Many people think of a massage as an expensive, indulgent luxury. However, enjoying a massage has become more commonplace, and studies show that it provides many health benefits.
"Research has suggested that massage is an excellent technique for relaxation that improves the body’s response to stress," says Dr. Lee Litvinas, who integrates alternative therapies with conventional health care in Charlottesville, Va. (pop. 45,049).
The power of massage lies in its ability to improve immune function, stimulate muscle tissue, and encourage blood flow through key areas of the body. Proper blood flow revives sore muscles and relieves pain, especially in the neck, shoulders and lower back. People have discovered that massage can help a wide range of medical conditions, including anxiety, circulatory problems, depression, headache, insomnia, sports injuries and all types of stress, Litvinas says.
Massage returns the body to its normal state (homeostasis) and repairs the chemical imbalances caused by stress. "Studies show that massage decreases certain stress hormones," he explains.
While it’s easy to see why massage can be relaxing, some people feel uneasy about disrobing in front of a complete stranger. Fortunately, there are simple steps to help you make the most of your massage experience.
Denise Logsdon, a certified massage therapist based in Louisville, Ky., provides these tips:
- Be honest when completing the health form prior to the appointment. Some medical conditions such as pregnancy and varicose veins require certain considerations.
- The office or clinic should be clean at all times; fresh sheets and blankets should always be available.
- Expect the massage therapist to treat you with respect at all times. You should have privacy when disrobing and while positioning yourself on the massage table.
- If you are uncomfortable about disrobing completely, wear gym shorts or keep your underclothes on during the massage.
- Do not expect the massage therapist to judge you about your body, cellulite or unshaven legs. The goal is to relax, so don’t worry about those few extra pounds.
- Select a qualified massage therapist. Thirty-seven states require licensing for massage therapists. Credentials may originate from massage school certificates, national certification or membership in the American Massage Therapy Association.
- If an hour-long massage is too expensive, some massage centers offer 30-minute massages at a lower cost.
- Let your massage therapist know about any pain you’re experiencing so he or she can properly treat these areas. Always speak up about what you need, particularly if the pressure of the massage is too light or too deep.
- Check your health insurance policy to see if it covers massage therapy. Some insurance plans maintain a list of massage therapists who give their policyholders a discount.
If you’re looking for a local massage therapist, the American Massage Therapy Association maintains a list of therapists who have met certain standards. Call (847) 864-0123 or visit www.amtamassage.org for more information.