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Thai Massage Quick Answers
You DESERVE a massage
Thai Massage is done fully clothed, except for bare feet. It has been called "The Yoga Done For You" for the beneficial stretches and pressing applied to your feet, legs, body, arms, hands, back, shoulders, and head while you rest comfortably on a soft mat on the floor. No special massage table needed or used. Thai massage is said to be a medical specialty dating from the time of the Buddha.
- Schedule a private Thai massage: An hour and a half wonderful massage. If requested, can include sports medicine consult and instruction to help you fix injuries. E-mail to schedule your Thai Massage at your downtown Philadelphia location: ThaiMassage@DrBookspan.com.
- Make your Thai Massage the experience you want: More stretch or more pressure points, more vigorous or less, quiet or instructive style, lights high or low. Use your own large towel and your own pillow so all is suited to your skin. Bring your favorite music if you want. Make it great and happy - It is up to you.
- Non-Painful: Several massage specialties have a belief structure that techniques must be painful to work. My work is to stop pain not make it. Have a wonderful, relaxing, exhilarating, beneficial massage - without pain.
- No charge to change or cancel your appointment: With e-mail notice at least a day ahead.
- Club Foot! Discounts for frequent or regular massage.
- Scheduled classes are on the Class page. Singles and couples can attend this delightfully beneficial and physical class. To make a workshop for your own group, use the appointment e-mail below. Come back here for helpful class preparation.
Bookspan's class was a gem, and truly a gift from very gifted hands."
Dr. S. Dressler, DC
Map of downtown Philadelphia for out-of-towners who are staying at a center city hotel for massage appointments or classes:
I am Dr. Jolie Bookspan, research scientist in extreme physiology (heat, cold, g-Force, hyperbarics, aviation, injury, extreme exercise, etc).
I studied Thai Massage, Thai Yoga Massage, Tok Sen, and other Thai styles in Thailand training schools, hospitals, and monasteries, and in the United States; Sport Massage and Medical Massage courses in India, Cambodia, and Nepal; Shiatsu certification programs in Japan, TuiNa in China -- and bring them all to you
Several Thai massage stretches and movements are used in traditional Western sports medicine to help restore healthy resting muscle length, and find and relieve unhealthy muscle and joint positions. A few massage moves can be unhealthy. I modify or skip them, giving more benefit.
Dr. Bookspan and Senior Monk Lama Tenzin, Principal of the Medical School in Tibet
Photos and Description
There are many claims for massage. I studied around the world to separate good information from wishful thinking, and to learn methods that provide real benefit.
I first went to Thailand years ago as a competition boxer and found Thai massage there. Here are links for more about my boxing classes and karate classes. As I received massage and other modalities for martial arts soreness and wounds, and for curiosity, I saw many moves were analogues to Western orthopedic techniques that I already knew from my formal sports medicine training, and my years of laboratory research in physiology of injury. I began to study more.
I also developed a style I call RhythmMassage - a percussive blend of Thai massage, TokSen, conventional Tepotement, old fashioned Hambone body percussion, and rhythmic beats.
Thai massage begins in meditative manner
Full foot pressing massage, hand, arm, body, leg, back, front, and neck massage is part of Thai Massage. ("Reflexology massage" if used as a nice foot rub feels great and makes tired feet happy, and can find problems with the feet. We do not believe it is an actual correlation with any medical body zones).
Wonderful presses and stretches for limbs and body
Energizing and relaxing at the same time
Thai Massage Short History
Thai massage is called "Nuad Thai" which means "Thai massage" in the Thai language. It is occasionally called "Nuad Borarn" which, in Thai, means "Ancient Massage,"
The person associated with founding or codifying Thai Massage was Shivaga (or Jivaka) Komalaboat (probably several people were involved over time). He is reported to have been born in northern India, and became a practitioner of traditional medicine. According to some enthusiastic sources, he was a contemporary, even advisor, of The Buddha, and great kings. He moved to what is now Tibet. He is considered one of the historically important students of the original master teachers of the Ayurvedic tradition. His teachings came to Thailand and Burma over a thousand years ago. The Father Doctor Jivaka is so important to traditional medicine throughout all these areas that he is also called the "Thrice Crowned King of Tibetan medicine."
