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Beyond Relaxation

The many benefits of adding massage therapy to your self-care routine By Taylor Shillam

Massage Therapy

Do you think of massage therapy as a rare, occasional “treat yourself” type of luxury indulgence? It may be time to reframe your thinking surrounding this mode of self-care.

Regularly scheduled professional massages can seem like a major investment in your self-care routine—but if you feel like you’re splurging, there is significant evidence that the benefits of massage therapy can far outweigh the costs. Massage therapy has proven its long list of legitimate physical and mental health benefits with the ability to impact all ages, fitness levels and walks of life.

Now commonly considered a form of integrative medicine, massage therapy is more widely accepted and sought after than ever before.

Massage therapy can enhance your recovery from exercise, help you feel more relaxed, balance a medical condition, and even balance your mental health. Whatever aspects of health you’re most interested in, it’s likely you’ll come away from your message with more benefits than you expected.

When you’re ready to experience the beauty of massage therapy, start by learning the various types and areas of focus available to you.

Swedish Massage and Sports Massages for the Muscles

Swedish massage involves circular movements and longer strokes designed to increase blood flow to the muscles. Those looking to relieve generalized muscle tension and stress often look to Swedish massage.

Sports-focused massages can isolate specific areas to increase mobility and flexibility. These massages are for athletes of all types—they can be focused on enhancing sports performance, but are just as effective at healing from injuries, enhancing performance and promoting endurance. They can also target the joints, help flush lactic acid from the body, and enhance the overall exercise recovery process. Inflammation buildup that can contribute to injury can be reduced by these forms of massage, providing the added benefit of preventing future pain.

Deep Tissue Massage for Posture and Movement

Deep tissue massages focus on unwinding ultra-tight muscles—especially those that become tight from everyday repetitive use, like driving, sitting, or the hunched posture that can so easily come from hours spent working at a desk. Deep tissue therapists will stretch the tissue that covers the muscles, then knead and press the muscle itself to release stress built up in tight areas.

They’ll also stretch the fascia (the connective tissue surrounding the muscle) to produce changes in posture and movement. Deep tissue massages are more targeted—for specific injuries, back pain, soreness and stiffness, making them ideal for anyone who could use some relief from repetitive movement.

Massage Therapy to Balance Anxiety & Stress

Those who suffer from anxiety and stress can benefit from massage therapy through its ability to calm the nervous system. The body can spend a lot of time in its sympathetic “fight or flight” response when the mind is anxious; massages can increase the body’s parasympathetic (calming response), helping to reduce anxiety, lower stress levels, and encourage relaxation and a positive mood.

Even better? The calming effects don’t only last for the duration of the massage—the anxiety relief can last for weeks, even months, following a bout of massage therapy.

Enhanced Sleep Quality

Has your quality of sleep been suffering? If you are experiencing fatigue from trouble falling asleep or bouts of insomnia, massage therapy could help restore your deep levels of sleep so you can finally feel rested again. Similar to the calming effects massage therapy can have on anxiety levels, massage therapy's healthy impact on the body’s nervous system can slow down the activity that keeps you awake at night.

Massage therapy has also been shown to reduce feelings of fatigue by promoting deeper, restorative sleep, which has the added bonus of promoting proper recovery within the muscles.

Enhanced Focus and Mental Clarity

If you’re finding it difficult to stay focused at work and present in your daily life, it’s not uncommon. Overstimulation, lack of sleep, technology and more can all contribute to the feeling that you just can’t concentrate. Signs of reduced focus can include a short attention span, inability to concentrate while reading, and finding yourself zoning out during conversation or meeting. Wouldn't we all like to be a bit more present and centered throughout the day?

Often, the ability to focus is related to a balance in heart rate. Massage therapy’s unique, lasting relaxation effects can help you stay present by dropping your heart rate enough to promote attentiveness.

Joint Pain and Injury Relief

Have you suffered from chronic injuries or joint pain? Maybe you’ve been told by a friend or loved one that your shoulders or back are full of knots. Often associated with chronic pain and joint discomfort are trigger points—small knots and specific points of targeted pain.

Trigger-point massages are designed to relieve these small pressure points through expertly targeted movements. Your therapist can help ease and unwind constricted muscles with cycles of pressure and release.

The increased circulation can help relieve inflammation and pain surrounding your current injury but can also help prevent further pain down the road.

If you are seeking massage for a specific injury or site of joint pain, it is important to seek out a licensed massage therapist with experience in the type of relief you’re seeking.

Skilled therapists will have a toolbox of various, customizable techniques that can be tailored to each person's unique body and health-care needs. They should be able to modify and adapt these tools based on your goals and feedback. Don't be afraid to have an honest conversation with your massage therapist about your goals for massage (and overall health) before you begin treatment. You can also ask about health insurance coverage for the sessions and the type of massage you’ll need.

Massage therapy is not only a way to feel better, to treat yourself and to relax (although each of those benefits is wonderful in its own right), it can also empower you to move better, feel better, stay more focused, and take better control over your health, making it an excellent supplement to your self-care routine!

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