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MASSAGE - Pressure makes us tense and tension can cause illness and pain. Massage helps to break the circle of stress by relaxing taut muscles and stimulating the systems of the body to work efficiently

One technique used in Swedish massage is electrical vibration: it is designed to stimulate a sluggish system, tone slack muscles and encourage weight loss.

Many couples find giving one another massage a natural expression of trust and affection. It creates a feeling of closeness and often stimulates and deepens sexual pleasure.

 Gently knead the temples with the thumbs, using circular movements about 2.5 cm (J in) in diameter. Spread a little oil on temples and forehead. With the thumbs or the tips of the first fingers, make light strokes starting from the centre of the forehead out to the temples.

To relieve tension in the scalp and face, lay the palms over the head and temples. Their light pressure establishes contact, and if it is maintained for several minutes, it soothes and reassures the person being massaged. This technique is a gentle beginning to doing massage at home.

Kneading: use the fingers and thumbs to knead the muscles of shoulders and neck. Everyone is tense here, so pressure should be gentle at first and slowly increase.

Kneading: clasp the hands firmly round the arm (or leg) and knead the whole limb, moving gradually along it. Spend time especially on wrists and ankles.

Encircle arm with thumb and index finger of both hands. With gentle pressure slide the hands towards the elbow about six times.  

Petrissage: support the head and neck with one hand, and massage the neck muscles with the fingertips of the other hand, with small, circular movements.

Effleurage: stroke lengthways up the body towards the shoulders, using moderate pressure through the whole palm of the hand, warming the tissues and toning circulation.

Kneading: support your partner's hand in yours, palm upmost. Use the knuckles of your other hand to knead the palm.

To relax thigh muscles, firmly roll the leg between the hands, moving them along the limb in opposite directions.

To relax the neck muscles, support the head between the hands and gently push the chin towards the chest. (It is vital for the person being massaged to be quite relaxed.)

The long, smooth movements of the hand calm and reassure. They also help to redistribute accumulations of fluid in the body and to encourage the pores in the skin to open.

Form the hand into a claw shape, and using fairly firm pressure, massage the whole scalp with a pincer movement. (This is good for hair and scalp problems).

Petrissage: stretch hands over the chest and stomach, massaging with moderate pressure and making contact with the body mainly through the heel of the palm.

Friction: using both thumbs, apply friction to the soles of the feet, in a deep, lengthways stroking movement.

Lightly clasp foot round the instep, and using the thumb and index finger of the other hand, gently pull the toes. Start from the base of each toe and work to the tip, making a half twist, one way, then the other. This refreshes tired feet.

Massage may be prescribed by a doctor to help the body to recover fully from the effects of an accident or a fracture.

 Q Is the massage carried out for cosmetic purposes the same as the one used for medical treatment?

A If massage is employed to help someone lose weight, it may be very similar. However, facial massage, which is helpful for wrinkles, skin tone and tension, is very light. The muscles of the face are thin, and the rich supply of blood and lymph vessels respond better to light stroking motions than to pressure, which would almost certainly be painful.

Q Are mechanical massagers safe and useful?

A Electrical vibrators can be very helpful, especially to a person giving massage who tires easily, or to anyone who wants to massage him- or herself. The vibration can accomplish many of the same effects as manual massage and is very useful for breaking up deposits of fat and improving the blood circulation.

The best vibrators, though expensive, are the ones which strap on to the back of the hand, allowing the sensitivity and contact of the hands to perfect the movement.

Do not use vibrators on or directly over bony areas, and make sure that any vibrator is in good order, properly wired with an external earth.

 Q I've heard that massage is good for tired feet. Could I learn to massage my own feet?

A Yes, you could certainly learn to massage your own feet: the only problem is whether you can reach them comfortably and hold the position for long enough.

As an alternative, there are a couple of useful aids. One is a carved wooden shaft that you roll back and forth under your feet. putting your weight on it. The other is a pair of special sandals whose upper soles consist of hundreds of little rubber spikes. Simply walking on the sandals is a good massage. A similar effect can be achieved by walking barefoot out-of-doors whenever possible.

We instinctively respond to aches and pains by rubbing the uncomfortable area. Massage therapy has amplified and re­fined that natural reaction to bring relief to sufferers from pain and tension.

 The purpose of massage

Most people who seek massage volun­tarily do so to obtain relief from pain and muscular tension, much of it caused by the demands of life. Some medical con­ditions are the result ofthis stress, and in many others it is a contributing factor. Massage, properly applied, not only re­laxes tension and soothes pain but can affect the whole body and, indirectly, mental and emotional states.

