Skip to main content

MASSAGE THERAPY - Modalities and Benefits


The use of essential oils (extracted from herbs, flowers, resin, woods, and roots) in body and skin care treatments is known as aromatherapy. Used as a healing technique for thousands of years by the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, essential oils aid in relaxation, improve circulation, and help the healing of wounds. Aromatherapy diffusers are utilized to fill the massage room with the scent of the oils. Specific essential oils are blended by the aromatherapist and added to a carrier oil, such as almond oil, to be used during the massage. Each oil has its own unique characteristics and benefits. Use of this technique declined as the modern pharmaceutical industry developed. However, the French chemist Gattefoss revived the art by coining the term aromatherapy and by publishing a book on the subject in 1928.


Ayurveda is the five thousand year-old medical system of India. It is also a philosophy that offers keys for creating harmony and balance in life. The ayurvedic physician studies for five years and is supervised for one year in a hospital. Although there are some spas in the United States that are designed as ayurvedic medical centers, most spas do not focus on the treatment of disease. Instead they adopt elements of ayurveda that focus on positive life choices, general detoxification, relaxation, enhanced spiritual awareness, and gentle exercise. An ayurvedic massage is one part of the traditional detoxification and rejuvenation program of India called panchakarma, in which the entire body is vigorously massaged with large amounts of warm oil and herbs to remove toxins from the system. With the client’s permission, oil is also poured into the ears, between the eyebrows, and at specific chakras, or energy points, during techniques known respectively as karna purana, shirodhara, and marma chikitsa. These treatments have been modified to meet the needs of the West and have been powerful in their effects on the mind and nervous system calming, balancing, and bringing both a heightened sense of awareness and deep inner peace. The techniques can be done either as stand-alone treatments or in conjunction with the ayurvedic body massage. The basis for effectively performing all of the various ayurvedic massage techniques is a thorough understanding of the primordial energies of the five elements (ether, air, fire, water, and earth) and of vata, pitta, and kapha the three basic constitutional types (similar to the ancient Greek method of mind/body classification). This knowledge allows the therapist to determine not only which ayurvedic massage techniques to use, but also how to customize treatments by selecting the proper oils and herbs and the rate and pressure of massage strokes to maximize the benefits for each client.


Known as seated massage, chair massage, or on-site massage, this technique involves the use of a specially designed massage chair in which the client sits comfortably. The modern chair massage was originally developed David Palmer, but the technique is centuries-old, with some Japanese block prints illustrating people having just emerged from a nearby bath, receiving massage while seated on a low stool. Seated massage includes bodywork and somatic techniques, such as shiatsu, amma, and Swedish massage, provided to the fully clothed client in a variety of settings, including businesses, airports, and street fairs.


Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) incorporates a large group of healthcare practices and treatments that are considered outside of or supplemental to the scope of conventional medicine. May involve either mental or physical techniques, and some therapies may include use of herbs, meditation, and/or massage.


Craniosacral therapy is a gentle, noninvasive method of evaluating and enhancing the function of a physiological body arrangement called the craniosacral system. Developed by John E. Upledger, DO, OMM, this manual therapy enhances the body’s natural healing processes and has proven effective in treating a wide range of medical problems associated with pain and dysfunction. The roots of this therapy are in cranial osteopathy, developed by Dr. William G. Sutherland. The craniosacral system consists of the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. It extends from the bones of the skull, face, and mouth--which make up the cranium--down to the sacrum or tailbone. Since this system influences the development and function of the brain and spinal cord, any imbalance or dysfunction in the craniosacral system could cause sensory, motor, or neurological disabilities. These problems may include chronic pain, eye difficulties, scoliosis, motor-coordination impairments, learning disabilities, and other dysfunctions of the central nervous system. Craniosacral therapy encourages the body’s natural healing mechanisms to improve the functioning of the central nervous system, dissipate the negative effects of stress, and enhance health and resistance to disease. The craniosacral therapy practitioner uses a light touch to assist the natural movement of fluid within the craniosacral system. Therapists generally use only five grams of pressure, roughly the weight of a nickel, to test for restrictions in various parts of the craniosacral system. It’s often possible for the evaluation alone to remove the restriction and allow the system to correct itself.


