At the beginning of a session I carry out a consultation, including a postural assessment, and check if there are any contraindications (reasons why treatment would not be suitable / would have to be adapted). I plan my treatment taking this information into account, as well as the client’s preferences for areas of focus. Tension in certain areas of the body often has a knock-on effect on other areas, and so this is always taken into consideration for an approach which has the maximum effectiveness. The aim is to restore homeostasis, or balance, within the body.
Sometimes if people have a lot of tension, they can feel quite sore after a treatment before they feel better – usually soon after or the next day. This healing crisis (the technical and less alarming-sounding term being the Herxheimer reaction) is a normal reaction, and occurs less after regular treatments. Some people also find that massage can stimulate an emotional reaction, for various different reasons. It is a good idea to re-hydrate and take it easy after a treatment. Referrals to other specialists are made where necessary, and homecare advice is given as part of an holistic approach.
Sports and Remedial Massage / Soft Tissue Therapy
Sports and remedial massage requires in-depth anatomy and physiology knowledge to deal with particular muscle strains, injuries or postural issues. It involves range of movement, orthopaedic and muscle tests where necessary to inform the treatment, and rehabilitation plans and thorough homecare advice to follow on from the treatment. Alongside the deep tissue massage, a range of other techniques are used that help to target problem areas, particularly various types of stretches to stretch and relax muscles, help to tackle fibrotic tissues and potentially improve posture.
Deep Tissue Massage
Deep tissue massage targets areas of tension, working deeply into muscles to achieve effective results. It is good for tackling poor postural habits (e.g. at work), exercise-related tension / stiffness, or various conditions or injuries.
Traditional Thai (yoga) Massage
Thai massage is different from Western forms of massage in that it is done on a mattress on the floor, with the client in loose trousers and a top, and usually no oil is used. It is basically a mixture between using acupressure and stretching techniques. In this respect it is similar to a sports massage – a mixture of firm massage, trigger point work and stretching – it is just done in a different way (I actually mix the two where appropriate). Acupressure is the use of pressure applied with the thumbs or fingers on specific trigger points and along what are referred to as sen, or meridian lines. It is similar to what we call neuromuscular technique in sports massage – a method of reducing muscular spasming and hence easing tension in knots (or ‘nodules’) and tense areas.
I trained in Chiang Mai in Thailand, at ITM, an internationally-recognized school that trains students in traditional northern-style Thai massage, which differs from the Bangkok / southern-style in that it focuses more on stretches rather than solely on acupressure points. The teachers called it ‘yoga for lazy people’, and you do feel like you’ve had a good stretch after a session! So it is good for both improving flexibility, as well as easing tension. There are various remedial techniques used to tackle issues such as shoulder pain, back pain, knee problems, digestion problems, etc. If a person is not very flexible, the treatment can be adapted to focus more on acupressure points rather than the more active stretching. It can also be more relaxing with a focus on neck, face and head massage. A full-body Thai massage can actually take about two-and-a-half hours, but obviously this is not often practical for many people in this country. However, a lot can be achieved in ninety minutes or an hour, just focusing on areas the client would prefer / wherever they have tension.
Swedish massage involves the rhythmic application of a range of techniques including soothing effleurage strokes, deeper petrissage movements such as kneading that work into muscles and tackle tension, and tapotement which is commonly repeated percussion strokes (this also works on tension and has a stimulating effect). Depending on the needs of the client, the massage can be either calming and relaxing or stimulating and invigorating.
Pregnancy massage is a very soothing and calm adaptation of massage techniques to suit the various stages of pregnancy after the first trimester. It is not only a relaxing experience but can also help to alleviate discomfort, e.g. back aches and swelling. Deep tissue techniques, especially towards the end of a pregnancy, can also be applied to areas of tension if that is what the client prefers (although some areas are to be avoided). I do the massage with the client lying on her side and supported by pillows, as this is a safe position. I usually do a general, full-body massage, avoiding the baby bump, as it is not usually necessary to massage this area, and most women prefer it to be avoided anyway.
Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)
Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) stimulates the lymphatic system by means of specific techniques that speed up the flow of lymph to the lymph nodes (which are located all around the body), where waste products are cleaned and antigens killed (hence it is theorized that MLD boosts the immune system). Due to the way lymph is pumped around our bodies, the best method to stimulate this flow happens to be (mostly) very gentle and rhythmical, making this an extremely relaxing treatment. No oil is used, as the therapist works with the sebum in the skin instead. I am trained in the Vodder technique, which is internationally recognized and was developed in the 1930s. Scientific reports over the years have found positive evidence for the effectiveness of this treatment: http://www.movinglymph.com/docs/Newsletters/Newsletter%20May%202013.pdf
This speeded-up clearing of toxins can occasionally lead to a feeling of nausea (usually this goes within a few hours or by the next day), although this is quite rare. More commonly, people can feel quite tired, or find they sleep very well on the night of the treatment. And they often urinate a bit more frequently on the day of the treatment, as the body flushes out waste products. As with massage, good results are achieved after a series of regular treatments. The main benefits of MLD are:
- Decongesting and detoxing – it helps the body to clear toxins and waste products. It can be very effective at reducing swelling or inflammation, e.g. in cases of water retention, post-operation or injury. It can help people with sinusitis and hayfever (although you should not have MLD during an acute phase). Like massage, some people find it can help with digestion. And it can be good for the skin, e.g. for people with acne, rosacea or dry skin, or simply making the complexion clearer and brighter.
- Relaxing – it has a soothing effect on the autonomic nervous system and can thus be good to treat areas of chronic pain. It can also be effective at calming headaches. In his latest book on trigger points, Simeon Niel-Asher points to increasing anecdotal evidence that MLD can help to release trigger points, particularly around the neck and clavipectoral areas in the acute phase of whiplash injury (The Concise Book of Trigger Points: A Professional and Self-Help Manual (Third Edition), Simeon Niel-Asher, Lotus Publishing (August 2014), p.53).
I am qualified to Level 1, so am unfortunately unable to treat people with most cases of lymphoedema (i.e. oedemas that are not caused by operation or injury, or general water retention). If you would like to find out where you can receive treatments for these conditions, or any further information on MLD, you can visit the MLD UK website: http://www.mlduk.org.uk/.
Massage Oils and Waxes
I usually use a blend of beeswax, almond oil and arnica as the texture is very good, especially for sports and remedial massage. Refined grapeseed oil is good for people with allergies and pregnant clients, and it contains omega 6 essential fatty acid and linoleic acid, which nourish the skin and can also assist circulation. Jojoba oil, which also contains essential fatty acids, is good for more mature skin as it moisturizes and softens, and its emulsifying properties help to clear the skin’s pores, making it good for greasy skin, too. Apricot oil, often used for face massage, contains the nutritious vitamin B17, and is good for sensitive or dry skin, as is almond oil. I do not use oil for head massage, and whatever I choose, I only use enough to enable me to work into the muscles, so I don’t drown people in it!