What is massage therapy?
Massage involves rubbing and putting pressure on muscles, connective tissues, tendons and ligaments. When massage is used to improve someone's health, it is known as massage therapy.
Massage is mainly thought of as a complementary or natural therapy offered by massage clinics or wellness spas. Many people find massage immediately calming and relaxing. Massage reduces levels of cortisol (a stress inducing hormone), while increasing other hormones that have a positive effect on wellbeing (including dopamine and serotonin).
Massage can also be used to treat problems with muscles, tendons and ligaments. Massage can be used to address other health problems including:
- back pain
- neck or shoulder pain
- depression and anxiety
- digestive disorders
- strains or soft tissue injuries
- sports injuries
- anxiety and depression
What are the different types of massage therapy?
Swedish: The top layers of muscles are kneaded with soft, long strokes, or the muscles are hit or tapped. This can relieve muscle tension and may help after an injury. Learn more about Swedish massage.
Pregnancy: This is used to reduce stress, swelling, muscle and joint pain that sometimes appear during pregnancy. Learn more about pregnancy massage.
Remedial: This is used to treat damaged or painful muscles, tendons, ligaments or connective tissues. Massage aids the body's healing and helps to restore function. Learn more about remedial massage.
Sports: Developed to help athletes in training, sports massage increases flexibility and prevents injuries. It is also used after an injury or strain. Learn more about sports massage.
Neuromuscular therapy: Problem areas are manipulated to treat chronic pain, tender muscles, circulation, trapped nerves, problems with posture or injuries caused by repetitive movements.
Deep tissue: Slow strokes are used to put pressure on muscles or tendons deep under the skin. This helps with specific trouble spots such as muscle injuries or back sprains.
Shiatsu: Pressure is applied with the fingers to specific parts of the body called acupressure points.
Reflexology: The therapist uses hands, fingers and thumbs to stimulate certain areas of the feet.
Hot stone: The therapist places warm stones on certain parts of the body to soothe and relax muscles.
What are the risks of massage therapy?
Massage is not a replacement for assessment and care by a doctor. It is also important to let your doctor know if you are trying massage to reduce the symptoms of a health issue. Your doctor can help you determine which type of massage may be helpful.
You should sometimes avoid massage. Massage might not be right for you if you have:
- blood clots
- an infectious skin condition (such as warts or cold sores)
- nerve damage
Some massage therapists are trained to work with people receiving medical care. Your doctor may have a list of therapists they recommend.
What does a massage treatment involve?
Before you go for a massage, make sure you drink plenty of water and do not eat too soon before the massage. Try to give yourself plenty of time to get to the appointment so it is easier for you to relax.
The massage therapist will talk to you about your health history and any problems you are experiencing. Make sure you tell them about any conditions you have or medicines you are taking. Your therapist will discuss how they are going to treat you.
They will leave the room while you undress — keeping your underwear on — and you will lie down on the massage table. The therapist will knock before they come back in. You will be covered with a drape or towel during the massage, and music or aromatherapy may be used to help you relax.
It is important to tell the therapist if you feel uncomfortable at any time during the massage. A professional massage therapist will never expose your breasts, genitals or other areas you ask to keep covered.
Cost of massage therapy
Medicare does not cover the cost of massage therapy. However, if you have private health insurance, you may receive up to a 30% rebate on some treatments such as physiotherapy and massage therapy. Ask your health fund what is included in your 'Extras' cover.
The Australian Government no longer allows some natural therapies to receive a rebate by private health insurance. These include reflexology and shiatsu.
Choosing a massage therapist
Massage therapists do not legally require any formal qualifications to practise in Australia. Sometimes massages are offered by untrained people, including sex workers. Always look for a therapist who is registered with the Massage & Myotherapy Australia so you know they are properly trained. You can find a therapist in your area on their website.
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Last reviewed: April 2021