Stripped off all pretense or flourishes, the basic intent of therapeutic massage is to manipulate the soft tissues purposefully to help heal the damaged, sore, bruised or otherwise impaired part of the body. There are, however, a seemingly vast number of specific specialized techniques and types of massage. There is Sports Massage, Myofascial Massage, Neuromuscular Massage, Swedish Massage, Acupressure, Thai Massage, Watsu and Hydrotherapeutic Massage. The massage therapist must look at the different kinds, examine their techniques and decide what is appropriate for their client.
This may seem an insurmountable difficulty, but it is not. You can easily divide the basic techniques of massage therapy into two categories: Eastern (or Oriental or Asian) and Western. Although there are hybrids of these two major categories of therapeutic massage, the techniques remain distinct. There are clear indicators of the focus and style of massage in hybrids.
Eastern Massage at its most traditional bases its massage techniques on a pressure point system. While the philosophy of Thai Massage, Shiatsu, An Mo and Tui Na refers to the existence of some form of universal life force of energy, the actual technique involves working on specific points of the body. In Acupressure, for example, there are 365 acupoints on the body. A practitioner of this method uses the fingertips or hands to press on a specific point. This pressure, applied for a specific length of time, may relieve the pain, reduce tension, increase circulation, eliminate toxins and prevent nausea. In Reflexology, the practitioner utilizes reflex zones. Each point on the foot represents a specific part of the human anatomy. A point may have an association with a specific organ, gland or other body part. Pressing on the Reflex point helps remove congestion or imbalance within the body. This, in turn, prevents or removes disease and illness.
In the classic form of Western massage, there are no specific acupoints. The practitioner uses 5 basic hand motions to relieve stress, reduce tension and help the body heal itself. These 5 points for Classic Massage or Swedish Massage bear French nomenclature. They are Effleurage, Petrissage, Frictions, Tapotement and Vibration. Effleurage is long, smooth motions while Petrissage refers to a kneading of the flesh. In Frictions, a practitioner makes circular movements with the hands while in Tapotement the hands perform a tapping or percussion-like movements. With Vibration, the therapist uses two hands or thumbs to shake the flesh.
In Classic Western Massage, the hand and its parts work to manipulate the flesh. In Swedish Massage Therapy, the body is the entire canvas of the practitioner. In variations of Classic Massage, such as Sports Massage, the therapist usually focuses on a specific body part. In Traditional and modern forms of Asian Massage Therapy, the practitioner may utilize the fingers and other parts of the body to free energy. The desire is to use the techniques to unblock the channels for the entire body.
A massage therapist needs to know the different techniques. Although he or she may prefer a specific type of massage therapy, it is necessary to understand the essential differences and their application. In addition, a practitioner needs to know the necessity to adapt the techniques of massage therapy to the client. This includes realizing adjustments are essential when dealing with the specific needs of clients.
There are several individuals requiring alterations or adjustments in technique. This applies to both Western and Eastern approaches. The factors for which a therapeutic masseuse must make modifications include body type, age, pregnancy, disability and even gender. A practitioner has to be able to assess and tweak their approach accordingly.
Heavily padded or thin, bony clients require different techniques. You do not use Tapotement on a small, slender individual. This may produce bruising. In the least, the action can be uncomfortable. In the case of well-padded clients, you will have to increase the depth of your massage. Otherwise, you will not be able to affect the circulatory system.
Males and females have different requirements. During pregnancy, a practitioner will need to adjust the mat, pad or massage table to address the various trimesters. The length of the massage may not correspond to a comfortable time for the woman. At 4 months, it may be difficult to lie on the stomach. Later, it may also be hard to maintain a position on the back. There is also the question of depth of massage and massaging the stomach. With the male, therapists may need to apply greater pressure too manipulate the larger muscle bulk.
Another factor is age. You do not apply the same force or use the same technique for either the elderly or infants. In Tui Na, the form for infants differs from that for adults. The same is true for Western Massage Therapy. In both the elderly and the very young, a practitioner does not utilize heavy hands. Therapists also avoid pressure on fragile bones. If the practitioner knows his or her craft and understands the need to vary and adapt his or her technique, there should never be a problem.