LaGrasse Massage

OPTIONS IN MASSAGE
By Peter La Grasse, LMT

Presented at Adirondack Community College
Health and Wellness: Holistic Options
March 15, 2005

Greetings! Isn’t it wonderful to have a conference on Wholistic Options?

I am a Massage Therapist. Massage is defined as the application of a “scientific system of activities to the muscular structure of the human body for the purpose of improving muscle tone and circulation.” Most massage therapists believe that their therapy affects all soft tissue, such as fascia, tendons, joint capsules, blood and lymph, nerves, internal organs, skin, and even Chi or vital essence.

Massage is said to benefit conditions of muscle spasm and tightness resulting in chronic back pain. Massage reduces scar tissue, adhesions and fascia restraint, which limit motion. And, massage relieves soft tissue trauma and swelling, inflammation of connective tissue, arthritis, and pain.

In another dimension, massage therapists believe that they are affecting the psychological and emotional aspect of a person, mobilizing the body’s inner resources to cure itself.

In yet another dimension, massage therapists believe that oriental massage influences the flow of Chi or vital essence. Massage treatments thereby benefit the function of major organ systems within the body.

As a massage therapist, I treat the soft tissue of the body. I match the best therapy to the conditions that I feel under my hands to alleviate pain and to heal.

Once I was trying to book a professional dancer for a massage. He said to me: “That’s nice, you do massage, but what kind of massage do you do?”

The New England Journal of Medicine found about 100 varieties of massage in use. The choices are bewildering to the consumer, and, honestly, to the practitioner as well.

Swedish Massage

To try to explain the options in massage, I suggest considering only three categories. The first category, Swedish massage, primarily addresses muscles and circulation, blood and interstitial fluid, lymph and its circulation, let’s say, for a better term, the soft stuff. Think of it as the water in this bottle, essentially fluid.

Once I set up my massage table at a volleyball tournament. Soon a woman came to my table, limping with an ace bandage wrapped around her swollen knee, half carried by her friend. Twenty minutes of lymph drainage techniques reduced the swelling completely. She walked away pain-free to play for the rest of the day.

In this case, I worked on the thigh proximal to the knee, because the knee was far too painful to touch initially. I used light slow strokes in the direction of lymph flow. This allowed the lymph to carry broken cells back to the blood circulation through lymph ducts. It helped drain the area of exhausted white blood cells and inflamed plasma, and allowed fresh plasma with more nutrients and white blood cells to come into the area and heal the injury. The patient’s further activity during the day ensured continued circulation and healing.

Muscle strains and trigger points and knots also readily respond to lymph massage. Manual lymph drainage is a subcategory of Swedish massage.

The two mainstays of Swedish massage, effleurage and petrissage; that—in English—are stroking and kneading, address muscle spasms and joint mobility. They enhance circulation and muscle tone.

Vibration enhances circulation of blood and lymph; it falls under Swedish massage. Vibration travels deep into muscle tissue, enhancing circulation, and releasing tense muscles, without traumatizing the intervening muscle tissue. Vibration accelerates fluid and nutrient exchange at the cellular level, including within arthritic joints.

Body Work

Now, let’s go to the other extreme, the second type of massage, so-called “body work.” I ran across an advertisement for liniment called Prossage Heat. It said, “Two drops will forever change the way you approach your soft tissue modalities.” There are eight leading seminar trainers promoting this product in the ad. Each proprietary method has a unique modality that emphasizes deep tissue massage: There are Neuro Kenetic Therapy, Orthopedic Massage, Core Structural Myofascia Therapy. They there are Myoskeletial Alignment Technique, Active Isolated Stretching, and Sports Massage. And there are also Neuromuscular Therapy and Deep Tissue Stone Massage.

All these treatments are “deep tissue massage.” The two drops of oil allow for controlled friction of the hand over the body, pulling and stretching the skin and underlying fascia, generating heat and, in effect, liquefying the normally flexible but inelastic fascia.

The fascia surrounds the muscle and forms a network grid within the muscle structure. Think of the fascia as the plastic bottle that I have. The fascia holds the fluid muscles just like the bottle holds the water. Fascia shortens with reduced mobility after injuries. During rehabilitation after an injury heals, this shortened fascia has to be stretched to allow normal mobility.

A technique known as Rolfing, or Structural Integration, is founded on the scientific manipulation of fascia. The myofascial release techniques imbedded in deep tissue massage are based on Rolfing.

If you look to massage to recondition the muscle skeletal system from trauma, chronic pain, or simply as an adjunct to a sports training regime, some type of deep tissue and sports massage is for you. If you are stiff and cannot flex easily, deep tissue work is for you.

Energy Work

In massage school I was trained to AMMA Therapy, a Chinese and Korean form of massage. AMMA Therapy works to promote Chi flow by manipulating the channels and acupoints of the body. AMMA Therapy, Shiatsu, Reflexology and Reiki are representative of the third major category of massage: energy work. AMMA Therapy can benefit many medical conditions, such as hay fever, asthma, colds, menstru8al problems, you name it. By working the chest and Lung Channel, and various acupoints, the severity of asthma can be reduced and possibly, over time, eliminated.

This statement may sound pretentious. But the potential of alternative therapies has barely been tapped; its knowledge is in its relative infancy. It is impossible to imagine what the future holds.

During the 1980s, my wife was offered an energy treatment by a Canadian Chiropractor, taping tiny steel balls a little bigger than a ball-point pen tip on acupoints. He responded to her surprise by saying. “Try it, empirical testing has shown that they work.” That is, the treatment has been seen to work without due regard for the theory.

And it did work. That was twenty years ago. In the last twenty years, wholistic therapy has come a long way in the public’s perception. This can only to good, for from this diversity and inquiry will come better and more accessible health care.

I want to thank the College for hosting this program, I want to thank my fellow presenters for enhancing this forum, and I want to thank you, the audience, for attending and seeking wholistic options.

© 2008 Peter J. LaGrasse
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