Medical massage therapy is one of complementary Medicine therapies performed as part of a healthcare provider’s Holistic treatment plan, so the massage therapy is typically concentrated on a specific medical diagnosis. The exact techniques and procedures that are used during this type of massage will vary from each patient. However, the massage will typically be centralized on the parts of the body that have been identified as an area of concern. Medical massage therapy tends to focus on a particular area.
Benefits of Medical or Therapeutic Massage
Massage is best known as a way to help you relax and relieve stress. A gentle soothing massage can reduce stress, relieve muscle aches, improve your sleep and improve your mood.
Massage therapy in a clinical setting is given by our licensed professionals who are trained to find and focus on problem areas. This therapeutic type of massage involves more focused work on your body’s soft tissue — the muscles, tendons and ligaments that move and support your body.
A massage therapist can work on a number of medical issues that are either chronic (meaning they last a long time) or acute (a medical issue that has happened recently and can be cared for in the near future.)
These issues can include:
- Repetitive stress injuries from sitting or standing postures that are held for several hours a day.
- Migraines, cluster headaches, tension headaches or sinus headaches.
- Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder (TMJ).
- Strains and sprains (after inflammation has gone down).
- Low back pain.
- Radiating pain.
- Post-surgical scar tissue (with doctor’s approval).
- Frozen shoulder.
- Joint stiffness
- Pain reduction
- Post-surgical Recovery
- Burn Care
- Cancer Care
- Mood disorder
- Sleep Disorder
Types of Medical Massage Therapy
1. Active Release Therapy
Active Release Therapy/Technique (ART) was developed nearly thirty years ago by Dr. P. Michael Leahy. The idea of Active Release Therapy originated for elite athletes to return to peak performance as quickly as possible, without the long-windedness of a full massage. ART treats minor soft tissue disorders within the:
Active Release Technique, though originally developed for athletes, can be beneficial for anyone. It directly aims to release built-up scar tissue within the deep muscle, which occurs when the muscles are overused for an extended period of time.
In fact, Active Release Technique is the only soft tissue manipulation therapy that directly repairs the muscle’s full range of motion because it directly targets the underlying issues within the muscle.
2. Swedish Massage Therapy
There are five basic strokes and/or styles in a Swedish massage:
- Effleurage (sliding and gliding)
- Petrissage (kneading)
- Tapotement (rhythmic tapping)
- Friction (with fibers or cross-fibers)
- Vibration / Shaking
These five stroke methods are used to relieve anywhere from mild to intense muscle pain, and the severity of each stroke reflects the amount of tightness held within the muscle. More specifically, Swedish massage has been shown to help alleviate:
- Joint stiffness
- Pain reduction
- Low back pain
- Stress management / reduction
3. Myofascial Release Therapy
Myofascial release describes the breaking down of tight fascia, which is the fibrous layer of connective tissue above the muscle and under the skin. Fascia is what allows our body to move and hold different bodily positions, and when we feel surface-level muscle tightness, it is generally the fascia that is bunched and not the muscle underneath.
Myofascial release can be executed with several different instruments:
- Foam roller
- Lacrosse ball / tennis ball / softball / golf ball
- Rumbler roller
- Body Bar
- Trigger Point balls and rollers
There are also two different styles of myofascial release techniques: active and passive. Active release therapy is when the client is tensing the affected areas, and is normally used with any of the above instruments. Passive release jtherapy is when the muscle is completely relaxed, and is normally used during soft tissue mobilization and trigger point massage.
Any individual can choose to either have a massage therapist inact myofascial release techniques upon tight muscles, or you can choose to do it yourself. It is more beneficial, however, to receive trigger point massage therapy to relieve fascia strain.
4. Medical Massage
A medical massage typically adopts many different styles of already present massage therapies. These include: deep tissue massage, trigger point therapy, osteopathic techniques, and cranial-sacral techniques. However, a medical massage is still heavily utilized for decongestive therapy, which helps with breast cancer; pain alleviation; and palliative care, or dealing with the issue by focusing on surrounding pain and not the issue itself.
Overall, medical therapy can be used to treat a wide assortment of physical and mental ailments, such as:
- Reduced anxiety
- Reduced blood pressure
- Reduced heat rate
- Delayed onset of pain
5. Acupressure / Acupuncture
Acupressure, or acupuncture, is a form of trigger point massage therapy that utilizes needles. It was originally developed as a facet of ancient Chinese medicine, and is used most commonly for pain relief. However, many consider acupuncture a pseudoscience because its methods are not based in scientific fact.
Acupuncture therapy may utilized for: pain relief in the low back, shoulder stiffness, and knee pain, among other muscle stiffness and joint pains. Acupuncture can be performed in most clinical settings by a skilled practitioner.
6. Cupping Therapy
Cupping therapy is another massage technique which can actually be dated back to 3000BC, and since then has been used as an official method for short-term pain relief and for increased movement and blood flow.
Generally, cupping therapy is carried out by:
- The massage therapist will find a sore area of the body
- Pressure is applied to the area by suctioning a cup onto the skin
- Pressure builds in the area as blood runs to the surface
- The cup remains on the body for a few minutes, depending on both the size of the cup and the amount of pain the muscle has been causing
- Sometimes, the practitioner will encourage the patient through a series of movements to further increase blood flow to the affected area
- The cup is removed
There are also three different cupping styles, which include:
- Dry Cupping: Dry cupping is most common, and generally focuses on creating a small area of pressure underneath the skin. Normally, the cup is latched onto softer skin because it can create a better seal around the cup, which increases the overall pressure. Cups ranging from one to three inches in diameter are used.
