July 23, 2008

Rub It in – You’Ll Feel Much Better

T here is nothing better than a good massage to ease tense muscles; and if you have someone at home who has talented hands, they are worth their weight in gold.

Sometimes, though, you need to outsource your massage therapy - even if choosing a therapist can tie you in more knots than you have in your shoulders.

There are 400 massage techniques out there, and choosing the one that meets your particular needs isn't easy.

Should you go for aromatherapy, Swedish, Indian or sports massage? And what exactly are they, anyway?

The following guide may help you to make up your mind:

* Aromatherapy massage: This is used to treat stress or to improve conditions that have an emotional component. Practitioners say they use essential oils to stimulate the body's nervous system, cleanse the tissue and improve sleep.

* Swedish massage: This is the most common type of massage therapy. Practitioners say it reduces levels of the "stress hormone" cortisol in the bloodstream, and is most beneficial at the end of a working day to enhance relaxation.

It consists of long, smooth strokes, circular movements and kneading of superficial muscle with massage lotion or oil. If you have never had massage before, this is a good one to try first.

* Shiatsu: This is a Japanese technique that uses finger pressure in a rhythmic sequence on acupuncture meridians.

Each point is held for up to eight seconds, to improve the flow of energy and help the body to regain balance. People are often pleasantly surprised when they try shiatsu for the first time. Although the pressure is firm, there is usually no soreness afterwards.

* Sports massage: Though this is designed for people who are involved in physical activity, you don't have to be a professional athlete to have one.

The focus isn't on relaxation, but on preventing and treating injury and enhancing athletic performance.

The strokes are generally faster than in Swedish massage, and often accompanied by assisted stretching to loosen muscles and increase flexibility.

* Deep-tissue massage: This is used for chronically tight or painful muscles, repetitive strain injuries, postural problems, or recovery from injury, and targets the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue.

The massage therapist uses slower strokes or friction techniques across the grain of the muscle, which may cause soreness for one to two days.

* Indian head massage: This form of massage can be used to relieve eyestrain, insomnia, migraines, stiff necks and shoulders and headaches. It also relaxes and tones the facial muscles and stimulates and nourishes the hair and scalp.

The therapist works on the upper back, shoulders, scalp and face, which are massaged in a firm and gently rhythmic fashion.

Special attention is paid to the Marma points (acupressure points).

(c) 2008 Evening Standard; Palmerston North, New Zealand. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.