Massage is sometimes called “therapeutic touch” and stems from the most natural instinctive impulse to touch or stroke ourselves or another to reassure, calm, signal attention and caring and seek to relieve pain or suffering. Touch between people is a basic human need and lack of touch can lead to alienation, distress, lowering of life signs and a decrease in health.
The most fundamental benefit of massage is that it relieves tension – particularly muscle tension – which enables the body to rest and relax and enter a healing state rather than a “fight or flight” state. Studies show that massage enables reduction of pain in labour and reduction of lower back pain even without the use of essential oils; the addition of analgesic essential oils helps further. In babies & children massage has been shown to relieve pain of teething, constipation, colic and aid sleep and it also seems to help babies born prematurely to achieve good growth.
There are different massage techniques which have different therapeutic benefits.
Stroking is the most natural gentle touch using little or no pressure (a form of effleurage). This is the instinctive way we touch each other to reassure and signal presence and care. Stroking can be very valuable when clients are frail or very ill and cannot tolerate more pressure – or when people are psychologically vulnerable and might be unable to tolerate deeper techniques.
Effleurage is deep or superficial light or firm stroking with the whole or part of the hands. Deep effleurage should be towards the heart and only superficial stroking away from the heart in order to assist circulation particularly in the veins.
Frictions are a type of kneading (compression) with the whole or part of the hand and can be fixed where the hand remains stationary on the skin but moves the skin and other top layers against deeper layers or gliding frictions with small movements over the skin and other tissues along a designated path. They are useful for targeting knotted muscles or otherwise helping to ease tissue congestion.
Percussion is tapping with the fingers or other part of the hands and can stimulate areas of the body.
Lymphatic drainage specialised techniques help to move lymph fluid from one area to another in cases of fluid buildup.
Use of pressure points such as acupoints or shiatsu points is a way to effect change in a holistic manner along the relevant body meridian. Points are usually touched lightly or with more pressure using the finger tips.
In general massage has been found to be beneficial to patients in hospitals and hospices with the following effects:
- increased energy levels
- reduced side effects from drugs
- can help relieve symptoms not directly addressed by hospital treatment (a more holistic therapy)
- can help ease emotional problems
- beneficial effects lasts beyond the duration of the massage
The physiological benefits of massage are:
- promotion of good blood and lymph circulation, reducing inflammation and pain and helping elimination of toxins from the body
- induces deep relaxation – lowers pulse rate, lowers blood pressure
- reduces muscle tension e.g. chronic neck & shoulder tension
- helps tone weak muscles
- relieves arthritic, rheumatic and neuralgic conditions
- helps sprains, fractures, breaks and dislocations heal more readily
- relieves cramp
- promotes correct posture and improves mobility
- directly or indirectly improves function of every internal organ including:
- digestion, uptake of nutrients and elimination of waste products
- kidney function
- helps relieve many types of headache including migraine, tension headache, PMS and emotionally related headaches
- is a form of passive exercise
- the use of oil can be nourishing and beneficial to the skin
Psychological benefits of massage (holistic healing effect):
- lets the receiver know s/he is being cared for in very basic way
- relaxes the mind
- uplifts depression/despair
- relieves panic/anger
- stimulates body & mind without side effects and can help release suppressed feelings
Subtle energy benefits of massage:
- the use of pressure points such as acupoints or shiatsu points can influence the meridians and flow of chi in the body
- light effleurage or stroking along the meridians can also benefit the flow of chi
- massage off the body but within the physical part of the aura can influence the subtle energies of the body in the same way and is particularly useful when even a light touch cannot be tolerated. The receiver may even feel the massage as a touch even though there is no skin contact
- whether on or off body the therapist can perform aura energy cleansing moves
- the intention of the therapist performing the massage can be used to promote healing
Price, S. and Price, L., 2012. Aromatherapy for Heath Professionals. 4th ed Edinburgh: Elsevier Ltd.
Battaglia, S., 2003. The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy. 2nd ed Brisbane: The International Centre of Holistic Aromatherapy.
Davis, P., 1991. Subtle aromatherapy. London: Random House.