- Fire Cupping: Fire cupping includes glass cups, instead of plastic ones, and is carried out by soaking a cotton ball in near-pure alcohol, lighting it on fire, and quickly inserting it into the cup and onto the body. The cup stays in place because of the rapid heating and cooling of the glass cup. Cups can also glide across the skin in a practice called “moving cupping,” but only if massage oil is applied.
- Wet Cupping: Wet cupping draws blood out by creating a small incision, and all is held in place with a suction cup. It is very popular among Islamic culture.
7. Craniosacral Therapy
Craniosacral therapy is a gentle and non-invasive form of massage therapy that was developed in 1945. During a session, the therapist makes light contact with trigger point areas, normally focusing on the head, torso, knees, and feet. This contact includes a combination of practices adopted from osteotherapy, bone-setting, and chiropractic work.
Craniosacral therapy has many benefits, including:
- Alleviate chronic pain
- Decrease headache and/or migraine severity
- Decrease chronic fatigue
- Decrease post-traumatic stress disorder
- Decrease repercussions of trauma (any kind)
- Post-surgical recovery
A session is meant to relax the patient into a state of sacral harmony. Nerve endings along the spinal cord are meant to work more harmoniously at the end of a session.
8. Trigger Point Therapy
Trigger point therapy, which is often mistaken for pressure point therapy, deactivates trigger points anywhere along the body that may cause mild or severe pain. Painful trigger points can result in muscle strain, pain, or even headaches.
Generally, trigger point follows very similar protocols as other massage practices. A tender and painful spot is found, and pressure is applied to relieve this pain. However, unlike classic massage, trigger point delves deep into the fascial layer to release tension at the neuromuscular junction (NMJ), which differentiates it from other massage therapies.
9. Thai Massage Therapy
The Thai massage has been utilized since BE 2556, and for good reason. A classic Thai massage is an ancient practice that combines Indian Ayurvedic principles, acupressure, and some assisted yoga poses to alleviate painful muscles tensions.
A participant is clothed during the session in loose-fitting clothes. While muscle relaxation is the goal, the practitioner utilizes pulling, stretching, compression, and rocking with the patient instead of hands-on body work through kneading and pressure.
Reflexology, or “zone therapy,” is another nontraditional method of massage therapy. Reflexology utilizes the body’s natural reflexes in the hands and feet of the participant through a series of specific thumb, finger, and hand techniques.
During a session, which varies from practitioner to practitioner, the body is broken up into ten varies zones: five on the left and five on the right. It is believed that the pressure applied to the feet travels through these “zones” through nerve signals, which helps to alleviate muscle tension and pain throughout the body. It is also thought to release some hormones, such as dopamine or endorphins, to help alleviate pain.
11. Biomechanical Stimulation (BMS) Therapy
BioMechanical Stimulation is unlike any other type of massage therapy, specifically because the practitioner does not use their hands for the procedure. Rather, the client lays flat upon a table, either face up or face down, and is attached to a stimulation machine. The stimulation machine utilizes biomechanical oscillation to stimulate the tightened fascia.
Biomechanical stimulation therapy is normally used for athletes and fitness professionals. More specifically, it is widely utilized by those participating in:
- Competitive sports
- Sports rehabilitation
Biomechanical stimulation is used to improve performance, balance, and coordination by releasing tension among the fascial layers. Often times, it’s also used alongside trigger point therapies for maximal results.
12. Aromatherapy massage
Aromatherapy massages are best for people who want to have an emotional healing component to their massage. This type of massage can help:
- Boost your mood
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Reduce symptoms of depression
- Relieve muscle tension
- Relieve pain
Aromatherapy massages combine soft, gentle pressure with the use of essential oils. Your massage therapist will usually decide which essential oils to use, but you can let them know if you have a preference. Essential oils are diluted before being applied to the skin.
13. Deep tissue massage
Deep tissue massage uses more pressure than a Swedish massage. It’s a good option if you have chronic muscle problems, such as soreness, injury, or imbalance. It can help relieve tight muscles, chronic muscle pain, and anxiety.
During a deep tissue massage, your massage therapist will use slow strokes and deep finger pressure to relieve tension from the deepest layers of your muscles and connective tissues.
14. Sports massage
Sports massage is a good option if you have a repetitive use injury to a muscle, such as what you may get from playing a sport. It’s also a good option if you’re prone to injuries because it can be used to help prevent sports injuries. You may also use sports massage to increase flexibility and performance. Additionally, sports massage can be used to relieve pain, anxiety, and muscle tension.
A sports massage can be done as a full-body massage or the massage therapist may focus on the parts of the body that need the most attention. Deep pressure may be alternated with soothing strokes depending on your needs.
15. Shiatsu Massage
Shiatsu massage is best for people who want to feel relaxed and relieve stress, pain, and tension. It’s a Japanese type of massage that:
- Promotes emotional and physical calm and relaxation
- Helps to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression
- May relieve headache
- Reduces muscle tension
Shiatsu massage works the whole body, but your therapist may focus on areas of your body that need extra attention. During the massage, your therapist will use their hands, palms, and thumbs to massage certain points of your body. Pulsing or rhythmic pressure is used.
- nccih.nih.gov – National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
- .ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – US National Library of Medicine
- National Institutes of Health
- Active Release Technique, 2018. <http://www.activerelease.com/ART-for-Patients.asp>
- Myofascial Pain Syndrome, 2018. <https://www.myofascial-pain-syndrome.org/myofascial-release-technique/>
- Performance Place Sports Care and Chiropractic, 2018. <https://www.p2sportscare.com/active-release/>
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