Massage can be defined as the systematic and manual manipulation of the body’s soft tissue for therapeutic purposes promoting health and well-being.
It is generally believed that the word massage derives from the Arabic ‘mass’ or ‘Mas’h’ meaning to press softly. As an art it must be about as old as man himself because to hold or rub an injured part is an instinctive reaction to pain or discomfort.
Massage has evolved from a combination of Eastern and Western traditions. By far the greatest advancement of therapeutic massage recorded in history was by a Swedish physiologist named Per Henrik Ling (1776-1839), who created a scientific system of massage movements and techniques known as Swedish Massage. This consists of five basic strokes: effleurage (stroking), petrissage (kneading), friction, tapotement (percussion), and vibration, though all of these strokes are not used on every part of the body.
Today, massage is a multidimensional skill encompassing a wide variety of ever evolving techniques, many of which have their roots in the Swedish system. The general public is now very aware of the value of massage in combating the stresses and tensions of modern living. Athletes, sports people and dancers include massage in their training schedules to aid recovery and to prevent or treat soft tissue injuries.
Most massage therapists utilise Swedish Massage as the foundation for a treatment and blend in various techniques, depending upon training and experience, to address the specific needs of the client. In general, the manipulation of the body’s soft tissue (i.e. the skin, muscles, tendons, ligaments and facia) using the hands is a gentle, flowing massage technique that uses varying degrees of pressure and stretching movements. It is most commonly used for relaxation and improving well-being.
A typical full-body massage session lasts for about one hour, many therapists will offer shorter sessions for treating specific areas such as backs, shoulders and necks or any areas giving discomfort, aches or pains. On the first visit clients are asked a number of questions concerning general well-being, injuries and medical conditions that the therapist should know about, in order to determine if there are any contra-indications (physical conditions that would prohibit or limit a massage treatment).
The client is asked to undress, to the client’s level of comfort/modesty, and to lie on the massage table under a sheet or large towel (draping). During the session, the therapist will utilise the draping to expose only those parts of the body to which treatment is being applied. No body part or area will be massaged without the client's permission.
Massage media include oils, lotions, creams and talc; oil is the most common. A good oil will nourish the skin and allow a free-flowing movement as it allows the hands to glide over the area. The therapist will sense responses but will also ask the client about the strength of their touch. Remember, "no pain, no gain" holds no truth in massage. If in discomfort or hurting, the client should feel free to ask the therapist to modify their treatment.
Environment is important to the massage experience. The room should be warm and peaceful. If the desired experience is to be relaxing then having low-level lighting, soft music and a pleasing aroma all add to the effect.