A Word on Thai Pronunciation
The Thai word nuat (or nuad), when pronounced with a high tone in the first syllable, means massage. When pronounced with a low tone in the first syllable, the Thai word nuat (or nuad) means mustache. Make sure when you ask for "Nuat Boran" you are asking for ancient massage, not ancient mustache.
Honored Pali Prayer
"Pali" is a scriptural and liturgical language of Hinayana (Theravada) Buddhism. "Om Namo Shivago" is a Pali prayer, often sung as a mantra before giving Thai massage to invoke and remember the founder. "Om Namo" is a Pali / Sanskrit word meaning "in the name of, or in remembrance of." Many schools of Thai massage and medicine invoke his memory and blessing by reciting his prayer, every day, twice a day.
OM NAMO SHIVAGO SIRASA AHANG KARUNIKO
SAPASATANANG OSATA TIPAMANTANG
PAPASO SURIYA-JANTANG KOMARAPATO PAGASESI WANTAMI BANDITO SUMETASO A-LOKA SUMANAHOMI
PIYO-TEWA MANUSANANG PIYO-PROMA NAMUTAMO
PIYO-NAKA SUPANANANG PINISRIYONG NAMAMIHANG NAMOPUTAYA
A-HIMAMA NAVEAN-NAVE NAPITANG-VEAN NAVEAN-MAHAKO
A-HIMAMA PIYONGMAMA NAMOPUTAYA
NA-A NAVA LOKA PAYATI WINASANTI
We invite the spirit of our founder,
the Father Doctor Jivaka who taught us through his saintly life.
Please bring to us the knowledge of nature,
and show us the true medicine in the universe.
Through this prayer, we request your help, that through our hands,
you will bring wholeness and health to the body of our client.
The god of healing dwells in the heavens high
while mankind remains in the world below.
In the name of the founder, may the heavens be reflected in the earth,
so that this healing medicine may encircle the world.
We pray for the one whom we touch, that he will be happy and all pain will be released from them.
Ideology of Thai Massage
Stretching is necessary and healthy movement and prayer for the giver and receiver.
'Wai Kru" honoring the teacher, is uppermost and done before and after each session.
Pressure points are the body locations where you press. They are along "energy lines" which some consider as metaphor and others take to be real. These lines are named"sen" lines in Thai. "Sen" means "lines."
Sen lines are called meridians in Chinese tradition, and the Nadi of Indian yogic tradition. Thai massage believes there are 72,000 sen lines. Ten (or more) are considered principal. (Why is the number ten so magical? Otherwise, you have to stay in school and memorize them all).
What does pressing the points do? Many wild claims are made for medical effects. The actual use seems that having them pressed just the right amount by someone nice, feels wonderful, and gives a (very) small localized stretch and some movement to the area. Some beliefs say you must press hard enough to hurt and make bruises, similar to the class of practices that prick, scrape, or suck the skin. Some people like these as some kind of "proof" that they "got something that does something." Others have some need for pain. However, producing marks or injury is not more beneficial than using non-painful and non-injurious ways to relieve soreness, to benefit from human touch, or stimulate the senses.
Rules for Thai Massage Practitioners
Don't make false claims for massage or health.
Don't take patients from others
Keep mind and body clean
Don't give certificates to the unqualified
Give thanks every day to the teachers
Principles for Giving Thai Massage
Massage is done for the elevation of the human spirit and approached in friendly manner.
Massage is done fully clothed except for bare feet, on a mat on the floor, rather than a raised table.
Wash hands and feet before massage, yours and theirs.
After Wai Kru, rub your hands together many times to warm them.
Thai massage is done in a meditative manner.
Remove watches and jewelry that can pinch.
Check for contraindications, recent illness, surgery, pregnancy, injuries.
Begin and end with honoring the teacher, usually with Om Namo.
