by JENNIFER MUCH
With hectic schedules, our bodies take on an immense amount of daily tension and stress. Enter massage therapy. Although often perceived as a luxury to foster relaxation, massage therapy provides several health benefits that relieve pain, facilitate healing and remind us that self-care is important.
But with so many styles of massage available, which is the best option? That depends. Although most people appreciate a good massage, choosing which type to receive depends on many factors, including personal preference, body type and ultimately, the end goal.
“Every massage ends up being a combination of relaxing and specific work catered to what the client is requesting,” said Jan Mills-Ladick, a massage therapist and the owner of Door County Massage in Sturgeon Bay.
Some massage styles are designed to target specific trigger points of aches and pains, and others allow the recipients to gently relinquish stress and connect with their bodies.
“When people come in for a massage, they should be prepared to be present in their bodies, allow and trust the therapist to do their work and to mentally let go,” Mills-Ladick said. “We aim to bring the client to a level of relaxation where the body and mind allow the release of excess tension.”
With generalized aches and just needing to unwind in mind, a massage therapist tailors a massage to each client. Swedish massages, characterized by long broad strokes and repetitive motions, are popular for stress relief and work to ease the nervous system. On the other hand, Ashiatsu and Thai massage techniques – forms of deep-tissue massage – include stronger pressures, sometimes using the full body weight of the therapist to work with tight muscles.
Problem areas can also be softly targeted with a variety of techniques and tools. Hot stones, for example, relax the muscles. Lymphatic massage moves lymph fluids through the body. Reiki seeks to improve the body’s energy flow and reduce pain. The one thing they all share is communication with the therapist.
“Massage style is really a matter of preference, but body type also plays a role,” Mills-Ladick said. “No matter what style or massage people book, there is always thorough communication between the client and therapist before and during the massage.”
For her clients, Mills-Ladick developed the “Jan Special,” a combination of myofascial release, Thai bodywork and Ashiatsu.
“It allows me the freedom to use a wide variety of techniques, floor and table work, depending on a client’s specific issue,” she said.
Massage is helpful not only for stress relief and minor pains, but it can also benefit a person’s overall well-being. According to the American Massage Therapy Association, 93% of individuals surveyed believe massages are beneficial to their health. What’s more, the same respondents felt they’re an effective, medication-free option for pain relief, and 25% have routinely used them for that reason.
Massage can help manage pain by enhancing blood flow to muscle groups. If a muscle becomes tight or shortened, it has a negative effect on the entire kinetic chain and myofascial dynamic of the body.
“When people feel comfortable in their body, their entire outlook on life changes,” Mills-Ladick said. “Massage is a proactive and preemptive way for people to maintain wellness, and it’s never a bad idea to make time for self-care.”
Felice Birmingham, a licensed massage therapist at Shanti Studio Massage & Healing Arts in Fish Creek, said she has seen a significant increase in the variety of massage needs.
“After working at spas for many years, I learned that many people want more than the entry-level Swedish massage,” said Birmingham, who offers clients an “integrative massage”: a combination of modalities tailored to their needs. This service entails mixing neuromuscular and myofascial elements with stretching and energetic flowing work.
Like Mills-Ladick, Birmingham encourages clients to consider the benefits of massage and how it can positively affect their life.
“Think of whether you just want to relax or also want deeper, more focused work,” Birmingham said. “Are your needs to relieve physical aches, stress, emotional issues?”
Additionally, massage can benefit all ages.
“Anybody can benefit from bodywork,” Birmingham said. “We all have bodies and store things inside. Our needs may differ as we age, but it is always very helpful in enjoying a healthy, balanced life.”