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If It Feels Good...

A message from a massage therapist

By Jim Chamberlin

Massage is "a systematic manipulation of the body tissues that is designed to have a therapeutic and healing effect on the muscular and nervous systems." Massage can improve performance, improve endurance, and lower fatigue levels. People who have incorporated massage into their lives have discovered many psychological as well as physiological benefits.


Massage conveys comfort, nurturing, and trust. The simple act of being touched by another person, in an environment of safety and permission, has a nurturing effect on the person’s well being. We all need "strokes." Massage provides literal strokes.

Massage serves as a reality test. We use our senses, in large part, to tell us who we are and to determine important information about the world around us. Massage directly reawakens the sense of touch. If confirms our sense of our size, and how we exist in the world as a physical body.

Massage unblocks holding patterns in our muscles. Physical trauma can produce tightness or other "holding patterns" in a muscle long after an injury. Similarly, emotions such as anger, fear, or low self-esteem, when frequent, can result in "holding patterns." Massage can help break up these patterns of retention and enhance physical and emotional flexibility.

Massage can reawaken past memories. Memories are associated with parts of the body and particular movements of the body. Massage can bring to the mind memories of events long past.


There are many types of massage available. The most popular in this country is Swedish massage, which features long strokes (calm or vigorous.). It also involves shaking and kneading of muscles, but without creating feelings of fatigue.

Stroking: These are long, smooth, continuous strokes along the body. They serve as a good introductory and closing stroke for each area of the body. They are also used to spread oil.

Kneading: The muscles are kneaded with the fingers using a motion similar to kneading bread. It affects the muscle fibers below the skin.

Percussion: Can be tapping, cupping or thumping. It affects the deeper tissue.

Point Pressure: Steady pressure applied directly to a point in the muscle – by fingertip, knuckle or forearm. Used to release tight muscles.

Friction: Focused rubbing which produces localized heat.

Passive Movement: Another person moves a part of the body without any effort being exerted by the recipient. This is especially effective for legs, arms and neck. It takes joints through their range of motion and can include rocking motions.

Polarity: Someone holds the recipient’s body in two places. It usually soothes the muscles in the area between the hands.

NOTE: A massage therapist is not medically qualified to diagnose or treat injuries. However, massage applied in concert with professional medical advice and care can speed recovery.


Blood circulation is increased. The direct mechanical effect of massage can dramatically increase the rate of blood flow. Also the stimulation of nerve receptors causes the blood vessels to dilate by reflex action. Increased blood flow is beneficial because it brings more oxygen and other nutrients to the muscles. It also enables better elimination of waste products such as lactic acid. Both of these effects enable the rapid recovery of "sore muscles," and promote endurance. Therefore, massage is much more effective than simple rest in the recovery of sore muscles.

Oxygen capacity in the blood increases possibly up to 15% after a massage. Stagnant red blood cells are dislodged from the inside walls of the blood vessels. Blood pooled in the legs is brought back into circulation.

Circulation of the lymph increases. Lymph fluid carries impurities and waste fluids away from the tissues and eventually filters them out of the body. Unlike blood, the movement of lymph in the body depends either on the squeezing effect of muscle contractions, or on massage.

Contracted, shortened muscles are loosened. Weak, flaccid muscles are stimulated. This muscle balancing can help posture and provide for more efficient movement. Massage does not increase muscle strength, but it can promote recovery from the fatigue of exercise.

More toxins are released by secretion and excretion. There is an increase in certain secretions such as saliva and urine. There is also increased excretion of nitrogen, inorganic phosphorus, and sodium chloride (salt). This finding suggests that the metabolic rate increases, and therefore the body cells utilize absorbed material more effectively.

The nervous system is affected positively. Depending on the type of strokes used and the intent of the massage, the nervous system may be either stimulated or soothed by massage.

Skin health is enhanced. Massage directly improves the function of the sebaceous and sweat glands, which keep the skin lubricated, clean and cooled. Tough, inflexible skin becomes softer and more supple.