Pressure is variable depending on the needs.
Never hurt the receiver or yourself. Adjust uncomfortable positioning.
Use alternating hand pressing with thumb pressing and palm pressing. Rock your body weight rhythmically.
Don't press on bone. Use thumb circles or finger circles over bony points.
Give happiness in spirit. Don't cause pain.
Move flowingly and sequentially, rather than jump locations.
Maintain hand contact.
Don't pinch the skin when pulling. Receive massage yourself to know the results of each move.
While giving massage, don't talk on the phone, text, surf the net, chatter idly, think idly of anything other than giving health and care to your client. If you don't understand this, please stay far away from us and don't call yourself healthy or a massage practitioner.
Sen Line Review for Students - Varies According to Need and Teacher
Feet: Six points on the arch. Five lines on the sole, four lines on the instep.
Legs: On the inside opposite leg, three lines. The near leg outside, 3 or 4 lines.
Continue rest of Massage of near leg. To start other leg, change sides, and reach over to opposite leg, inside, 3 lines. Then near leg outside 3 or 4 lines.
Forearms: One center line inside and outside. Upper arms two lines outside muscle.
Hands: Six palm press points. Five lines on palm. Four lines on back of hand.
Face: Four main forehead lines, four or three on lower face. Two to three on chin.
Three Point Centers (such as shoulder, low back, thigh ) 1-2-3-2-1.
Careful studies have shown that results of "pressure point massage" are pretty much the same no matter where you press, as long as the receiver likes it. The points do not seem to be any mysterious actual things that do anything specific, that is, they do not correspond to a repeatable medical effect.
Thai Massage Benefits
Thai massage has been called "The Yoga Done For You" for the application of pressure points and therapeutic stretching for limbs and body.
Many Thai massage stretches and movements are used in traditional Western sports medicine for the real and beneficial ability to find and relieve unhealthy muscle and joint tensions.
There are also a few Thai massage moves that can be unhealthy. Some of them are summarized next in "Pitfalls." To gain the benefit of Thai massage, you can respectfully request that your Thai massage practitioner skip these few moves. Then the many beneficial Thai massage moves can help you feel good and be healthy.
There are many claims for the benefits of Thai massage and massage in general. Some are true and some are things that sound good, but may not be what massage actually does. Scroll down for specific pitfalls to avoid, and after that, some information so that you don't have to fall prey to false claims.
Thai Massage Pitfalls
"A man should never be ashamed to own that he has been in the wrong, which is but saying that he is wiser today than he was yesterday."
~ Alexander Pope (1688-1744) English Poet
1. Forced Bending Forward
Your discs are tough cushions between each bone of your spine from your neck to low back. When you slouch forward, the front of each vertebrae comes closer together and the back of each moves further apart, creating a pressing-outward effect on the discs.
From slouching year after year, the front of the disc becomes more squashed and compressed. More problematic damage occurs toward the back, where the disc can be pushed outward, like a water balloon that is squeezed in front. Discs are tough and it takes years of pushing for them to break down and move. If you have a disc that is already degenerating from years of slouching, it often does not take much more force to make it herniate. This can come from bending over one more time, or being bent forward, especially with extra weight as from lifting a backpack, or force from someone pushing you into a forward stretch. That is why pain often seems sudden when it was "in the works" for some time before you feel it. The two more common places for a disc to herniate are your neck and lower back, although herniations in the upper back, called the thoracic spine, are beciming more common with increasing numbers of people spending much time rounding their upper back, sitting in chairs, and in exercise and stretch classes.
The above drawing is a side view of two vertebrae with one disc in between them. The left shows healthy posture with the healthy disc in between. On the right, after years of constant forward bending, the disc becomes degenerated in the front and pushed outward (herniated or bulged) to the back.
One Thai massage position involves having you sit, with the practitioner sitting behind you, putting their arm under your arm then around the back of your neck. In wrestling, this move is called a half-Nelson. This move is used to bend your neck forward. From there, the practitioner may push your back and neck forward, often leaning their weight to assist your forward movement. Don't let people push your back or neck to round forward, whether to stretch or to make a cracking noise. Avoid manipulation to the neck, which has been found to sometimes tear the blood vessels leading to the brain. There have been deaths and even Western chiropractors have been cautioned not to crack the neck.
