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Sweet Relief

A rubdown may have benefits for muscles and more

To many, massage may seem like a luxury, not something associated with a healthier lifestyle. But scientists are finding that massage and human touch may have specific effects on both mind and body. Even casual interactions seem to make a difference: One study showed that basketball players who engage in more frequent fist bumps and high fives perform well.

The effects of massage, however, seem to go deeper. According to Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School, “massage stimulates the touch receptors under the skin. Activated receptors trigger a series of sympathetic reactions in the body, reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol, among other things. These changes may ultimately reduce anxiety, agitation, and stress, as well as improve a person’s sleep quality and relaxation.”

“We know that people living with diabetes have extra stress,” says Mary Kathleen Rose, a registered massage therapist in Longmont, CO. Rose, who lives with type 1 diabetes, says “I find that a session with a massage therapist can reduce muscle tension, ease post-exercise muscle aches, and loosen stiff joints. I know it really helps me.”

To get the most from your massage, be sure to speak up about what you want – you can provide guidance on pressure, body parts you’d like more or less attention paid to, and other changes to make the experience more enjoyable. “Moderate pressure is best,” says Field. “During massage, deep tissue work is unnecessary, and can even be painful.” “Tell your massage therapist if you have diabetes,” adds Rose, “and I always bring along glucose tablets.”

Types of Massage

In most massage, the receiver will lie on a padded table for thirty to ninety minutes while the massage therapist kneads, rubs, and presses the full body; beyond that, however, massage styles can vary widely:

Swedish: The most common form of massage in the US, this technique combines kneading and rubbing with long and circular strokes. To decrease friction, the therapist will rub oil into the skin as he or she works. 

Deep Tissue: Sometimes referred to as a “sports massage,” a deep tissue massage is typically a Swedish massage performed with increased pressure. Ease your way into this treatment – remember, deep tissue work may be painful and even cause bruising.

Hot Stone: During a session of hot stone massage, a therapist will strategically place warmed smooth river stones on the body to heat and relax the muscles. While the stones rest on the chest or in the palms of the hands the body is treated to a Swedish massage.

Shiatsu: In this Japanese style of massage, pressure is applied to specific areas of the body with the fingertips. Pressure is maintained for several seconds at a time in an effort to ease muscle tension.

Thai: A Thai massage therapist will use his or her elbows, hands, knees, and feet to target tight muscles and promote flexibility. As opposed to Swedish or Shiatsu, no oil is used in Thai massage. Instead, giver and receiver both don loose-fitting clothes, then bend and stretch together.

Rolfing: Not for the faint of heart, Rolfing® is a form of extremely deep tissue massage. A practitioner will start at your feet and move up, manipulating the muscles to break old movement patterns and ease tightness.

Reiki: Think of this as a massage for your body’s energy, rather than its muscles. A trained Reiki therapist will hover their hands on and over your body. The idea is to open blocked energy pathways and send energy to areas that need extra attention.

Reflexology: An ancient Chinese treatment that’s based on the idea that body parts and organs can be accessed through the feet. A trained practitioner will rub and squeeze the feet in various ways, in an attempt to improve your health in specific areas.

When choosing a therapist, “look for one with a client-centered approach,” suggests Rose. “A good technician will ask what sort of relief you’re looking for and what goals you have for your body and mind.” To find a qualified massage therapist in your area, check with the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals, the American Massage Therapy Association, and ask friends for recommendations.

Jessica Cassity is a health reporter for SELF, Fitness, and Shape magazines, and the author of Better Each Day: 365 Expert Tips for a Healthier, Happier You. She is a Portland-based pilates and yoga teacher and blogs at thehappyandhealthyblog.com. Cassity is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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