Techniques that utilize deep-tissue/deep-muscle massage are administered to affect the sub-layer of musculature and fascia. These techniques require advanced training and a thorough understanding of anatomy and physiology. The muscles must be relaxed in order to effectively perform deep-tissue massage, otherwise tight surface muscles prevent the practitioner from reaching deeper musculature. It helps with chronic muscular pain and injury rehabilitation and reduces inflammation-related pain caused by arthritis and tendinitis. It is generally integrated with other massage techniques.


This therapy recognizes that each person is more than the total components of anatomy, physics, and chemistry and is instead affected by emotions, thoughts, social interactions, mind, spirit, consciousness, soul, and more. Integrative Manual Therapy (IMT) combines multiple therapies to locate and alleviate health challenges through individual body systems. Utilizing a combination of structural rehabilitation (a manual therapy process of normalization) and functional rehabilitation (a therapy to restore functional outcome according to the optimal potential of the client), IMT utilizes the expertise of professionals in many fields--physical therapy, osteopathic medicine, homeopathy, audiology, massage therapy, etc.


The combination of massage movements and negative pressure with the use of a suction device on the skin. A cup is positioned at the area to be treated and, depending on the type of cups being used; a vacuum is created within the cup to draw the skin and underlying tissue into the cup. The produced vacuum creates a suction effect that increases blood and lymphatic circulation systemically and to the local area, relaxes muscle tissue and support, draws stagnation, pathogenic factors and toxins out of the body and releases a myriad of pain causing factors. The intended suction can range from light to heavy. This, along with the movements performed and areas treated by the therapist will produce stimulating (toning) or sedating (draining) effects. It is very important that therapists be able to effectively assess the condition (physical, mental and emotional) of their clients, before the procedure, so they employ the proper application of the cups to produce the desired outcome.


The strokes applied in manual lymph drainage are intended to stimulate the movement of the lymphatic fluids in order to assist the body in cleansing. This is a gentle, rhythmical technique that cleanses the connective tissue of inflammatory materials and toxins, enhances the activity of the immune system, reduces pain, and lowers the activity of the sympathetic nervous system. The most widely taught and generally accepted form of this technique was created by Dr. Vodder of Austria and requires advanced training and precise movements.


Massage or massage therapy are systems of structured palpation or movement of the soft tissue of the body. The massage system may include, but is not limited to, such techniques as, stroking, kneading, gliding, percussion, friction, vibration, compression, passive or active stretching within the normal anatomical range of movement; effleurage (either firm or light soothing, stroking movement, without dragging the skin, using either padded parts of fingertips or palms); petrissage (lifting or picking up muscles and rolling the folds of skin); or tapotement (striking with the side of the hand, usually with partly flexed fingers, rhythmic movements with fingers or short rapid movements of sides of the hand). These techniques may be applied with or without the aid of lubricants, salt or herbal preparations, hydromassage, thermal massage or a massage device that mimics or enhances the actions possible by human hands. The purpose of the practice of massage is to enhance the general health and well-being of the recipient. Massage does not include the diagnosis of a specific pathology, the prescription of drugs or controlled substances, spinal manipulation or those acts of physical therapy that are outside the scope of massage therapy.


Myofascial release is the three-dimensional application of sustained pressure and movement into the fascial system in order to eliminate fascial restrictions and facilitate the emergence of emotional patterns and belief systems that are no longer relevant or are impeding progress. First, an assessment is made by visually analyzing the human frame, followed by the palpation of the tissue texture of various fascial layers. Upon locating an area of fascial tension, gentle pressure is applied in the direction of the restriction. Myofascial release is an effective therapeutic approach in the relief of cervical pain, back pain, fibromyalgia, scoliosis, neurological dysfunction, restriction of motion, chronic pain, and headaches.


Based on the discoveries of Drs. Janet Travell and David Simons in which they found the causal relationship between chronic pain and its source, myofascial trigger point therapy is used to relieve muscular pain and dysfunction through applied pressure to trigger points of referred pain and through stretching exercises. These points are defined as localized areas in which the muscle and connective tissue are highly sensitive to pain when compressed. Pressure on these points can send referred pain to other specific parts of the body.


