Massage is classically defined as the manipulation of the soft tissues of the body performed by the hands, for the purpose of producing effects on the vascular, muscular and nervous systems of the body.

Massage is very beneficial in the modern world; where 75% of illness is believed to be caused by stress.

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine is reported to have said that the way to health was to have a daily scented bath and a daily massage.

Massage affects the various systems of the body in different ways.

The Effects of Massage on the Systems of the Body

The skin is affected by improving the circulation, which improves skin colour, texture, tone and elasticity.

Waste products are removed more efficiently by the stimulation of the lymphatic system, helping skin imperfections to become less obvious.

Sebaceous secretions increase, making skin more soft and supple.

The circulatory system and lymphatic system are both aided by massage, helping eliminate waste products more quickly from the body.

Blood pressure can be lowered temporarily by massage, and the heart rate decreased.

The digestive system is stimulated by abdominal massage, encouraging peristalsis and excretion.

Massage can help to relieve flatulence and constipation.

Massage can help stimulate the liver to produce more bile, which helps with the breakdown of fats.

The nervous system is generally stimulated and invigorated by massage.

Massage can help to temporarily relieve pain.

Massage can be soothing and relaxing and help people to sleep.

The muscles are affected by massage in a number of ways:

Blood circulation to muscles is increased, bringing increased oxygen and warmth and increasing eliminating of waste products.

Muscle tone and elasticity is improved.

Body temperature can be raised (by 1║C max.).

Can help weak and tight muscles improve function.

The skeletal system is affected by increased blood supply to the bones due to pressure applied against the bones. This feeds and nourishes the bones and joints, helping them to grow stronger.

The respiratory system is affected by massage in the following ways:

Massage to the thorax region helps to improve the condition of the lungs.

Tapotement can help to free up any mucous or particles stuck in the lungs.

Helps the body to excrete more carbon dioxide and in turn, inhale more oxygen.

Slows the rate of breathing.

The endocrine system is affected as improved circulation helps with the transportation of hormones.

Stress and anxiety are eased, reducing adrenalin secretion.

Physical and emotional trauma are eased, reducing hormone imbalance.

The genito-urinary system is affected by the increased production of urine, the body is relaxed aiding fertility, and circulation is increased to the organs and muscles.

The Five Classical Massage Movements

Massage can be divided into five main types of movements, each group having their own specific physical and physiological effects.

The five classical massage movements are as follows:

Effleurage is a stroking movement performed with the whole palmer surface of the hand or just with the fingers. It is a smooth, rhythmical, flowing movement that follows the direction of the flow of blood back to the heart and can be performed superficially or at a deeper level.

The main effects of effleurage are:

Accustoms the client to therapists touch.
Introduces the massage medium; oil, cream etc.
Aids relaxation and preparation for further massage.
Promotes the flow of blood to the veins, thereby helping blood circulation.
Increases lymphatic flow to tissues, thereby speeding up elimination of toxins and waste products.
Aids desquamation slightly.
Superficial effleurage helps skin’s circulation by stimulating sensory nerve endings.
Gently relaxing and stimulating.
Always begins and ends a massage.

Petrissage means to knead. This group of movements are used to either press tissue down on underlying structures or else lift tissue away. These movements include kneading, wringing, rolling, picking up and knuckling.

The main effects of petrissage are:

Circulation to the muscles is stimulated, warming them and oxygenating and nourishing the cells which helps to maintain the muscles’ elasticity and tone.

The bone is nourished due to pressure against the bone.

Waste products are removed from the muscles, due to increased circulation.

Muscle tissue is relaxed, preventing fibrositis from forming.

Petrissage movements are deeply stimulating and relaxing.

Tapotement movements are percussion movements, which involve tapping or striking of body tissue. The movements are performed briskly and rapidly with both hands. The movements include hacking, cupping, plucking pounding and beating.

The main effects of tapotement are:

Causes increased circulation and increased cellular activity.

Helps to break down fatty tissue e.g. cellulite.

Produces localized heat.

Can cause dilation of blood vessels causing erythema.

Vibrations are movements which produce tremors in the underlying tissues.

The main effects of vibrations are:

Freeing the skin and muscles of built up tension.
Increasing blood flow.
Soothing nerve endings.
Stimulates drainage of fluids.

Frictions are movements where we move our fingers or palms back and forwards across an area with increasing speed.

The main effects of frictions are:

Generates heat.
Increases circulation.

It is generally recommended by massage therapists to have a full body massage once a week, although if there are no financial or time constraints it is possible to have a full body massage daily.