Massage therapy isn’t just for the rich and famous who want to spend a luxurious afternoon at the spa.
Twenty-four percent of Americans have had a massage at least once in the past 12 months, according to the American Massage Therapy Association’s Web site.
The demand for massage therapy comes as adults realize the potential health benefits that can result from the soothing touch of hands. Thirty percent of those who have had a massage in the past year said they did so because of health concerns such as pain management, migraines or injuries, according to the Association.
A massage not only relieves tension, but it allows your body to release natural painkillers and boost the immune system.
According to the Mayo Clinic, other benefits of massage therapy include:
— Reduced anxiety
— Easier labor during childbirth
— Increased weight gain in premature babies
— Lower blood glucose levels in children with diabetes
— Higher self-esteem
FOXNews.com spoke with Ann Marie Cilmi, director of education and development for Manhattan’s Bliss Spa, who gave us the lowdown on five popular rubdowns:
1. Swedish massage
“At least in the U.S., this is the most common type of massage, for numerous reasons,” Cilmi said. “Its simple relaxation technique treats all sorts of conditions, using five basic strokes.”
These strokes are:
— Gliding, or effleurage. “This helps to stimulate circulation,” Cilmi said. “We start and stop the massage with some sort of effleurage. It’s an opportunity for the therapist to asses what is going on underneath the skin.”
— Kneading. “This milks the muscle,” Cilmi said. “With each stroke, the therapist can adjust the patient’s comfort level.”
— Friction. This is a deep tissue, or cross fiber technique used to loosen up tense muscles.
— Trigger point therapy. The therapist works on one specific point and this works to relieve knots. This stroke works well on the trapezius muscles.
— Hacking or cupping. A karate-type maneuver, the therapist uses the side of her hand. This stroke will also help loosen mucus in the lungs.
— Nerve stroking. A light, soothing touch; it’s good for anyone who has nerve damage.
2. Eastern massage
Otherwise known as reflexology, this massage technique is based on the mapping of the hands and feet.
“The entire body can be seen on the foot,” Cilmi said. “It’s manipulation of the reflex zones. The main goal is balancing the body through the feet. It’s incredibly relaxing.”
This type of massage is also best for someone who may feel uneasy about disrobing in front of another person, or for someone who is stressed at work, Cilmi said.
3. Shiatsu (acupressure)
Shiatsu is based on the theory that energy channels run through our bodies and relate specifically to various organs like the lungs, heart and liver, Cilmi said.
The energy – or chi – is the life force that runs through these channels.
“It’s very different than Western medicine,” Cilmi said. “Sometimes there is an excess of chi, or a deficiency of it, which can lead to an ailment. Acupressure manipulates certain points to help balance the flow of energy.”
4. Hot stone massage
Typically done with smooth river rocks, the stones are heated to 105 degrees and then cooled some for the actual massage. The therapist holds the stones in his or her hands to perform the various strokes. Also, by placing the stones on the patient’s back, the heat helps to melt the tight muscles.
“It’s best for general relaxation or anywhere that heat is indicated for injury,” Cilmi said. “Or, you could use cold stones to constrict the capillaries and get rid of any swelling.”
5. Lymphatic drainage
“Typically, this is done during a full-body massage because it takes about two hours,” Cilmi said.
The therapist does not use heavy pressure in this type of massage.
Ideal for anyone wanting to rid the body of toxins, or get rid of excess fluid that the body may be retaining, the massage involves gentle, pumping manipulations to remove the fluid.
“The great benefit is reduction in water retention and bloating,” Cilmi said. “But, any massage can have that side effect. Massages not only remove waste, but bring nourishment to the area that is affected.”