2. Forced Bending Forward With Twist
A second assisted stretch to avoid is similar to the move above. In a sitting position with the practitioner sitting, behind you or to the side, they may put both arms under your arms then around the back of your neck, in a move that in the West is called a "full-Nelson." From there they may swing you slightly to the side, then again with a wider swing, then a third time with force. This sometimes makes a cracking noise in your back. Anatomically, the greatest force you can put on your discs is bending forward (especially under weight or assisted force) with a twist.
3. Snapping Elbows or Knee Backward
Sometimes in the course of a massage, the practitioner may bend your elbow or knee, then straighten it with a snap. For example, they may bend your knee toward your chest, then hold your heel and let the leg drop straight, letting the knee snap with force. They may push your elbow or knee backward at the same time to assist the overly-extended position. The elbow and knee are not shaped to hyper-extend more than a small amount in general, and under force, not at all.. Hyperextension means to go more than a normally straight position. It can damage the joint and cartilage. No joint should be snapped.
4. Pushing Elbows or Knees Backward
In other Thai massage moves, the practitioner may not forcibly or suddenly hyperextend the joint with snapping, as above, but press it backwards. The intention may be to stretch a joint that does not fully straighten so that it can get full range. For some people, the joint can be pushed to where it pressures, crushes, abrades, or unseats the joint in various amounts. Sometimes it is done intentionally, in the belief that any stretch is good (even if not). Other times it is a mistake, for example, the knee can be uncomfortably pressed passed the straight position in a move that is supposed to only stretch the hamstrings. The client lies on their back. The practitioner pulls the heel of one of the client's legs up in the air, while pressing downward on or around the knee. The purpose is supposed to be to help keep the knee straight to get a hamstring stretch. However, the result is often to press the knee backwards past a healthy or comfortable point.
5. Blood Stop
An interesting and thought-provoking maneuver in Thai massage is the "bloodstop." The practitioner may press their palms, knees, elbows, forearms, shins, or feet over the big blood vessels that bring blood to your legs, or over the arteries that conduct blood to your arms. They press enough to slow or stop blood from flowing to your legs or arms as long as 30 seconds, a minute, sometimes more, depending on the style and school where they learned. When they release the pressure that was restricting the blood, blood flows back down the limbs. Thai massage practitioners are taught to never do the blood stop on anyone with high blood pressure, varicose veins, heart or circulatory problems, or pregnancy. It also turns out that the blood stop maneuver is not healthy for others.
It is often taught in massage schools that the blood stop "helps unclog arteries." The theory is that if there were deposits that block the artery, the rush of blood returning would "unplug" the blockage and carry it away, like cleaning a clogged plumbing pipe. This does not work for several reasons. First, the rise in blood pressure from stopping (or slowing) blood flow is small and not enough to dislodge anything when flow is released. You increase your own blood pressure more from ordinary walking and exercise. Next, most deposits are not like separate pebbles; they are too attached, like paint, to be pushed away with blood pressure. Even if a push could dislodge anything, anything that dislodges from your big blood vessels can travel to a smaller place to become a foreign clog there - in the same way that damage occurs from a brain clot (a kind of stroke) or heart attack or phlebitis.
Another idea taught is that slowing arterial blood helps draw away "stagnant" venous blood from the limbs. This is not how circulation works, even if it sounds good. Although the blood stop will not help circulation, you can easily improve it with most exercise. When you exercise, the contracting muscles squeeze your limb vessels to move blood that pools in the limbs. Muscle "squeezing" from exercise is different and far briefer than the "blood stop."
