Unveiling the mysteries of massage

RACHEL BROWNE
Last updated 05:00 21/11/2011

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Heard about the benefits of massage but not sure if it's for you? Rachel Browne demystifies the most popular massage styles.

SHIATSU

How it works

Shiatsu originated in China almost 8000 years ago before spreading to other parts of Asia and then the Western world.

According to Chinese medical practice, our bodies contain chi, or energy, which travels through specific pathways called meridians.

Shiatsu practitioners manipulate the chi through defined acupuncture points to maintain balance in the body.

Who it helps

Shiatsu is regarded as a therapeutic massage and can be used to assist in a variety of conditions from back pain to mood disorders.

''It can be used when you are well,'' says Anne McDermott, who has practiced shiatsu for 25 years.

''Many people use shiatsu to maintain health and balance in their lives, both physically and emotionally.''

Most commonly, however, it is used to relieve musculoskeletal stiffness such as back pain and sciatica, headaches and pain resulting from injury or surgery.

SWEDISH

How it works

Sweden gave us Abba and Ikea but cannot claim Swedish massage.

It actually started in Holland before being formally developed in Sweden about 200 years ago.

A full body massage used primarily for reducing stress, Swedish (or ''relaxation'') massage uses a combination of long strokes, kneading, circular strokes and what looks like a karate chopping movement to ease muscular tension.

''Swedish massage is a soothing massage to promote relaxation,'' says Sydney practitioner Catherine Boller, who also teaches and practices a number of other styles of massage (see below).

Who it helps

Swedish massage can assist anyone who is feeling stressed or tense, which is just about all of us at some stage.

''A lot of people will do it purely for indulgence,'' Boller says.

''You can add some essential oils for an extra level of relaxation. The massage can go for up to an hour and a half and it's a great way for people to simply switch off for that period. It's perfect for people who are feeling stressed or tired, who have trouble relaxing.''

REMEDIAL

How it works

A specific treatment for tense muscles and stiff joints, remedial massage can assist with parts of the body that have suffered from over-use, trauma, poor posture or too much stress.

It targets joints and deeper muscles, alleviating symptoms and addressing the underlying cause of the problem.

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Depending on the nature of the condition, remedial massage can be gentle or strong.

Who it helps

According to Boller, one of her busiest times of the year is straight after The Sun-Herald City2Surf run when athletes come in to have their legs treated.

''I do see a lot of athletes but I also see many sedentary people who sit at desks all day on computers and develop back problems from that,'' she says.

''Towards the end of every year I get HSC students who have been swotting over their books and they have neck and shoulder problems.''

Remedial massage can also be used in conjunction with physiotherapy or osteopathy to relieve pain following trauma such as a car accident.

LYMPHATIC DRAINAGE

How it works

This massage is used to treat fluid retention in the lymphatic system.

A light-touch, non-invasive therapy, lymphatic drainage targets a specific area of fluid and helps shift it from the swollen site.

No oils or lotions are used in the process, which involves slow, repetitive movements on the affected area.

Who it helps

Boller sees a number of patients with lymph blockages following surgery as well as pregnant women who have swelling in their legs and ankles.

However, she says lymphatic drainage can be applied to a number of conditions such as sinus and acne.

''You can just about use it for anything, anywhere where you have fluid or inflammation in the body,'' she says.

REFLEXOLOGY

How it works

Reflexology uses pressure to the hands, feet and ears to assist in relieving problems elsewhere in the body. Reflexologists divide the body into 10 zones, which have corresponding areas on the feet, ears and hands.

''As you are doing a reflexology technique with your thumb, which is called thumb walking, it stimulates that organ or tissue in the corresponding part of the body,'' Sydney reflexologist Lucy Campbell says.

Who it helps

Campbell sees clients with a range of health problems from immune deficiency to insomnia.

''It's good for people who are immune deficient, such as people with HIV/AIDS or cancer,'' she says. ''It will help give them better quality of life. Some people come in for relaxation because they are stressed and not sleeping well.''

Reflexology is also an option for people who are uncomfortable about the idea of removing their clothes for a body massage.

AYURVEDIC

How it works

Ayurveda is the traditional medicine of India with ''ayur'' meaning life and ''veda'' meaning knowledge.

Central to the tradition is ayurvedic massage in which large amounts of warm herb-infused oil are rubbed into the body by up to four practitioners.

Different oils are used to suit the constitution of the patient. Ayurveda recognises 107 marma points, or points of vital energy, which are stimulated in various ways to promote the flow of energy around the body.

Who it helps

A GP and ayurveda specialist, Dr Shaun Matthews, says many people use the massage to complement an overall good-health plan.

''I see a lot of people who are very sick as well as people who are healthy but they just want to improve on what they have,'' he says.

''You can have the treatment for general rejuvenation.''

Ayurvedic massage can assist people with low energy levels, poor sleep quality, high blood pressure or weight problems.

SPORTS MASSAGE

How it works

Don't book a sports massage thinking you are going to get a relaxing rub down. Sports massage is specifically tailored to injuries and strains and can be strong, even painful at times.

It works by relieving the stress and tension that can build up on soft tissues and muscles during physical activity. Sports massage techniques aim to improve a person's performance and endurance and minimise the chance of injury.

The massage is designed to alleviate and prevent conditions that result from exercise - from swelling and muscle tension to shin splints and strains. It can be carried out before, during or after exercise.

Who it helps

Anyone who is physically active can benefit from sports massage.

Of course, professional athletes are regulars but sports massage can also help people who engage in any regular exercise from touch footballers to weekend golfers.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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