Thai massages are long—really, really long. They tend to be about two hours, sometimes more. The entire body is worked and the therapist will often do things you won’t get in other types of massage, like cracking your knuckles and walking on your back.
The pressure is something that might catch you off guard at first, but give it a moment. If you can’t relax into the massage, then speak up. It’s wholly different than the massages most Americans are accustomed to, so give it a chance.
If cost is a concern, you’ve got a couple of options.
First, some massage is covered by insurance, especially those performed in a physical therapy or chiropractor’s office. Be sure to check with your insurance company for eligibility and to find someone covered by your plan.
Second, you may be able to find a good massage therapy school in your area that has a clinic. In my area, there are three massage therapy schools, and two of them take appointments. For very reasonable prices, you can get an hour’s massage.
The students will be monitored by instructors, but you’ll need to be even more vocal about what pressure you like. It’s great to take advantage of this discount (about 50% around here), but I’d recommend knowing what you like first.
Massage is extremely personal, and what one person likes will be entirely unacceptable to another. I hope you’ll use the information in this guide to find something that works for you!