Another of the theories of the blood stop that is sometimes taught in massage schools is that it helps counter the phenomenon of "legs falling asleep" during long sitting or meditation. The mistaken belief is that "legs falling asleep" is caused by lack of blood flow, and the blood stop will strengthen or increase circulation to alleviate that problem in the future. A little knowledge of physiology is helpful. When a limb "falls asleep" it is not lack of blood flow, but nerve compression. There is no reduction in blood flow when you get the tingling and the "pins and needles" feeling of a limb falling asleep. The tingling is called neuropraxia, which just means a temporary interruption of sending nerve signals resulting in pins and needles feeling. During the blood stop maneuver, there is no pins and needles feeling, and when you stand up after your legs "fall asleep" there is no warm rush of blood as after the blood stop. They are two different things. Next, compressing arteries to slow or stop blood does not cause any increase in the number or size of blood vessels, or ability to pump blood, any more than having clogged arteries improves circulation. The blood stop does not reroute the blood or encourage the body to find new pathways which give circulatory benefit. Exercise will increase all these good things, but doing the blood stop does not, even if we wish it does, or were taught that it does.
When you stop blood to an area for long enough, it is not healthy for the area. Cells starve. Nerve cells are more sensitive than other body cells to lack of oxygen. Thai Massage practitioners are sometimes taught that it is not stopping blood but "opening the wind" to "release stagnant blood or energy". No matter what you call it, cutting off blood flow is not great for any body area. Sometimes people hear a true bit of physiology and misinterpret it to support their belief in a harmful practice. An example is that there are specific instances where decreased oxygen supply initiates growth factors. This should not be misinterpreted that you can strangle someone, or stop blood to their limbs and make them generate beneficial compounds. When does insufficient oxygen supply compared to demand cause growth factors to be generated? Exercise. When you exercise hard enough to get out of breath, your body isn't able to extract enough oxygen from the air to supply your needs. This does not mean you are suffocating or cutting off blood flow. It means that your body notices that it would benefit if it generated - over time and repeated exercise - a larger supply of all the enzymes, and red blood cells, and cellular and circulatory structures that take oxygen out of the air, and that make your body able to use it, so that you do not get as out of breath for the same exercise. The Thai Massage move of the blood stop may not help an injured leg or arm recover, as much as we wish it did. It may hurt it. It is better to use exercise and movement, which is known to create the needed growth factors without the risks of the unmeasured general "blood-stop" maneuver.
Then an even more interesting paradox occurs: When blood flow, called perfusion, is restored to any body area that was deprived, oxygen flows back into the area. That would sound helpful, but the oxygen itself causes a second injury. It floods the area with a kind of oxygen that is not healthy called oxygen free radicals, along with other harmful products. A new serious injury occurs called a reperfusion injury. This same kind of injury occurs with heart attack or in a limb that may have been crushed or caught under something, depriving it of blood. First, areas of the heart or the limb that are shut off from oxygen begin to die. When blood flow is restored, oxygen flows back into the area and with it, and the cascade of oxygen free radical damage, plus just too much oxygen which is not good by itself. A sudden oxygen reperfusion injury from releasing a blood stopping event is too much for your body's natural defenses against too much oxygen, and injury occurs. You may have heard about anti-oxidant vitamins. Your body naturally produces anti-oxidants to stop normal daily damage from oxygen. Even regular levels from breathing create oxidative chemicals in your body. Many people also take supplementary anti-oxidant vitamins, hoping to stop oxidative damage from oxygen. It is turning out that anti-oxidant vitamin supplements may not be as helpful as hoped, and do not help in the way the more complete spectrum of anti-oxidant compounds your own body provides. Free radicals damage to the body depends on levels. Low levels are needed to fight disease (to damage those germs that harm us) and also help vascular tone, cell signaling, muscular activity, and more. More oxygen free radicals do not make those functions work more or better - that is key to know. Like radiation and sunlight, which are beneficial up to an amount, then turn harmful or even deadly, higher radical and reperfusion product levels are associated with more atherosclerosis (more blood vessel "plugs") not less, diabetes, some types of arthritis, cancer, and other problems. "Oxygen is a dangerous friend." Much interesting work in high pressure oxygen science deals with trying to understand and avoid the paradox of too much oxygen, free radicals, and oxygen reperfusion injury.