Performed by a trained perinatal specialist, many methods of massage and somatic therapies are both effective and safe prenatally and during labor and postpartum periods of women’s pregnancies. Prenatally, specific techniques can reduce pregnancy discomforts and concerns and enhance the physiological and emotional well-being of both mother and fetus. Skilled, appropriate touch facilitates labor, shortening labor times and easing pain and anxiety. In the postpartum period, specialized techniques rebalance structure, physiology, and emotions of the new mother and may help her to bond with and care for her infant. Specialized, advanced training in the anatomy, physiology, complications, precautions, and contraindications is highly recommended, and many practitioners require referrals from physicians prior to therapy.


Originated by D. Gary Young, raindrop technique is a noninvasive tool for helping to correct defects in the curvature of the spine caused by viruses and bacteria that lie dormant there. Antimicrobial essential oils are used to reduce inflammation by killing the viral agents, thus bringing the body into structural and electrical alignment. The oils (primarily thyme, oregano, birch, cypress, peppermint, and basil) are dispensed like little drops of rain from a height of about six inches above the back and massaged along the vertebrae. The oils used in this forty-five-minute treatment continue to work for the next five to seven days.


Based on an ancient Chinese therapy, reflexology involves manipulation of specific reflex areas in the foot, hands, and ears that correspond to other parts of the body. Sometimes referred to as zone therapy, this bodywork involves application of pressure to these reflex zones to stimulate body organs and relieve areas of congestion. Similar to acupressure principles, reflexology works with the body’s energy flow to stimulate self-healing and maintain balance in physical function. This technique is used to reduce pain, increase relaxation, and stimulate circulation of blood and lymphatic fluids. It is especially useful in stress-related illness and emotional disorders. Reflexology is also convenient in cases where an area of the body is traumatized or diseased to the extent that direct manipulation is not appropriate.


Reiki healing is a hands-on energy healing art. It was originated in Japan in the early 20th century by Mikao Usui, who had a life-changing experience of light and energy that he recognized as reiki--sacred life force--and that awakened his innate healing abilities. He developed a system of practices that enabled others to become effective healers. In a reiki healing session, the practitioner, trained to access and serve as a channel for the life force (ki or chi), places her hands on or just above the client’s body in order to activate healing energy within receptive points on the body. The practitioners hands move progressively with a passive touch through twelve positions on the body, remaining in each position for three to five minutes. As a harmonic flow of energy is strengthened, within the client and practitioner, healing occurs through the return of physical, mental, and spiritual balance.


Developed in Japan, shiatsu is a finger-pressure technique utilizing traditional acupuncture points. Similar to acupressure, shiatsu concentrates on unblocking the flow of life energy and restoring balance in the meridians and organs in order to promote self-healing. With the client reclining, the practitioner applies pressure with the finger, thumb, palm, elbow, or knee to specific zones on the skin located along the energy meridians. The treatment brings about a sense of relaxation while stimulating blood and lymphatic flow. The benefits of this treatment may include pain relief and a strengthening of the body’s resistance to disease and disorder.


Stones of all shapes and sizes and varying temperatures, ranging from zero to 140 degrees, are used during Hot Stone massage therapy to elicit physical healing, mental relaxation, and a spiritual connection to earth energy. Warm stones encourage the exchange of blood and lymph and provide soothing heat for deep-tissue work. Cold stones aid with inflammation, moving blood out of the area, and balancing male/female energies. Stones are placed in varying positions on the body for energy balancing or may be used by the therapist for specific trigger-point work. The alternating heat and cold of thermotherapy brings the entire body into the healing process, with a rapid exchange of blood and oxygen and alternating rise and fall of respiration rate as the body seeks homeostasis. Stone therapy requires less effort from the practitioners own body and delivers healing warmth to the hands, benefitting the therapist, as well as the client. Founder Mary Harrigan drew from the wisdom of ancient healers in using thermotherapy as the basis for her approach.


One of the most commonly taught and well-known massage techniques, Swedish massage is a vigorous system of treatment designed to energize the body by stimulating circulation. Five basic strokes, all flowing toward the heart, are used to manipulate the soft tissues of the body. The disrobed client is covered by a sheet, with only the area being worked on exposed. Therapists use a combination of kneading, rolling, vibrational, percussive, and tapping movements, with the application of oil, to reduce friction on the skin. The many benefits of Swedish massage may include generalized relaxation, dissolution of scar tissue adhesions, and improved circulation, which may speed healing and reduce swelling from injury. Resources:,

Connect With Us