Healthy Manhattan: The Lowdown on Massages

Written by Emily Johnson on . Posted in Healthy Manhattan, Posts.


The next time you wonder if your neck will ever move comfortably again after sitting hunched before a computer screen all day, consider this before you reach for the Percocet: massage therapy is increasingly recognized by medical professionals as a healthy alternative to drugs when it comes to pain relief. And it just might help you live longer.

Hospitals are using it to treat patients with chronic conditions like fibromyalgia and degenerative arthritis. Physical therapists use it with patients trying to regain muscle strength after hip or knee surgeries. Big corporations are offering it as an employee benefit. Psychiatrists report that it helps combat depression. And more and more experts are viewing it as preventative medicine because of the way it combats stress, which is linked to the number-one killer in America: heart disease.

According to the Academy of Natural Therapy, 14 percent of adult Americans got a massage in 2008, and 42 percent have received one professionally at some point in their lives. And while the bulk of the clientele used to be women, that is no longer really the case.

"I would say it’s 50-50 men and women," said Eugene Sazonov, the owner of Magic Hands Massage Therapy on East 82nd Street, which opened in 1997. He offers a number of different types of massages, but stresses that each one is tailored to the individual client’s needs.

"Emotional stuff is one thing," he said. "It’s based on a therapist’s ability to connect and create a treatment for that person. With medical massage, there are numerous techniques. It all depends on the injury."

There are currently more than 200 types of massage, from the basic to the extremely specialized. Massage therapists utilize everything from hot stones to pools of water in their mission to get you to chill out.

SWEDISH MASSAGE

Swedish massage is the most requested service in spas, according to a 2009 consumer study. It is one of the more relaxing types of massage, as the masseuse focuses mostly on superficial layers of muscle with long, smooth strokes and gentle kneading. They generally use lotions or oils and play music. Communicating with them to let them know your problem areas can help you get the most out of the experience.

More and more experts are viewing massage as preventative medicine because of the way it combats stress, which is linked to the numberone killer in America: heart disease.

SHIATSU MASSAGE

Shiatsu has a lot in common with acupuncture because of the way it uses pressure points to improve the flow of energy. The massage therapists use their fingertips, elbows and knees in a rhythmic pattern to apply pressure to the 12 "meridians" of the body to unblock the chi. Unbalanced chi, in traditional Chinese medicine, is the root cause of most diseases in the body.

THAI MASSAGE

Thai massage is similar to shiatsu in the way it aligns the energies of the body using pressure on key points. But it is a more active, interactive experience because of the way the massage therapist moves you into a series of postures and stretches meant to improve your flexibility and release stress. It has been compared to doing yoga while lying down, and you’re more likely to walk out of the room feeling energized than sleepy.

AROMATHERAPY MASSAGE

Aromatherapy involves basic massage therapy—gentle kneading—with highly concentrated plant oils thrown into the mix. The potent scents are meant to trigger a response in the body’s limbic system, which is connected to the nostrils. The limbic
system uses the nervous system and hormones to control emotional
responses. Inhaling essential oils (which are also absorbed through the
skin) can affect essential functions like blood pressure, heart rate,
memory and the immune system. For this reason, aromatherapy is a good
choice for people going through a particularly stressful or emotional
time.

HOT STONE MASSAGE

In one of the
most deeply relaxing forms of massage, flat, heated stones are placed on
the body in strategic places on the back, the palms of the hands and
between the toes. The heat loosens tight muscles and allows the massage
therapist to apply deeper pressure. It also improves circulation and
soothes the nervous system.

DEEP TISSUE MASSAGE

This one’s not for the faint of heart.

Deep tissue massage
focuses on realigning the deepest layers of muscle in chronically tight
areas such as the neck, the shoulders and the lower back. In these
areas, rigid bands of tissue can form that actually block circulation
and restrict movement. To release this, the massage therapist uses
strong pressure across the grain of the muscles. Some discomfort and
pain may occur during the massage and most people are sore for a day or
two afterward.

Massage
therapists are required to be licensed in the state of New York, but
that hasn’t stopped many unlicensed therapists from doing business. They
may be cheaper—the average price for a professional massage in the U.S.
is $65—but Sazonov says that with many of them, you’re not likely to
get your money’s worth.

"It
may feel nice, like a girlfriend giving her boyfriend a back rub," he
says. "But when they use two moves all over your body, it’s not really
doing anything for you."

Make
sure to let the massage therapist know what your comfort levels are,
whether it’s keeping some clothes on under the sheet or telling them how
much pressure is too much.

And
if you’re anxious, go with a friend or partner. Many spas offer
"couples massages," so people can bond with their other halves while
relaxing.

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