None of this means that Thai massage is not good for other reasons, just that it is best to avoid the blood stop and other moves that harm. It is easy to avoid the pitfalls and hype of massage, and use Thai massage for the benefits. Being educated to avoid the hype and myths helps in choosing a beneficial massage.
Thai Massage Myths - False Claims
Many claims are made for massage. Some true, many not.
Why do people like false claims? As with other commodities and practices, massage sellers and enthusiasts make false claims, from modest to the most wild - to expand sales, to validate time spent doing it, to increase their influence over others, or when they really do not know that everything is not exactly as they heard. Some claims are false but so often repeated that "everyone" says so. People seem to like and repeat "urban legends" and "old wives tales" and "fake news" more than truths. Often the more complicated or mysterious the false premise, the more it is fiercely defended.
Customers may expect a long list of benefit, true or not, and patronize those who say they provide it. Clients with great belief seem to benefit more from the aspects they expect, and attribute any positive sensations and effects to the massage (or whatever treatment). They may return repeatedly for more even with random or small results. If they feel worse, some see that as proof they need to return even more.
Some claims are exaggerated from real body functions that happen anyway. Along that line, you can point to massage study results that show massage does enhance specific functions, but look further (if you understand research design and statistics) to see that the amount may be small compared to ordinary things like walking around, for example. Using scientific sounding words does not make a claim into an actuality.
Preference for fantasy and drama over simple truths is seen in daily entertainment, all the way back to great works of literature and theater. People may be swayed by charismatic practitioners with engaging shows. A good example is the story,"The Emperor's New Clothes." The Emperor was told by his persuasive tailor that the new clothes the tailor made for him were so beautiful and exotically made that only the best and smartest people could see them. The truth was they were not really there at all. Because he did NOT want to appear stupid, the Emperor went outside wearing the non-existent "clothes" and was completely naked. The townspeople all said that the Emperor's new clothes were indeed beautiful. They didn't want to go against indoctrination, or "what everyone says." Finally, a child who didn't know the propaganda shouted the obvious, "The Emperor has no clothes on!"
There are people who believe that the planets are flat not round, but what is the problem with anyone saying anything they want? If it is a simple business transaction, what is the harm?
What about a more beneficial way than false claims? The massage community is usually sharply divided over what is real. Jill Kristin Berkana LMT does a nice job stating various positions of the factions. She summarized some of the "Science Group's" position that it is unethical to make false claims and, "The public is hurt by false claims and we (massage therapists) look ridiculous when associated with them." She nicely states her own group of "Ethical Holistic Massage Therapists" position that, "We know we must be knowledgeable and stay appraised of, and integrate new scientific evidence that is being introduced, and drop what we learned decades ago that has been proven to be mythological." For myself, if I need to fix an injury for someone, or do better training for myself, time needs to be spent advancing that, not sidetracked on less effective or ineffective things that are wishful thinking, fads, or marketing. Especially when you are paying for it and need real solutions.
Here are a few of many examples:
False Claim: Massage removes lactic acid.
Actuality: Lactic acid is only produced during hard exercise, and the body very quickly removes it automatically. Even if you stopped your run to rub your legs, no more would disappear than if you didn't rub your legs. There is good evidence that keeping moving at a slower pace will remove lactic acid more quickly than stopping to rest, or to sit or lie down for a massage. Moreover lactic acid is not the cause of stiffness or soreness post-exercise, and is not a bad thing that needs improved removing. Most pertinent to massage, is that when you're lying down for a massage, there is none needing removal.
False Claim: Massage increases blood flow and blood flow fixes things therefore massage will fix all those things too.