Internal organs receive a greater blood supply. By directly or indirectly stimulating nerves that supply internal organs, massage causes the blood vessels of these organs to dilate, allowing them a greater blood supply.

Joint movements become more flexible. Movement of the body is dependent upon muscles moving joints. Many joints are complicated, and their parts have a way of settling and stiffening when not used. Massage counteracts stiffness in the joints by increasing blood supply to the joints, thus releasing the muscle tension, which can bind the joint. It also aids by passively moving the joint itself.

Muscles recover from injuries faster. For such injuries as sprains, strains and fractures, growth and recovery is accelerated by blood circulation in the injured areas.

NOTE: There are many situations when massage should not be attempted. Do not massage when there is an indication of disease of the bones, muscles, or skin; virus; unhealed fractures; unhealed acutely ruptured muscles; bacterial inflammation; severe localized arthritis; phlebitis or varicose veins; pain due to hemorrhage; vomiting; acute pain in the abdomen; or unstable cardiac conditions.

A physician should be consulted if there is any question about the use of massage. Approval by a physician is especially important if there is any indication of a serious medical condition or if a person is on medication.

Jim Chamberlin is a nationally certified massage therapist, a member of the American Massage Therapy Assn. and a 1984 graduate of Potomac Massage Training Institute in Washington, DC. For additional advice and personal massage, he can be contacted at (202) 265-1542.


More on Massage

By Jim Chamberlin


When giving yourself or someone else a massage, warm your hands in warm water and rub them together. Rapidly open and close your fingers or swing your arms in large circles.

Use different strokes and try to glide from one to another smoothly, molding your hands to the contours of their body. The speed and pressure may be varied, but smoothness is important. Try to keep your hands in touch with the person throughout the massage.

Massage generally toward the heart, because that is the path of the circulation for the lymph. The blood vessels in the arms and legs only allow blood flow toward the heart.

Massage is best conducted in a warm, quiet place. Avoid interruptions if possible. Music may help the person to relax.

The person receiving the massage should relax, breathe deeply, close their eyes and become aware only of the sensation of the massage. They do not need to "help."

Massage can be done on a sheet on the floor, but is more pleasurable for both when done on a massage table.

Use your weight rather than your arm strength to apply pressure. Lean into the person and try to keep your back straight.

If both parties are comfortable with the idea, it is more convenient for the person receiving the massage to be nude. Draping with an upper sheet provides for modesty at all times, and it also keeps the body warm. Clearly convey to the person receiving the massage that it is not meant to be a sexual experience.

Massage is most comfortable when the giver uses massage oil for lubrication. The oil helps the hands apply pressure while gliding over the portion of the body being massaged. Rub the oil on your hands first to warm it.

Be sure your nails are short to avoid accidental scratching. There will be more comfort if no jewelry is worn.

If the massage is done for too long a time, in an irregular pattern, or without enough lubrication, it can result in tension.


A professional massage therapist has respect for his/her clients. The client is in charge and should tell the therapist about anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. The client should also provide positive or negative guides to the therapist about the strokes being used.

The massage is not a sexual experience for the professional therapist, and is not intended to be one for you either. Discuss this point with the therapist if you are uncomfortable.

For those who feel uncomfortable with nudity, it is possible to locate someone who will give a shorter massage, fully clothed in a special massage chair. Typically a seated massage only involves the back, neck, shoulders and arms.

Appointments for a full body massage range anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes in length. The cost for massage therapy varies, but the sessions are usually priced around a dollar a minute.

Those contemplating massage for the first time may find a qualified professional therapist by contacting their state chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) or the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork in Arlington, VA [703-610-9015] or the Potomac Massage Training Institute [202-686-7046].

Jim Chamberlin is a nationally certified massage therapist, a member of the American Massage Therapy Assn. and a 1984 graduate of Potomac Massage Training Institute in Washington, DC. For additional advice and personal massage, he can be contacted at (202) 265-1542.

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