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Health

Spreading the Massage Messsage

A massage has a host of health benefits, writes Judy Hobson

Not only does a massage relieve stress, recent studies also show it to be an effective treatment for chronic back pain, it helps us to fight off infection by increasing our white blood cell count and it reduces the nausea experienced by women having breast cancer treatment.

In 2012 a Canadian study found massage can ease muscle inflammation in a similar way to the painkillers ibuprofen and aspirin. Massage also relieves tension headaches, aids recovery from sports injury and reduces water retention. Not surprisingly, it has become a fundamental part of a physiotherapist’s toolkit.

Sports physiotherapist Sammy Margo, based in North London, says: “Massage is hugely beneficial for treating sports injury and also for relieving the pain in an arthritic knee. By 2020, 60 per cent of the UK population will be over 60. They will want to remain as active as possible for as long as possible and it will be massage therapy that will help them do so.”

In 2017, a survey by the Federation of Holistic Therapists (FHT) found that body massage was the most popular type, followed by reflexology then aromatherapy. When asked why clients visited more than once a month, it found 77 per cent did so for stress relief, 66 per cent for lower back pain and 53 per cent for joint problems. While massage can help people to manage health conditions, it should not be used in place of conventional medical care and, indeed, if you are undergoing medical treatment you should first consult your doctor. Then choose an accredited therapist belonging to a professional organisation with a code of conduct.

The Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council has a list of registered therapists, who carry its registration mark on their websites. Log on to: (www.cnhc.org.uk). The FHT also has a register: (www.fht.org.uk/findatherapist).

Here are four massage therapies you may find beneficial.

Rolfing or Structural Integration

This uses deep tissue manipulation to realign your body and break it free from the bad posture habits you have got into that are causing pain. Named after Dr Ida Rolfe, the American biochemist who developed it in the Fifties, it is often described as ‘body sculpting’.

Trauma as well as bad posture can cause our connective tissue – the fascia – to thicken in one area and start pulling on the muscles, bones or nerves in another. Rolfing works by restoring the elasticity of the fascia, enabling the body to move freely again, thus relieving the pain.

Professor Robert Schleip, director of the fascia research group at the University of Ulm, Germany, and himself a Rolfer, says: “Forty years ago hardly anybody recognised the importance of the fascia. With advances in research, awareness of its importance has grown significantly and Rolfing has become more popular.”

It is carried out during ten weekly sessions, each lasting one to two hours. The Rolfer watches how you stand, sit and walk and asks about health and lifestyle. While you lie on a couch, pressure is applied to your body until the Rolfer feels your connective tissue start to give.

As well as fingertips, knuckles and a closed fist may be used. Occasionally it can be a little painful, but recipients say it is a form of pain that brings relief. Rolfing can be used to help ease lower back pain, frozen shoulders, neck pain, repetitive strain injury and headache.

To find an certified Rolfer, log on to:www.rolfing.co.uk 

Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)

This is a specialised form of massage that reduces swelling in an arm, leg or another part of the body that has been caused by a build-up of a bodily fluid called lymph. It was developed in the Thirties by Dr Emil Vodder, a Danish practitioner working in Cannes, who noticed patients suffering from persistent colds had swollen lymph nodes in their necks. When he treated these, their colds went away.

The lymphatic system is an integral part of your immune system, fighting off infection by flushing out toxins and encouraging the production of white blood cells. It relies on muscular movement and breathing to move the lymph around the body. Lack of exercise, stress, emotional shock and even ageing can cause its flow to become sluggish, leading to puffiness, water retention, tiredness and infection.

MLD is used regularly in cancer hospitals to treat breast cancer patients who may develop lymphoedema in an arm as a side-effect of their cancer treatment.

The treatment is tailored to address specific problems and the therapist will use precise hand movements to get the lymph flowing more freely again. A session lasts an hour and may leave you feeling tired and thirsty.

Because it boosts the immune system, this type of massage speeds up recovery from illness, regenerates tissue after burns or scarring, and is also a good treatment for water retention.

To find a trained therapist, contact the professional body, Manual Lymphatic Drainage UK: (www.mlduk.org.uk).

Swedish Massage

This type of massage provides the basis for other forms of massage and is often referred to as the classic.

It relaxes your entire body, boosts your immune system and improves circulation by increasing oxygen levels in the blood.

The therapist uses long gliding strokes across your back to help you relax and then kneading or rubbing ones to untie knots in your shoulder joints. Recipients say their troubles simply slip away.

A study by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the US found that after 45 minutes of Swedish massage, participants had significantly decreased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, but an increased number of white blood cells to help fight infection. The UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends this type of massage for persistent lower back pain.

A full massage lasts one hour while just the back and neck takes 30 to 40 minutes. Your therapist will ask about any health problems and adapt the massage to suit your needs.

Afterwards, you may feel sleepy and need the loo because toxins will have been flushed out.

Swedish massage is used to loosen muscles before and after exercise, to ease arthritic pain and reduce stress.

To find an accredited therapist, contact the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council or the Federation of Holistic Therapists.

Shiatsu

This is a relaxing massage, based on the traditional oriental belief that energy – Ki in Japanese – flows through canals in your body called meridians and that a blockage in these leads to health problems. In Japanese shiatsu means finger pressure, but knees and feet can also be used to apply pressure along your meridian lines to get rid of any blockage, release muscular tension and relieve pain.

You lie on a mat on the floor or on a futon and wear loose-fitting clothes so movement is not restricted. Some areas may be sensitive to the touch, but as the treatment progresses this will pass.

Afterwards you will feel invigorated and relaxed. A massage lasts 60 to 90 minutes. Some use shiatsu to manage stress but it also promotes wellbeing, eases stiff necks and shoulders and helps with sleep.

To find a qualified therapist, contact the Shiatsu Society UK (www.shiatsusociety.org).

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