Actuality: Walking across the room and other exercise will increase blood flow more than massage. Blood flow itself does not fix an injury for several specific reasons. One is that injuries like sprains, soreness, cuts, fractures, blown discs, and others, are not suffering from low oxygen states (they are not hypoxic). They have enough oxygen to them already. Similar to trying to put more gas in a full tank, it will not make your car go faster. Importantly, consider an injury that is swollen. It already has more than enough blood and other fluids in the area. You don't need more. You may ask, then won't massage help move that unwanted blood flow out? A bit, and exercising the area (in healthy ways that are possible for the injury) will mobilize fluids far more. There are specific squeezing and mobilization techniques for specific kinds of pathologic swelling that help temporarily push fluids out. They are best combined with making sure the person is doing other needed things, such as addressing causes, keeping moving, checking restrictive clothing (many more). More oxygen does not make healing faster - except in gangrene, when the oxygen kills those kinds of germs called anaerobes - those that cannot live in an area that is oxygenated. The earlier section of Thai Massage Pitfalls describing the "blood stop maneuver" explains more of how science gets misapplied to believe things about blood flow that sound good but don't work that way.
Some claims are taken from basic normal responses to stimuli, then exaggerated, and applied specifically to massage:
Claim: Massage will increase or "improve the nervous system." Then the claim will list impressive sounding nervous system parts and chemicals that are "increased."
Actuality: Even the simplest of activities, from looking at things, to smelling them, to waving your arms around, involve an increase in various nervous system inputs (which have long impressive names). They are part of a long list of normal functions. Beside the fact that the claim is so vague that it can mean anything or nothing, massage may increase some function, but in such a very small amount that is not effective, and merely walking, or even reading, may have the same stimulus effect.
Sometimes it happens that practitioners tell you that they are fixing your tension or aches through some exotically-worded technique that does mysterious effects on body parts. systems, and functions that may or may not even exist, or that they are stimulating impressive-sounding functions. They may actually may applying other direct stretches or rubs in a way that directly helps.
False claims also come when benefits of one specific kind of application is applied to anything else called massage. For example:
False claim: Massage cures foot fungus.
Actuality: A practice called "Fish massage" can help reduce some of the causes and results of that. However it is not a massage. The word "massage" is used as the name but it is not a massage and the effects are not from any massaging of the area. In "fish massage" you place your feet in a tank of specific fish who like to eat dead skin. They do not have teeth. They use their lips to nibble away the dead bad parts and do not hurt or remove living healthy skin. However you cannot truthfully say that "massage" in general fixes or treats foot infections, and use made up claims about increasing blood flow or other falsehoods as the reason.
False claim: Massage improves post-exercise recovery.
Actuality: Here is an article about one study. It is a small study and not definitive, but does point to the main concepts that are supported by other work:
"A Queen's University research team announced confidently last week that the massage after exercise 'myth' had been "busted" by its research team. Research on 12 males performing two minutes of isometric handgrips found massaging the forearm immediately after exercise actually impaired blood flow to the muscle, rather than improving circulation.
"This dispels a common belief in the general public about the way in which massage is beneficial," said Kinesiology and Health Studies professor Michael Tschakovsky. "It also dispels that belief among some health professionals. I have spoken with a number of health professionals in private practice who, when asked what massage does, answer that it can increase muscle blood flow and helps get rid of lactic acid. Ours is the first study to challenge this and rigorously test its validity."
"Massage After Exercise Myth Busted" www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090507164405.htm.
E. Victoria Wiltshire et al., "Massage Impairs Postexercise Muscle Blood Flow and 'Lactic Acid' Removal," Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 42, no. 6 (June 2010): 1062-71. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181c9214f.
False Claim: Massage removes cellulite or the causes of it.
Actuality: Massage cannot make someone slimmer or get rid of cellulite appearance. Wishful thinking.
Misleading Claim: Massage fixes hypertension.
Actuality: If you are lying down and relaxed by a nice person doing nice things, of course your blood pressure will lower for that time. If a trained practitioner can teach you specific tension-reducing techniques to use for other times, then you may gain one of the things that help. Massage alone cannot cure high blood pressure as an ongoing condition. You need to address component causes. More importantly, if you have restricted blood vessels, you need to address that first before you lower the raised pressure that is necessary to push blood flow through the restrictions to get to vital areas.
Misleading Claim: Massage fixes back pain.
