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Massage Therapy Terminology

This glossary details common applied techniques and terminology used by professional massage therapists.


Acupressure is an ancient healing art that uses the fingers to press key points on the surface of the skin to stimulate the body's natural self-curative abilities. When these points are pressed, they release muscular tension and promote the circulation of blood and the body's life force (sometimes known as qi or chi) to aid healing.

Acupuncture is an ancient oriental healing technique based on the Taoist philosophy of balancing energy meridians within the body, thus allowing the body to heal itself. Fine needles are inserted at key points corresponding to body organs to relieve pain and cure disease and dysfunction.

Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of plant-derived, aromatic essential oils to promote physical and psychological well-being. It is sometimes used in combination with massage and other therapeutic techniques as part of a holistic treatment approach.

Bodywork is an umbrella term that describes the hands-on technique of massage, touch and movement used to align the body and promote the flow of energy. This alternative therapy promotes relaxation, especially with the musculoskeletal system, enhances the circulation of blood and lymph, and relieves muscle tension. Bodywork includes more than 150 varieties of body manipulation therapies used for relaxation and pain relief.

Chair Massage is a brief, stress-reducing massage. Conducted in a specifically designed portable massage chair that allows efficient access to back, shoulders, neck, arms and hands. A session typically lasts 15 - 30 minutes: no lotion is used and participants are fully clothed. Specialized massage techniques are designed to reduce muscle tension, calm the nervous system, and increase circulation, which can boost energy and alertness. Corporations commonly utilize on-site chair massage at their office setting for employee wellness and appreciation days. An event such as golf outings and health fairs also incorporate chair massage for the participants as an added benefit.

Chakra is a Sanscrit word meaning "wheel like" or "disk". According to traditional Indian medicine they are openings for life force energy to flow into and out of our subtle body and considered the focal points for the reception and transmission of energies. Different systems post a varying number of charkas; the most well-known system in the West is that of the seven charkas.

Craniosacral Therapy is a gentle, noninvasive method of evaluating and enhancing the function of the craniosacral system. The practitioner uses a light touch to assist the natural movement of fluid within the craniosacral system, assessing for and removing restrictions. This 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.

Deep Tissue Massage is a technique that focuses on the deeper layers of muscle tissue, physically breaking down and eliminating adhesions or scar tissue to relieve pain and restore normal movement. The therapist releases chronic muscle tension through slow strokes and more direct deep pressure or friction applied across the grain of the muscle.

Energywork encompass various techniques originating from ancient traditions and recent discoveries that are used to manipulate the bioenergy of the patient with the goal of restoring harmony or removing blockages from within the body. Pain and disease can happen when the flow of currents is interrupted by imbalances and blockages and allowed to persist. Energywork is commonly used at the end of a massage to leave the client relaxed and energized. Its comforting and peaceful properties are beneficial to patients who have catastrophic and/or terminal illness.

Geriatric Massage Involves treating the elderly, often in resident-care facilities, and addressing their needs related to aging. Massage therapy can benefit seniors in pain; enhance recovery from injury and increase vitality energy and mental alertness. Geriatric massage is usually shorter in duration, and involves the application of gentle techniques to facilitate pain relief, increased range of motion, improved circulation and an overall feeling of wellness.

Hot Stone Massage is a unique therapy using different size heated basalt stones that are placed on key points on the body. This deep heated massage technique is ultimately relaxing and effectively reduces pent up stress.

Massage Therapy improves circulation by bringing oxygen and other nutrients to body tissues. It relieves muscle tension and pain, increases flexibility and mobility, and helps clear lactic acid and other waste, which reduces pain and stiffness in muscles and joints.

Massage therapy as defined by the Ohio State Medical Board is the treatment of disorders of the human body by the manipulation of soft tissue through the systematic external application of massage techniques including touch, stroking, friction, vibration, percussion, kneading, stretching, compression, and joint movements within the normal physiologic range of motion; and adjunctive thereto, the external application of water, heat, cold, topical preparations, and mechanical devices.

