Massage or massage therapy is a system of structured palpations or movements of the soft tissues of the body. The massage system may include, but is not limited to, such techniques as, stroking, kneading, gliding, percussion, friction, vibration, compression, passive or active stretching within the normal anatomical range of movement; effleurage (either firm or light soothing, stroking movement, without dragging the skin, using either padded parts of fingertips or palms); petrissage (lifting or picking up muscles and rolling the folds of skin); or tapotement (striking with the side of the hand, usually with partly flexed fingers, rhythmic movements with fingers or short rapid movements of sides of the hand).
These techniques may be applied with or without the aid of lubricants, salt or herbal preparations, hydromassage, thermal massage or a massage device that mimics or enhances the actions possible by human hands. The purpose of the practice of massage is to enhance the general health and well-being of the recipient. Massage does not include the diagnosis of a specific pathology, the prescription of drugs or controlled substances, spinal manipulation or those acts of physical therapy that are outside the scope of massage therapy.
Today, people use many different types of massage therapy for a variety of health-related purposes, such as pain management, prevent injuries, restore a healthy immune system, reduce stress, increase relaxation, address anxiety and depression, and facilitate overall wellness.
The benefits of neuropathy massage therapy
In the United States, massage therapy is often considered part of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), although it does have some conventional uses. It is increasingly being offered along with standard treatment for a wide range of medical conditions and situations.
While more research is needed to confirm the benefits of massage, some studies have found neuropathy massage treatement may also be helpful for:
- Alleviate low-back pain and improve range of motion.
- Lessen depression and anxiety
- Enhance immunity by stimulating lymph flow—the body’s natural defense system
- Sports injuries
- Improve the condition of the body’s largest organ—the skin
- Increase joint flexibility
- Pump oxygen and nutrients into tissues and vital organs, improving circulation
- Paresthesia and nerve pain
- Reduce spasms and cramping
- Release endorphins—amino acids that work as the body’s natural painkiller
- Relieve migraine pain
Studies of the benefits of massage demonstrate that it is an effective treatment for:
- Decreased anxiety
- Enhanced sleep quality
- Greater energy
- Improved concentration
- Increased circulation
- Reduced fatigue
Types of massage
There are many different types of massage, those that are for comfort and or those for specific conditions or diseases. Here are a few types:
Many essential oils that are derived from plants, herbs, flowers, and roots have beneficial therapeutic qualities. Aromatherapy involves the “burning” of essential oils to elicit a desired effect; for example, lavendar is known to induce calmness and relaxation. When combined with bodywork, aromatherapy can enrich the massage experience immensely. A few drops of essential oil can be added to massage cream or oil and applied to the skin. Professionally trained aromatherapists also blend oils to treat specific conditions. Only experienced professionals and/or those knowledable in the properties of aromatherapy should attempt to blend oils or utilize them in practice, as some oil combinations can be toxic, while others can burn the skin.
Connective Tissue Massage
Connective tissue massage is similar to myofascial release in that it involves working with the body’s fascia, or soft tissue, to relieve pain, tightness, and discomfort. The idea behind connective tissue massage is that restriction in one area of the body negatively affects other areas of the body. Practitioners of this technique “hook” their fingers into the connective tissue and utilize pulling strokes to lengthen the area. Benefits include pain reduction, tension relief, improved mobility and stress reduction.
Deep-tissue massage utilizes slow strokes, direct pressure or friction applied across the grain of the muscles with the fingers, thumbs or elbows. Deep-tissue massage works deeply into the muscles and connective tissue to release chronic aches and pains; its purpose is to reach the fascia beneath the surface muscles.
Practitioners must have a thorough understanding of the human body and have been trained to administer deep-tissue massage, as injury can occur if the technique is not performed properly. This technique is useful in treating chronic pain, inflammation and injury.
Geriatric massage involves treating the elderly, often in resident-care facilities, and addressing their needs related to aging, depression and illness. Geriatric massage is usually shorter in duration, and involves the application of gentle techniques to facilitate pain relief, relaxation, and an overall feeling of wellness.
Lymph Drainage Therapy (LDT)
Developed by French physician Bruno Chikly, this technique involves the application of light, rhythmic strokes to help alleviate various conditions related to the body’s lymph system. Among other things, the lymph system is responsible for flushing out toxins and draining fluid, which supports a healthy immune system. When lymph circulation stagnates, however, fluid can build up and cause physical problems, such as inflammation, edemas and neuropathies.