Actualities: You may ache from fatigue and common aches of daily slouching, but be told you have "imbalances" and "toxins" and other vague or imaginary ailments. Lying down with a nice person giving you a nice rub leaves you rested and recovered. It had nothing to do with toxins and imbalances.
A common kind of back pain comes from standing in a slouch called swayback (hyperlordosis). People who slouch this way almost always feel quickly better to lie down with their knees bent. The reason is that lying with bent knees reduces the painful lumbar angle to a more neutral angle - as long as you are lying down that way. Lying with knees bent over a massage bolster with a nice person who talks all about how massage will help can seem to "work" amazingly. Pain will stop, but not because of the massage, and important to know, not the cause of the pain. As soon as the person stands and goes back to the same swaybacked slouch, pain creeps back. This creates a common situation of people who insist they must have massage to get relief, and have it often. If they didn't stand in this painful way they would not get this pain in the first place or need to pay to lie down. Swayback is not a spine condition or "just the way you are made." It is a slouch - a bad posture. A quick and simple change in spine position from slouch to neutral would stop the cause of the pain with no massage needed. (Summary of this kind of pain and what to do is in my article. Back Pain With Standing). Then you can get massage to feel good, not because you feel bad and trapped.
Massage cannot cure a sprain or hasten recovery.
Cannot fix bad posture.
Cannot make muscles or connective tissue stronger.
Cannot improve blood flow to a developing fetus in a pregnant woman.
Send in yours here.
There is Enough Good Not To Have to Use False Claims
There is no need to make false claims for massage. Massage is supposed to be a nice friendly thing. It can do a few things and that is enough. Even penicillin only does one thing and that is enough to fix, even save, lives.
If you go to someone you like and it feels nice, that can be a worthwhile and healthy thing to do.
If you have a specific problem, and a specific kind of massage specifically addresses it, for example, a sports massage or Thai Massage that stretches your hamstrings or other parts in helpful ways, then you will gain that amount of stretching. (Some styles of Thai Massage don't use stretches. Some only use pressing on "pressure points" so check to get what you need and want).
If you have painful spasm in a muscle, specific direct stretches will relieve that. Then that issue is resolved nicely. No need for exotic claims about energy points and toxins. Just a straight cramp release. Needed. Quick. Effective.
If you are in need of human contact and the massage person provides you with validation and attention, then you filled that need.
If you have "tension" in your muscles, and lying in a nice warm room that smells pleasant, with someone nice letting you relax, while they stretch and push those muscles in ways that lengthens and relaxes them, then you will have that benefit until you tense up again. If they can teach you daily strategies for mental and physical relaxation either directly, or implicitly through example, then you may gain those more long terms changes. Or until you return to have them do it for you again. If that helps you relieve tension or sleep better, it is that indirect effect.
If the massage person also uses balms and rubs for your sore muscles, the concoction itself may have anesthetic or counter-pain properties. For example, a simple muscle rub like BenGay or Tiger Balm. Some practitioners even use higher strength anesthetic lotions. These various products act as a counter-irritant to reduce sensations of local pain, and can give a warming or feeling. Many more false claims are make for the effects of feeling warmer or cooler. If you like the feeling and smell, and it is applied in a nice way, that is great.
If the person giving massage can teach you direct ways to notice areas where you hunch or tighten, and how to prevent doing that, then you have helpful long term reduction in pain and effects from hunching and tightening.
For people who are not very mobile, or are bedridden, having their body and limbs mobilized and moved is crucial for health.
Some Readings That Help Understand Claims
It is increasingly easy to find just about any reading that will support or refute your cause. Educate yourself in basic science and analytical thinking so that you can know how to question things presented more impartially in order to gain useful and healthy practices.
Here is an encompassing article distinguishing legitimate effects of massage to feel good and temporarily lift mood and overall body, compared to disproved claims and unsupportable exaggeration:
Here is a short article on craniosacral therapy from the Skeptics Dictionary. It covers key points and anatomy to show specifics on the claims:
Here is an article about claims made for a massage bed:
Fun Things To Do Next
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