Medical Massage is a scientifically based system of clinical techniques applied to correct connective tissue and muscle imbalance. The manual techniques are based on those principles of patho-physiology that affect connective tissue healing and treatment. Designed to reduce pain, establish tissue normalcy and normalize movement of the musculoskeletal system, Medical Massage can result in less pain and improved flexibility and circulation.

Meridians are energy channels. They can be likened to the wiring of a house, or the veins and arteries through which our blood flows, except that they have no discrete physical structure. They run through our physical bodies but they cannot be dissected or found surgically. Meridians are part of the body's subtle energy anatomy and have no concrete form. Humans are not unique in having meridians - dogs, cats, horses, and all mammals seem to have energy meridians. Despite their intangible nature, we know that meridians exist because their impact can be felt. Sedating (weakening) or strengthening the various meridians has a noticeable impact on energy levels, mood and adaptability, health, immunity, thinking and cognition, and more.

Muscle Testing is a method of evaluating the contractile unit, including the muscle, tendons, and associated tissues, of a moving part of the body by neurologic or resistance testing. The tests may include shortened, middle, and lengthened range-of-motion ability; isokinetic measurement of muscle strength, power, and endurance; and functional tests, such as jogging or specific agility drills, as well as radiography, arthroscopy, electromyography, and other medical tests.

Myofascial Release is the three-dimensional application of sustained pressure and movement into the fascial system in order to eliminate fascial restrictions. Myofascial release is an effective therapeutic approach in the relief of cervical pain, back pain, scoliosis, restriction of motion, chronic pain, and headaches.

Polarity Therapy uses light touch and gentle rocking movements intended to balance life energy by affecting general and muscular relaxation. Polarity therapy was developed by Dr. Randolph Stone who was trained in the natural healing methods of chiropractic, naturopathy and osteopathy

Positional Release Therapy is the original osteopathic modality that inspired the development of Ortho-Bionomy™. Gentle on both practitioner and client, PRT is highly effective at relieving things from recent soft tissue trauma to long-term postural imbalances. It presupposes the body's innate ability to rebound to its natural state if given the opportunity and applied release therapy. The results can be immediate and complete relief from pain; improved mobility and increased energy flow throughout the body.

Reflexology is the practice of applying pressure to the feet and hands utilizing specific thumb, finger and hand techniques without the use of oil, cream or lotion based on a system of zones and reflex areas that reflect an image of the body on the feet and hands with a premise that such work affects a physical change in the body.

Relaxation Massage melts away stresses with its smooth flowing style to relieve tension, improve circulation and promote general relaxation.

Reiki (pron-RAY key) means “universal life force energy” in Japanese. A form of energy work that promotes balance restoration and aids the body's natural healing process through gentle touch. Reiki promotes a sense of deep relaxation and peace, physically, mentally and emotionally. It is often used with seniors and cancer patients.

Sports Massage is used by athletes and performers for prevention, rehabilitation, maintenance and maximizing physical conditioning. By applying different techniques designed for the athlete, Sports massage removes restrictions due to pain, spasms and tension allowing the athlete to return to peak performance sooner. This massage is customized for the client’s activity

Swedish or Therapeutic Massage is the most well-known massage form. It is a system of long strokes, kneading and friction techniques, combined with stretching and movement of the joints. Swedish Massage addresses the superficial layers of muscle to relieve tension, improve range of motion and heighten your sense of well-being

Trigger Point Massage utilizes ischemic compression of individual areas of hypersensitivity in muscles, ligaments, tendons and fascia. These trigger points are defined by their referral of pain to distant locations in muscles, connective tissues and organs. Janet Travell, M.D. pioneered trigger point therapy in the United States

Zero Energy Balancing (ZEB) is a well known technology in Egyptian, Chinese, Mayan, Japanese and Native American cultures. It has much in common with Homeopathy and Reiki. This alternative therapy enhances the vibrational levels of the aura, technically called the biofield. The chakras and acupuncture meridians are part of the biofield and are enhanced with this tool.

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