LDT enables practitioners to restore proper lymph flow by using a “mapping” system to assess congested areas in the body, then apply gentle, pressure using the fingers and hands on these areas to reactivate proper circulation.
Massotherapy involves working primarily with the muscles. Practitioners of massotherapy have a background in science, but often incorporate other modalities into their treatments when working with the muscle groups. Benefits of massotherapy include improved circulation and blood flow, as well as pain management.
Practitioners of medical massage have a strong background in pathology, disease, illness and injury, and the contraindications of specific massage techniques related to various medical conditions. Medical massage therapists frequently work under the direction of or at the request of physicians.
Neuromuscular Therapy (NMT)
NMT is massage applied to specific muscles, often used to increase blood flow, release knots of muscle tension, or release pain/pressure on nerves. This therapy is also known as trigger-point therapy in that concentrated finger pressure is applied to “trigger points” to alleviate muscular pain.
This technique is based on a system of points on the hands, feet and ears that correspond, or “reflex,” to other areas of the body. Similar in theory to acupressure, reflexologists believe that applying appropriate pressure to these points stimulates the flow of energy, thus helping to relieve pain or blockages throughout the entire body. A very pleasurable form of bodywork, reflexology is also used to ease stress and promote relaxation.
Sports massage therapies are both preventative and therapeutic, and used for athletes during warm ups, training and competition to treat and/or aid in the prevention of injuries; help improve flexibility, range of motion, and performance; and aid in mental clarity. Virtually every professional sports team employs professional sports massage therapists, and are often privately employed by professional athletes.
Generally regarded as the most common form of massage, Swedish massage involves a combination of five basic strokes and concentrates on the muscles and connective tissues of the body for improved circulation, relaxation, pain relief, and overall health maintenance and well-being. Swedish massage is also one of the less demanding techniques for massage therapists to practice as it usually does not involve deep-tissue work.
Talk to your healthcare providers about massage for peripheral neuropathy.
Despite its benefits, massage isn’t meant as a replacement for regular medical care. Let your doctor know you’re trying massage therapy and be sure to follow any standard treatment plans you have. Also ask about the number of treatments that might be needed, the cost, and insurance coverage. If a massage therapist suggests using other CAM practices (for example, herbs or other supplements, or a special diet), discuss it first with your regular health care provider.
Risks of massage
Most people can benefit from massage for neuropathy. Massage therapy appears to have few serious risks — if it is performed by a properly trained therapist and if appropriate cautions are followed. Some forms of massage can leave you feeling a bit sore the next day. But ordinarily it shouldn’t be painful or uncomfortable. If any part of your massage doesn’t feel right or is painful, let your therapist know right away. Most serious problems come from too much pressure during massage or sensitivity or allergy to massage oils.
Cautions about massage therapy include the following:
- Vigorous massage should be avoided by people with bleeding disorders or low blood platelet counts, and by people taking blood-thinning medications
- Massage should not be done in any area of the body with blood clots, fractures, open or healing wounds, skin infections, or weakened bones (such as from osteoporosis or cancer), or where there has been a recent surgery.
- Although massage therapy appears to be generally safe for cancer patients, they should consult their oncologist before having a massage that involves deep or intense pressure. Any direct pressure over a tumor usually is discouraged. Cancer patients should discuss any concerns about massage therapy with their oncologist.
- Pregnant women should consult their health care provider before using massage therapy.
Licenses and certifications
Some common licenses or certifications for massage therapists include:
- LMT Licensed Massage Therapist
- LMP Licensed Massage Practitioner
- CMT Certified Massage Therapist
- NCTMB Has met the credentialing requirements (including passing an exam) of the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, for practicing therapeutic massage and bodywork
- NCTM Has met the credentialing requirements (including passing an exam) of the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, for practicing therapeutic massage
American Massage Therapy Association Consumer Survey Facts
- 75% of individuals surveyed claim their primary reason for receiving a massage in the past 12 months was medical (43%) and stress (32%) related.
- 87% of individuals view massage as being beneficial to overall health and wellness
- 61% of respondents said their physician has recommended they get a massage.
National Institutes of Health, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
American Massage Therapy Association: definition of massage therapy and basic massage therapy terms. www.amtamassage.org
Complementary and alternative methods: types of bodywork. Available at www.cancer.org