Massage is an ancient therapy; it has been mentioned in medical texts from the time of the Greek physician Hippocrates. The concept of massage therapy involves rubbing or kneading the layers of muscle and connective tissue to improve muscle function, promote relaxation and help the healing process. The massage therapist uses manual or mechanical aids to apply tension, move the extremities, apply vibration and knead or rub muscles, tendons, ligaments, skin and fascia - the tough fibrous covering of a muscle.
Massage therapy is practiced world-wide; there are over eighty different systems of massage recognized by professional massage therapists. In the United States, massage was commonly used to help athletes. Nurses also used massage to help decrease pain and promote sleep. Some forms of massage therapy include activities such as a spray of water - also called a Vichy shower - the use of lubricants, massage stones or body rocks. Many professionals use massage for therapeutic purposes; in addition to massage therapists, athletic trainers, physical therapists and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners may practice massage.
Massage is commonly performed with the patient lying on a special table designed for the purpose. Other modalities that may accompany massage include aromatherapy, acupressure and heated stones or other forms of heat application. Some forms of massage are performed with the feet, such as barefoot Shiatsu massage. The massage therapist may use the heel, arch, or entire surface of the foot to perform this type of massage. Barefoot Lomi Lomi and Fijian Barefoot massage are a variation of this therapy in which the recipient is naked during the massage. Massage varies from the lightest of strokes to the sustained, strong pressure of deep tissue or deep pressure massage, which can be very intense. Deep pressure massage is normally focused on a particular area rather than the whole body, as extensive deep pressure massage could actually injure the recipient. Some forms of massage, such as the traditional Philippine technique known as Hilot, may include joint manipulations as well as massage. Hilot practitioners may use banana leaves and herbs in enhance the effectiveness of the massage. One effect of massage is to stimulate the lymphatic system, which can help decrease swelling from conditions such as mastectomy or other forms of edema.
Massage therapists may have a designated place of business or they may be mobile and travel with a portable table to their clients' homes or offices. One benefit of the mobile massage is that the client can go to bed and rest immediately following the massage. Swedish massage includes five basic strokes used by the massage therapist: sliding or gliding, kneading, rhythmic tapping, friction and vibration or shaking. Swedish massage has been shown to be helpful for people who have poor circulation. Massage has also been shown to be effective for pain relief, especially from musculoskeletal injuries. Massage can reduce anxiety and decrease blood pressure and heart rate. Massage therapy is also effective for fatigue from cancer, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome relief and to reduce headache frequency.