 How massage works

Massage has two main actions, one re­laxing, the other stimulating, and it can be adapted to produce the desired over-all effect. A person suffering from cold hands and feet and pain in the legs while walking obviously has poor circulation. This could be aggravated by tension, with a general over-contraction of muscles re­ducing the flow of blood, or to prolonged immobility, lack of exercise, obesity or nervousness. In the former case, the mas­sage would be designed to relax the tis­sues, producing an over-all relaxation with a sedative effect, and as tension was removed the circulation would respond. In the latter example, the object of the massage would be to stimulate the the tissues ­and the circulation simultaneously, to increase tone and speed up a sluggish metabolism.

The healing effect of massage is to make the superficial tissues of the body relax or return to normal, so that they stop bombarding the spinal cord with ab­normal nerve signals. This relieves pain and tension and prevents them from es­tablishing a 'vicious circle’ of reflexes, in which, for example, persistent tension and hunching of the shoulders can create headache and nausea, which in turn give rise to more tension.

Western (or Swedish) massage

The Western approach, sometimes called Swedish massage because it has always been popular there, is the best known and most often used. It is characterized by the various types of strokes and the use of oil and talcum powder to reduce friction against the skin. The technique, used mainly by physiotherapists, masseurs and beauticians, can be summarized in four main actions:

Effleurage: Stroking lengthways up the back, chest and limbs, with a light to moderate pressure exerted by the whole of the hand. The effect is to warm the tissues, reassure the person who is being massaged and tone the circulation. It is especially valuable for redistributing accumulations of fluid in the limbs and abdomen and for encouraging the pores in the skin to open to allow proper elimi­nation.

Petrissage: A firmer stroke with moderate to deep pressure, and most of the contact made through the heel of the palm, one hand reinforcing the other.

Kneading: Deep manipulation, directed especially at stiff, contracted areas. It can be done with the thumbs only, or between thumb and fingers, with a gesture like kneading dough. When the skin and sub­cutaneous tissues-those just under the skin-are picked up, pulled away from the body and rolled between the thumb and fingers, the action is known as skin rolling. It is especially useful for joints such as the wrists, ankles and elbows and helps to remove possible accumulations of waste products.

Friction: A series of deep, often circular motions, using thumbs, knuckles or fingertips. Pressure is concentrated on a small area through repeated strokes and is as deep as necessary without causing pain. Relaxation of tense muscles marks the time to move on to another area: pro­longing massage at the same point would re-stimulate the muscle.

Massage at home: This requires towels, a pillow, oil, talcum powder and a fairly hard surface to lie on: the floor is suitable (with firm cushions or a mattress), pro­vided that the person massaging can work comfortably in a kneeling position. The session should last about 20 minutes. Start on the back, since most tense muscles are there, and it is the easiest part of the body on which to work.

Oriental massage

Oriental massage is becoming much more popular in the West, because of the widespread interest in acupuncture, to which it is related. Its object is to balance the flow of chi or vital energy along the meridians or energy pathways, since Oriental medical theory holds that all deviations from good health involve imbalances and lack of harmony in the 14 major meridians which have points on the surface of the body.

With a thorough knowledge of the ana­tomy of the meridians and acupuncture theory it is possible to treat pain or other disorders at a distance from the actual place of the discomfort, and to deal with functional disturbances such as consti­pation or headache, even though the af­fected organs are deep within the body.

The acupuncture points to be used are chosen on the basis of symptoms and mas­saged with the thumb or fingertip. When the intention is to sedate or calm over­active regions, the manipulation is a deep, firm pressure. When a sluggish energy flow needs toning up, a light, scrubbing stroke is used.

 Connective tissue massage

This form of massage uses very heavy and often painful pressure, applied by thumbs. Fists, even elbows, with the aim of breaking down and releasing long­standing contractions and distortions of the body's connective tissue.

Posture reflects a person's attitude to life, and may be adversely affected by stored tensions as a result of psycho­logical disturbance, repressed feelings, or habitual patterns of movement which im­balance the body. The best known of therapies directed at undoing these pat­terns are called Postural Integration and Rolfing, both developed in America.

 When not to massage

There are some conditions which could be made worse by the use of massage, and others in which it could be actively dangerous. Acute inflammatory con­ditions due to bacterial infection, recent sprains or wounds, and states due to con­tagious diseases should not be massaged. Circulatory problems such as severe vari­cose veins should be referred to a doctor, and anyone with a heart condition should seek medical advice before receiving massage. It should be avoided in the case of internal diseases such as ulcers and hernias, in any illness needing complete bed rest, and, finally, in skin conditions, because it can cause them to spread.


Copyright Marshall Cavendish Ltd 1981, Published by Marshall Cavendish Partworks Ltd, 58 Old Compton Street, London WIV 5PA, England

NOTE: While every reasonable precaution has been taken to ensure that the information presented here accords with current medical knowledge, personal circumstances vary so enormously that it is not possible to be sure that all advice given is right for every individual. So if you have any health problem, you must discuss it with your doctor.

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