Q: My friend has a massage every week “for her health,” and has advised me to do the same. I am under a lot of stress with work and the kids, and my shoulders feel sore from sitting at the computer. I have insomnia and high blood pressure. Does massage really have health benefits or is it just an expensive self-indulgence?

A: Massage by a qualified massage therapist has both preventative and therapeutic benefits for your health and well being. Getting a massage on a regular basis may improve your quality of life. Massage helps to reduce stress, and diminishes the “fight-or-flight” response of your brain and adrenals that is so harmful to your physical and mental health. The skilled touch of a massage therapist stimulates the release of endorphins which reduce pain and promote a general sense of well being. This may enhance your immune system as well as reducing anxiety, muscle tension and pain.

Massage has been shown to lower blood sugar and blood pressure, to improve anxiety, depression, headaches and to reduce pain. Try getting a massage late in the day, and I’ll bet you’ll find it much easier to fall asleep.

What are the different types of massage? Swedish massage is the most common type of therapeutic massage, and generally includes stroking, kneading and percussing of muscles to promote full body relaxation. If you have chronically tense muscles and prefer a more aggressive massage, deep tissue massage focuses on tight knots and trigger points deeper in your muscles and fascia. It’s more intense, so let your therapist know if it’s too much pressure.

Aromatherapy massage adds pleasurable and therapeutic essential oils to ordinary massage oil. These scented plant oils may have therapeutic benefits of their own, so a trained aromatherapy specialist can customize the blend of oils for your symptoms.

Hot stones is another add-on you may want to consider because the hot, smooth basalt stones are placed over therapeutic points on your body and loosen tight, painful problem areas in a gentle, pleasurable way.

Many athletes advocate sports massage to treat as well as prevent injuries. Attention is paid to sports specific areas of the body and includes mobilization of joints as well as soft tissue and muscles in these areas, and to increasing circulation to injured areas with compressive release techniques.

Thai massage is another technique that is good for stretching and lengthening tight muscles, in addition to releasing painful knots and improving range of motion. A Thai massage therapist actually uses their own body to help you stretch, apply extra traction to tight areas, or in some cases, they even walk on your body (holding on to an apparatus on the ceiling to avoid putting their full weight on you). It has been described as assisted yoga.

If you prefer being clothed for a massage, there are many good options. Shiatsu massage uses hands or elbows to apply pressure to acupressure points all over the body. Reflexology manipulates acupressure meridiens by kneading and rubbing acupressure points that are localized in the feet, hands, and/or ears only. Some Chinese foot reflexology therapists will combine traditional reflexology with an add-on of neck, back, and/or body massage over your clothing.

There are other kinds of bodywork you may want to try including Reiki, Lomi Lomi massage, or trigger point massage ball yoga to name a few. I am also a fan of my electric massage chair for a quick at-home back massage.

Treat yourself to a massage and get health benefits, too. Ask your doctor if you have any contraindications, especially to the more vigorous forms of massage.

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