The right touch

December 13, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Your next vacation might be as close as your nearest massage therapist.

"There's nothing like a massage to relieve stress and tension - both physical and emotional. We're sending compassion and empathy into those overworked muscles," said Larry Hill, a certified massage therapist at Tranquility Salon and Spa at 400 N. Potomac St. in Hagerstown. "When I give a massage, I think of the body as an English muffin - all those nooks and crannies that need attention. ... Once you totally relax on the table, it's like taking an hourlong vacation." Therapeutic massage involves the manipulation of the soft tissue structures of the body to prevent and alleviate pain, discomfort, muscle spasm and stress, and to promote health and wellness, according to information from the American Massage Therapy Association, a trade organization representing more than 50,600 massage therapists in 27 countries. Research shows that therapeutic massage reduces heart rate, lowers blood pressure, increases circulation and lymph flow, relaxes muscles, improves range of motion, and increases endorphins - the body's natural painkillers, according to the organization.


"Innately we respond to touch for healing," said Eugenia Keller, a certified massage therapist with an office in Smithsburg. "The thing that suprises people most about massage is how many places on their body they were carrying pain that they were not aware of until it was touched therapeutically."

Hill said one of his clients called a massage session "better than six sessions with my psychotherapist" - a testament to the mental and spiritual health benefits of touch therapy.

The American Massage Therapy Association estimates that consumers now spend between $4 billion and $6 billion on visits to massage therapists.

"Massage in the last 10 years has come into the mainstream big time," Hill said.

Many forms of massage

Some of the most popular massage modalities at Tranquility Salon and Spa and elsewhere include:

· Swedish massage, which involves a system of long strokes, kneading and friction techniques on the more superficial layers of the muscles, combined with active and passive movements of the joints. It's the most popular form of touch therapy.

· Relaxation massage, which features light touch and is less manipulative than Swedish massage.

· Deep tissue massage, which aims to release the chronic patterns of tension in the body through slow strokes and deep finger pressure on the contracted areas, either following or going across the grain of muscles, tendons and fascia. Hill called deep tissue work "re-tuning the body" by warming up the muscle tissue with initial massage stroking before sinking into the groove of the muscle as deep as the body will allow, and stripping down the length of the muscle tissue to eliminate knots. Deep tissue massage is best for deep, aching, chronic pain, Hill said.

· Sports massage, which focuses on muscle systems relevant to a particular sport.

· Warm stone massage, which utilizes various sizes of smooth, heated stones in conjunction with more traditional massage techniques. "If you combine massage technique with a heating element of any sort, it takes the relaxation of the client to the next level," Hill said. "Warmth is just an amazing tool for loosening muscle tissue."

· On-site massage (also known as chair massage or corporate massage), which is administered while the client is clothed and seated in a specially designed chair. Sessions usually last between 15 and 30 minutes, and are intended to relax and improve circulation.

Safe, customized treatment

Certified massage therapists ask clients to fill out health history forms, and to describe how they use their bodies, so the massage can be customized for optimal results and injury can be avoided. For example, a deep tissue massage could hurt a client with bulging discs, Hill said.

In addition to asking many pointed questions to lead the client to the most effective massage, a qualified massage therapist will let guests know what to expect on the table, said Michelle Best, a certified massage therapist at Tranquility Salon and Spa.

"Massage therapy is something very personal. It is a time when you do feel vulnerable," Best said. "There shouldn't be any surprises."

The client's comfort level - including the amount of clothing he or she feels comfortable shedding for a massage -is the top priority, Best said.

The cost of massage varies according to the massage therapist's experience and location and the type and length of the massage, but fees generally start at about $60 per hour, according to the American Massage Therapy Association.

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