Massage Therapy

What is it?

Massage is a systematic, therapeutic stroking and kneading of the soft tissues of the body. The word is derived from the Greek 'masso', to knead and the Arabic 'mass', to press gently. It has been used as a form of therapy for thousands of years and touch is the most instinctive response to pain. Touch is an essential requirement for healthy development in early life and research has shown the babies who have received massage from their mothers have increased weight gain, increased nerve and brain cell development and better hormonal functioning and cell activity. Earliest records of the use of massage as a therapy come from China over 5,000 years ago. The use of massage in the West became more popular in the 16th Century when a French doctor, Ambroise Pare incorporated a more anatomical and physiological approach. A Swede, Per Henrik Ling, developed a system of massage and gymnastics in the early 19th Century which became what we now know as Swedish Massage. There are many different types of massage that have been developed; some approaches focus on the physical effects that the massage techniques have on the body, whilst others focus attention on the flow of 'energy' within the body. All types of massage can have an effect on the skin, muscles, blood vessels, lymph, nerves and some of the internal organs.

How Does Massage Work?

The relationship between the exterior and interior of the body is closely interlinked via the nervous system and it has been found that by stimulating specific areas on the surface of the body can have a corresponding effect on the internal organs and systems of the body. The dermis layer of the skin contains nerve endings which respond to touch and, on stimulation, the receptor nerves relay impulses via the spinal cord back to the brain. The brain then relays messages back to the area involved. The effects may include the relaxation of voluntary muscles, the sedation of nerve sensors and improved blood circulation to the area. The receptor nerve endings affected by touch travel more quickly than those involved in chronic pain and can reduce the brain's perception of the amount of pain from the affected area. Chemicals known as endorphins are also released from the brain and act as the body's natural painkillers. These help to counter the sensation of chronic pain and give a feeling of well-being and relaxation.

The following gives a brief description of some of the various types of massage available:


This is a traditional Japanese massage that works tsubos or acupressure points on the body. Anma became the basis of energy-based body techniques like shiatsu, tuina and Kahuna.


Aromatherapy is the combination of healing massage with the medicinal properties of essential oils from plant extracts. The essential oils are absorbed through the skin during massage and also by inhalation through the nose.

Aston Patterning

Developed in America by Judith Aston and has its roots in Rolfing, Aston Patterning is a system of massage, soft tissue bodywork, fitness training and movement education. It can be helpful in alleviating pain and improving posture by encouraging fluid body movements and even distribution of body weight.

Ayurvedic Massage

This is the massage aspect of Ayurvedic medicine. It is based on affecting the flow of 'prana' through the 107 'marma' points on the body. This is very similar to the approach used by Oriental Medicine as in Acupuncture. Depending on the constitution and the 'dosha type' of the client according to the principles of Ayurvedic Medicine, suitable oils are chosen to be used in the massage. There is also a form of massage for self-use.

Biodynamic Massage

Developed in the 1960's by a Norwegian physiotherapist and psychologist, Gerda Boyesen. The therapy aims to release energy believed to be trapped in the muscles and gut causing physical and emotional pain. Techniques can be soothing or more vigorous and Swedish massage is used together with other methods like 'lifting' the limbs to free trapped 'bio-energy' which is then released via the abdomen. Discussion is encouraged if the treatment raises any issues.

Chavutti Thirumal

Chavutti Thirumal comes from southern India and is part of the Ayurvedic system. It is said to have developed to promote suppleness to traditional dancers and martial art practitioners and is regarded as a specialised form of massage to aid the circulation, lymphatic system and digestion. The therapist is suspended above the client using a rope, and uses his or her feet and toes to apply firm, continuous strokes to stimulate the body's energy lines.


Developed by Joseph Heller, an American engineer and Rolfing Practitioner, in the 1970's, it could be described as a blend of Rolfing, Alexander Technique and the Feldenkrais Method. It has three components: bodywork, movement education and verbal dialogue. The bodywork is a deep massage to the fascia which is where Joseph Heller believes stiffness and tension accumulate.

Indian Head Massage (Champissage)

Traditionally practised in India to the head and hair in order to keep hair lustrous and healthy, it has been extended and enhanced to include deep and relaxing massage to the upper back, shoulders and neck which is an area susceptible to the build-up of tension. It helps to relax the thin layer of muscle covering the head, improving blood flow, nourishing the hair follicles and alleviating anxiety and stress.


An ancient Hawaiian system of massage that aims to help clients accept their own body and love themselves. Connection to one's own self-love is believed to strengthen the ability to recognise the beauty in our life and surroundings. The treatment involves the practitioner using long rhythmical strokes over a two hour period with the client lying naked on a treatment table. The massage increases the vibrational rate of the cells of the body.


A deep tissue massage based on a Hawaiian Kahuna tradition.

Manual Lymphatic Drainage

A very light pressure massage is used on the skin to encourage and stimulate the superficial lymphatic system in order to assist the removal of toxins from the body via the lymphatic nodes. Dietary correction can also be advisable.

Remedial Massage

This is a corrective massage to encourage muscular alignment to muscle groups that are strained from overuse. The massage is deep and specific, concentrating on the muscles that are tight and stiff.


Rolfing (or Structural Integration) is a system of manipulation designed to bring the body into correct alignment.

Sports Massage

This is ideal for loosening muscle groups to regain flexibility and prevent strains occurring. It focuses on muscle recovery rate and helps to cleanse the muscles of toxins allowing less muscle fatigue after exercise. Deep massage is applied to the muscle groups.

Thai Massage

Thai massage is a blend of Chinese and Ayurvedic systems. It uses gentle stretching, bending and pulling techniques to affect the flow of 'prana' or vital force in the body. Treatment is focused on the massage channels and points on the body and a practitioner will use hands, feet and elbows to affect this flow and help to restore harmony to the body.

Therapeutic Massage (Swedish Massage)

Is the manipulation of the soft tissues (skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments) of the body. It is a firm massage and has a set routine of techniques that vary from deep pressure to stimulate the body's systems, to a slower, more superficial movement to assist relaxation. There are four basic movements used in Therapeutic Massage:

  • Effleurage: relaxes and stretches the superficial muscles of the body.
  • Petrissage: kneading and squeezing of superficial and deeper muscles and soft tissue.
  • Friction: breaks down adhesions between tissues and relaxes muscle fibres.
  • Tapotement: a variety of percussive strokes to stimulate skin and muscles to increase blood flow.

Zero Balancing

It was developed in the 1970's by Dr Fritz Smith, an American doctor, osteopath and acupuncturist and is a touch technique that combines Eastern and Western medicine. Treatment aims to restore a smooth flow of energy throughout the body paying attention to 'foundation' joints that act as shock absorbers for the weight distribution of the body and to breathing patterns, eye movements and stomach rumbles. The improvement to the energy flow can help to improve posture, increase harmony and the body's own self-healing ability. The practitioner uses gentle touch via the fingers to stretch and hold the client, who lies fully clothed on a treatment table.


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