Say you've had a rough week at the office, and you're yearning to treat yourself to some much deserved rest and relaxation. You've been feeling tense, so you decide that the perfect way to unwind is to indulge yourself with a massage. Even though you might think that is just a good way to kick back, massage actually comes with a ton of medically proven health benefits, one of which is improved circulation in your cardiovascular and lymphatic systems. When you get a massage, your circulation is improved due to physical manipulation of soft tissue and chemicals released as a part of your body's response to relaxation.
To understand the benefits of massage, you first have to know a little about your circulatory system. Your circulatory system consists of two parts: the cardiovascular and lymphatic systems. These two systems work together to detoxify the body. As nutrient-rich blood travels away from your heart through capillaries, in adjacent tissue cells, nutrients and wastes are exchanged. Fluid taken from the blood, or lymph, transports waste to your lymph nodes where they filter wastes and return fluid to your bloodstream. When your circulatory systems isn't working properly, your blood flow is impaired and your heart has to work extra hard to pump blood. This can cause health problems such as heart attack, stroke, eye disease, kidney disease, muscle pain, dementia, diabetes, influenza and cirrhosis, just to name a few.
Massage stimulates the flow of blood and lymph vessels, thus enhancing circulation. Think of a tube of toothpaste: when you apply pressure to the tube, toothpaste flows out of the tube more easily. The same principle applies to your blood and lymph flow when you get a massage. On the next few pages, we'll take a look at five types of massage that improve circulation.
Leg massage stimulates circulation of blood and lymph and even can prevent varicose veins. To relieve congestion in your legs, a masseuse will stroke upward from the ankle toward the lymph nodes located at the back of the knee and groin. He or she will massage the leg's larger muscles around the thighs to stimulate the lymphatic system. More gentle pressure will be applied around bony areas such as the shins and knees. If your legs are puffy or swollen, don't worry. A professional masseuse will be sure to use just the right amount of gentle pressure to relieve your discomfort.
Deep Tissue Massage
Deep tissue massage releases tension in muscles by applying slow strokes, direct pressure and friction across the grain of muscles. When you go in for a deep tissue massage, your masseuse will stroke your body to detect stiff or painful areas and determine the texture of the deep layers of your muscle. He or she then will work those areas will specific hand positions and strokes to provide you with the most relief. When you receive a deep tissue massage, cellular debris and toxins in the body are released, thus strengthening your immune system. This type of massage improves circulation by increasing oxygen flow throughout your body. In particular, deep tissue massage improves circulation to the feet.
Swedish massage relaxes muscles by applying pressure to deep muscle and bones. A masseuse will rub your body tissue in the same direction as the flow of blood to the heart which will aid in improving your circulation. The lymph system relies on muscle action rather than the pressure of blood being pumped to carry fluids back to the heart, so the extra assistance of a Swedish massage will provide your muscles with some relief. It also will improve circulation by speeding the return of blood and lymph from your extremities. Although the chief goal of Swedish massage is to improve circulation and speed up the return of lymph and blood, it also helps to remove metabolic waste from your circulatory system and can shorten recovery time for muscular strain by flushing the muscle of lactic and uric acids.
Pfrimmer Deep Muscle Therapy
Pfrimmer deep muscle therapy massage is designed to correct restricted muscles in order to improve circulation. Therese C. Pfrimmer developed this massage technique after she became partially paralyzed while working in a laundry service. By giving herself a unique deep muscle massage, she was able to reverse her paralysis, and she devoted the rest of her life to studying and teaching others her technique.
Tight muscles prevent good blood circulation and lymphatic fluid, and the Pfrimmer deep muscle massage works to relieve the restriction of circulatory flow in your entire body. Think about a kink in a garden hose: When the flow of water is restricted, you can't properly water your plants and nurture your garden. The same goes with your body. When you have this all-over deep muscle massage, your entrapped nerves will be relieved, lymphatic fluid will be brought toward muscle cells, toxins will be moved out and muscles that may have been restricting circulation will be softened.
Manual Lymphatic Drainage
Manual lymphatic drainage is a type of massage specifically developed to improve circulation. Drs. Emil and Estrid Vodder discovered this type of massage in the 1930s while they were treating patients with immune disorders. They noticed that many patients with chronic colds had swollen lymph nodes, and they decided to study the lymph system, a part of the body which the medical field knew little about, in more depth. The Vodders' efforts made them pioneers in the medical field.
This soothing, gentle and rhythmic massage accelerates lymphatic fluid. When you receive this massage, the masseuse will gently stretch your skin the direction of lymph flow to improve circulation. Manual lymphatic drainage is an important tool in the treatment of lymphedema and other lymphatic and circulatory disorders.
The ancient art of reflexology focuses on pressure points exclusively on hands and feet. HowStuffWorks looks at whether it really relieves stress.
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- Pfrimmer Massage. "Foundations of Pfrimmer Deep Muscle Therapy. (July 24, 2012.) http://www.pfrimmer.org/
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- NCBI. "Massage Therapies." (July 10, 2012). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1071543/
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- United Massage Therapists. "Considering What Type Of Massage To Receive? 17 Different Modalities To Ponder." (July 10, 2012). http://www.unitedmassagetherapists.com/orange-county-massage-types.html