What flavor massage would treat you best? Like a smorgasbord full of delectable treats, it can be a bit confusing for people with all of the different massage techniques advertised to select the proper bodywork provider for their particular needs. Some clients seek nothing more than 60-90 minutes of utter relaxation, while most want a combination of that and therapeutic methods to help with ailments causing discomfort.

The Swedish massage is largely credited to early 19th century Swedish physiologist and gymnastics instructor Pehr Henrick Ling, who created a system of gymnastics and exercises, followed with stretches and massage, to treat injury and disease. His massage and motion procedures were noted to improve circulation, relieve muscle tension, improve range of motion and promote relaxation. A Dutch physician named Johann Mezger further publicized and expanded the massage component of Ling’s work. As we know it today, as “Swedish” massage refers to a feel-good relaxing therapeutic massage treatment in its most basic sense, targeting the more superficial muscular layers that endure a lot of the daily wear and tear of everyday life. A Swedish massage includes long strokes parallel with the muscle fibers called “effleurage,” kneading or “petrissage,” cross-fiber friction, compression, and perhaps some light percussive action called “tapotement” and vibration (interestingly, French terms!).

A deep tissue massage uses some of the same strokes as the Swedish technique, but with more spice. It is a stronger and more targeted approach for relieving chronic areas of tension, scar tissue, tendon injuries and deeper layers of muscle that are bound together causing pain, inhibited circulation, inflammation or a loss in range of motion. This method relies on slower heavy strokes, strong cross-fiber friction, kneading and “stripping” — deep gliding strokes along the grain of the muscle to help break up adhesions between muscle fibers. Practitioners might use their elbows or forearms to provide sustained pressure to adhesions, incorporating “trigger point therapy” with focused intention on knots. While often extremely effective, it’s not for everyone, deeper is not necessarily better, and should not be taken lightly. It can leave clients feeling sore for a day or two, and is never recommended for people with blood clots, due to the risk of dislodging them. Other contraindications include osteoporosis, bruised areas, recent surgery, pregnancy, fragile bones or skin and recent injuries.

A sports massage is often confused with a deep tissue massage, but is quite different. I believe spas often list “sports massage” on the menu as a way to appeal to men who are sore from physical activity, as so many of us are. A sports massage is targeted toward athletic performance, and is categorized as an “event” (pre/inter/post-event), “maintenance” or “rehabilitative” massage. An event massage is brief and focuses on increasing circulation and flexibility to musculature, using brisk movements and moderate to light pressure to hard-working muscle groups in general, with jostling, light vibration and fast sweeping strokes. Maintenance and rehab massages can be customized to what the athlete needs to prepare for the next event, support the athlete’s goals, prevent injury, and enhance recovery from past injuries or events.

Myofascial Release (MFR) and Structural Integration (SI), or Rolfing, are unique techniques that deal with fascia and postural alignment issues, releasing “connective tissues” that have slowly pulled the bones and joints out of proper alignment over time. All of our muscles are surrounded by fascia, collagen-rich tissue similar to the white skin around an orange. This fascia surrounds our muscles, separating them from one another, and concentrates into dense connective tissue adhering to bones called tendons. Envision eating a chicken drumstick; the impenetrable chewy rubbery parts are tendons or dense fascial connections. Like a continuous web, fascia is an essential component of the soft tissue musculoskeletal system, and becomes bound, adhered, shortened, strained and stressed. I have read that up to 90 percent of what we perceive to be “muscular” pain can be attributed to connective tissue issues. MFR is not Rolfing (SI), but Rolfing is a form of MFR. In a nutshell, MFR is often used by physical therapists and trained massage therapists, using light slow sustained pressure to “melt” fascial restrictions, slowly elongating dense connective tissue. Rolfing, named after its founder Dr. Ida Rolf, requires very specific training, and seeks to strategically release structures that prevent correct movements and realign the whole body, using a recipe of 10 manipulation sessions to realign the body with its natural field of gravity.

A plethora of other bodywork modalities exist, including Thai, lymph, active release and refloxology, just to name a few, and will be addressed in my next article, but this should give the reader enough to digest for now.  Ideally, a perfect massage session should be customized and provide whatever flavors the client’s body requires, which the practitioner is able to provide to help them feel relaxed, rejuvenated and on their way to recovery.

For further information or to schedule an appointment, contact Alessandra Nisco Jacobson at Alison Palmer’s Physical Therapy and Wellness Center at 970-729-1737 or alessandratelluridemassage.com.