The essence of massage therapy is really pretty simple. When applied by someone with skill, sensitivity, and knowledge of the anatomy, it is a great way to support the healing and healthy functioning of the body.
This simplicity can be lost in the shuffle when reading the service menu at a spa. Can you describe the differences between Swedish, Deep Tissue, Hot Stone, Myofascial, Neuromuscular/trigger point, Shiatsu, Reflexology, Reiki, Cranioscacral Therapy, Geriatric and Pregnancy massage? The booking person at the desk may or may not be able to give you all the information you need to make a choice. If all of these choices make you anxious, you can relax a little when you realize this prime principal: The skill of the provider and the client’s level of trust and comfort with the therapist are by far the most important elements in the success of the treatment.
This article will give you some basic guidelines, but the best thing to do is talk to the massage practitioner at the time of your health history to decide what therapy may be best for you. A good therapist will also be able to refer you to another practitioner if they feel you would benefit from a different technique.
When you book a massage in the Pittsburgh area, most of your choices will fall in the Swedish-Deep Tissue category. This is what people typically think of when they picture a massage session. Differences in effectiveness depend on the skill and experience of the therapist and can range from annoyingly superficial or unnecessarily painful to blissfully relaxing while thoroughly and therapeutically addressing your specific tensions. Geriatric and Pregnancy massages are built on the same techniques, with attention to positioning and depth of pressure based on the health concerns of the receiver. Hot Stone adds the element of heated stones used to warm body parts by placement and/or used as tools by the therapist.
A neuromuscular/trigger point therapist (such as myself) usually incorporates this technique into a Deep Tissue massage. An experienced NMT therapist has learned how to find the points of greatest tension in muscles and fascia, and the best type of pressure to help lower that tension level to a more functional and comfortable level. (see my post about trigger points for more)
Understanding what is meant by myofascial therapy is a bit more complicated because some therapists use a light touch and some use a firm touch to address the fascia. Or an extremely firm touch as in Rolfing/Structural integration. Fascia is the stretchy connective tissue that wraps around and through the muscles as well as organs of the body like a three dimensional netting that holds and supports the body, or when injured constricts the body. Recent research has shown that fascia also has some ability to contract as muscles do. (More about fascia)
The main quality of fascia is that it responds best to patient, sustained application of pressure. As a massage receiver you can decide what depth of pressure feels/works best for you.(See prime prinicpal above) I use a moderate to deeper pressure. Any technique that works with the muscles works with the fascia – they are bound together. But a therapist can primarily target one or the other through the type of technique used.
The other techniques mentioned above are each distinctly different from your typical massage and will be covered in my next blog post.