Therapeutic Massage

Different types of massage

There are many different types of massage. Aromatherapy massage is often offered in beauty salons. The strokes in an aromatherapy massage are long sweeping strokes. The rest of the treatment benefits of course come from the essential oils themselves. For deeper muscle work, seek out a therapist who offers shiatsu and may also implement acupressure points to help the body detoxify its self even deeper.  To alleviate the friction between the skin and the masseur’s hands, we use a carrier. In aromatherapy we use vegetable oils but also talcum powder works very well to let the hands slip easily over the skin. This is often used in Swedish massage.

Benefits of Massage

What a world we live in. We have a fantastic playground close to where I live. The children of tourists from all around the world congregate on the steps of the zip slide to have a go. Most of them aren’t tall enough to get on, so they need an extra little shove up. In years gone by you would have stuck a hand under their bum and given them a boost. Life’s just not like that anymore and so the other parents just have wait slightly uncomfortably until the fed-up kid’s mum or dad comes to the rescue. Touch of any description is very taboo.

The Physical Effects of Massage

The skin is the largest organ in the body. It is covered in tiny pores which allow essential oils to enter your body and start doing whatever good you require of them. By rubbing the skin, you warm it. One of the skin’s functions is to control body temperature so, as

it rises, the pores open more. This allows even quicker admission for the oils. The chemicals speedily enter tiny capillaries on the base layer of the skin and flush around the blood system.  Beneath the skin are muscles. There are several different types of muscle which are all constructed in different ways (for example cardiac muscle) but the

ones sitting atop your bones are constructed from many bundles of fibres.  When a muscle works it creates a waste product called lactic acid. This should be removed from the body by the lymphatic system. If the muscles have been working harder than normal though, not all the acid is removed. Over time this crystalises and becomes painfully trapped between the fibres of your muscles.  Try rolling your neck, can you feel some crunching?

Lactic acid crystals. These crystals disintegrate quite well under finger tip touch and so massage is vital for keeping muscle stiffness at bay. 

A good masseur listens to their fingers to feel where knots and tightness appear under them. Even though there is a script to a massage, the skill is in knowing where to take a moment to concentrate on a painful spot.

Massage increases both circulation and lymphatic drainage. The job of the lymphatic system is to rid our bodies of waste but also to increase immunity. The system circulates the body in a similar way to the blood system, except where circulation has a pump (the heart), the lymphatic system does not. It relies on muscle compression to move it around the body. 

It follows then, if someone is lean and fit their immunity is going to be better, but massage actively improves lymphatic efficiency and therefore immunity too.  Breathing plays a vital part in massage. We all know slowing down our breathing reduces heart rate and we feel calmer. But...  The reason we have inspiration and expiration (breathing in and out) is we expire (breathe out) the gas exchange that happens in the blood. We take in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. As you break down knots, you release toxicity and deep breathing evicts the waste gases from the body. This is a knack. If you ask someone not to hold their breath in any parts of the massage that hurt...they’ll think about their breathing and suddenly not be able to breathe easily.

Issues in the Tissues

Believe it or not, memories not only stay in your head.  They go into the organs and they also go into the muscles. Athletes will tell you about muscle memory too. They actively use repetition to get their muscles to form memories and so therefore habits. Memories stay lodged in the muscles and even after the mind has moved onto something else, they lie there waiting. 

Massage twists the fibres, and digs into them and this can disturb, awaken and unlock these hidden memories. Don’t be surprised if the person starts to weep for apparently no reason. The memory may not even unfold so they recognise the scene playing out.  Only the emotions may come to the surface to be released. Massage on.

Contraindications of massage

There are times when massage is not the appropriate course of therapy to choose.

  • Over contagious or infections skin conditions
  • Over the abdomen whilst in pregnancy
  • Over the abdomen in the first two or three days of
  • menstruation (discomfort)
  • In cardio vascular conditions except under strict
  • medical guidance: examples of these are thrombosis,
  • phlebitis, angina pectoris and hypertension

Do not massage on:

  • Areas of varicose veins
  • Any strange lumps or bumps
  • Recent scar tissue or open wounds
  • Areas of unidentified pain or inflammation (medical
  • advice to be sought first)
  • Any condition being treated by a medical doctor
  • unless he agrees
  • Do not massage over the spine

Massage Strokes

There are five basic massage strokes in Swedish Massage:

  • Effleurage
  • Petrissage
  • Friction
  • Vibration
  • Tapotment


Long, languid smoothing strokes.  They either go deep into the muscles or superficially slide across the surface of the skin. Always perform them with slow precision in the direction of the heart.  These encourage lymph flow. This sedative stroke also physiologically improves the functioning of the muscles by encouraging them to take in more nutrients from the blood.


Rolling or kneading the muscles. Twisting and squeezing the muscle fibres stimulates deep blood flow and it also strengthens the muscle.


strokes are circular movements of the hands. They have a very penetrating action which breaks down very deep knots. 


This rapid movement helps to stimulate the nervous system.


The aggressive movements everyone recognises in sports massage. Using a cupped or open hand, the therapist makes a chopping, hacking, beating or cupping action. These strokes stimulate the muscles and dependant on how long it is done for, may sedate or invigorate the tissues. (Short action wakes them up, repeating for several rotations is very sedative).

See also: Therapeutic Aromatherapy for oils and carrier oils to use for massage.