If you don’t have the time for a full-body massage or you’re uncomfortable with the idea of undressing to receive a massage, a chair massage can be the solution. It’s a comfortable way to receive the benefits of stress reduction and relief for aching muscles without the awkwardness of removing clothing. If you’ve never had a massage, chair massage is an excellent way to sample it for the first time at little expense.
You may have seen the oddly shaped chairs in a convention exhibit hall or at a chair massage business in a mall or airport. You sit, lean against the chest rest and place your face in the face cradle, giving the massage therapist easy access to your neck, shoulders, back, arms, hands and scalp. The chair is adjusted to fit your body and make you comfortable. The massage session, typically five to 30 minutes, focuses on your areas of greatest tension and discomfort.
Like full-body massage on a table, chair massage reduces tension, decreases muscle aches, provides headache relief and improves sleep. It eases muscle tension that contributes to chronic pain. It has the additional benefits of taking less time than table massage, being more affordable and allowing recipients to remain fully clothed, which encourages a feeling of safety. All those additional benefits help reduce stress.
Because some employers make chair massage on the work premises available as a benefit to employees, it also is known as corporate massage or on-site chair massage. Corporate massage may be paid for in part or entirely by the employer, or may be paid totally by the employee. In the workplace, a brief massage increases employee attentiveness and focus, as well reducing absenteeism on the day scheduled for massage. Like other employee benefits, chair massage contributes to building employee loyalty.
Savvy vendors offer chair massage services to draw in potential customers at sales meetings and conferences. Long lines form at the chair massage booth in the exhibit hall even when adjacent booths have little business. At the conclusion of each chair massage, the vendor has the opportunity to extoll the virtues of his product or service to the happy conference-goer while the massage therapist moves on to the next person in line.
Hot stone massage is the best known and most requested adjunct therapy in the therapeutic massage business. In spite of its popularity, however, many people who enjoy massage regularly have never had the hot stone experience because they are afraid of being burned, don’t know what to expect or because of the additional expense.
During hot stone massage, heat penetrates deep, relaxing muscles that are tight and soothing muscles that ache. The overall effect of general relaxation also reduces stress.
Some sources recommend using specific kinds of stone to channel the energy of the earth, remove toxins, provide nutrients or offer other mystical healing properties. I’m not aware of any research that supports these claims, but they have marketing appeal.
Most massage therapists use basalt river rocks, which are reputed to have some of these mystical benefits. More important to me, however, basalt holds heat well, and river rocks have been smoothed and rounded by the movement of the water. Stones can be a variety of sizes and shapes as long as they are small enough to fit comfortably in the therapist’s hand and have a relatively flat surface to apply to the client’s skin.
The massage therapist heats the stones in water to a temperature is similar to a home heating pad, with the additional benefit of the stone’s weight and physical compressive qualities.
Some massage therapists cover the client with a sheet or towel, then lay hot stones out in a pattern over the client. The sheet or towel barrier is intended to prevent the client from being burned by hot stones sitting in one place for too long. The massage therapist may pick up stones to transfer the heat to her hands, then from her hands to the client.
Other massage therapists use the hot stone as an extension of their arm in gliding strokes. Although this method isn't as attractive in promotional photos, I prefer it because it reduces the risk of burning the client – stones have to be cool enough that I can hold them in my hand, and they are in motion, not resting in one place. In addition, I can apply heat to areas like neck, shoulders and feet where stones would roll off and can control the pressure of each stroke. As each stone cools off, I pick up another that still is hot.
After the massage is over and the client has left, I thoroughly wash and sanitize each individual stone. The additional prep and clean-up time for a hot stone massage is the reason for the additional expense.
Is the hot stone experience worth that additional charge? A huge number of hot stone massage fans believe it is.
I recently have had clients who came to see me because of unexplained pain or tightness in the neck, especially upon awakening. Sleeping wrong didn’t cause that pain in the neck. Painfully tight neck muscles on waking usually indicate a cumulative injury that finally reached the point of being noticed.
Tight, aching neck muscles have many potential causes - stress and posture while using the computer are two frequent contributors.
In addition to hurting and limiting your ability to turn or tilt your head, tight muscles on the side of your neck can compress the brachial nerve, which runs down your arm to your hand. A sharp pain shooting down your arm, numbness, and tingling in your hand signal nerve compression.
A simple neck stretch can help relax tight neck muscles, reducing pain and improving range of motion (ROM). Tip your chin toward your chest and tilt your head to the side as if to touch your ear to your shoulder. Hold that position for a count of 20, then repeat on the other side. Adding heat to your neck, either in the shower or by hot compress, increases the stretch’s effectiveness.
Try this stretch when your neck hurts before you reach for the aspirin or ibuprofen, and you may not need the pills or may need them less often. You can use this stretch several times a day with no ill effects, unlike medications.
Massage is another way to help tight muscles relax, reducing neck pain and improving your range of motion. A professional massage therapist can work neck muscles effectively in chair massage or as part of a full-body massage.
Every serious runner dreads hearing that hip or knee pain requires a long break from running to improve. Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) is one of several causes of athletic knee pain, loosely referred to as runner’s knee.
The IT band or tract is a band of connective tissue that runs from your hip down the outside of your thigh to just below your knee. During running and other knee-bending activities, the IT band stabilizes your hip and knee. Repeated rubbing of the band over the femur’s upper edge just below the knee thickens the lower end of the band, producing inflammation and pain.
You can reduce the risk of developing ITBS by stretching before running and practicing adequate warm-ups and cool-downs.
If it’s too late for you to avoid the condition, anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen can reduce the inflammation and the pain. Massage, even self-massage, and stretches help the IT band relax and ease your discomfort. Here are four effective techniques:
1. To relax the client’s IT band when I am giving a massage, I hold the knee with one hand while I place the palm of the other hand flat against the outer leg just above the knee. My hand glides slowly up the outer thigh. I repeat this slow glide several times with increasingly deep pressure. Often the IT band has a trigger point or a spot that is tender almost halfway up, which I press with my thumb or a massage tool for several seconds to encourage it to relax.
2. Many runners use a foam roller, which you can buy for less than $20 in a running store or online, for self-massage. Lie on the floor with your injured thigh across the roller and use your arms to roll yourself across the roller, avoiding the bones of knee and hip, for one minute. Rest for a minute, and repeat three times. If the pressure is too intense, reduce the weight on the injured thigh by placing the opposite foot on the floor.
3. The only equipment necessary for another self-massage technique is an armless chair, such as a kitchen chair, on which to sit. To work on your right IT band, place the palms of your hands on both sides of your right knee. Keep your left hand parallel to your right to stabilize your knee throughout the massage.
First rub briskly from the knee up to your hip to warm up the tissue, repeating three times.
Second, place the palm of your right hand flat against your knee and glide the hand slowly up to your hip. A small amount of body lotion or oil on your hand will improve the glide. Repeat five times, increasing the pressure of your hand against your thigh.
Third, make a fist with your right hand and repeat the slow gliding motion from knee to hip with your fist five times, pressing deeply, still keeping the left hand parallel to the right. If you find a tender point along the IT band as you do this, pause, apply pressure at the point, and hold for 10 seconds. Then continue dragging your fist up to your hip.
Fourth, dig the knuckles of your fist to dig into the IT band just above the knee and wiggle your fist. Repeat up to your hip.
Conclude by repeating the brisk rub that started the self-massage, then repeat the full routine on the left leg. Practice this self-massage at least a few times a week.
Are any of these techniques comfortable? Probably not. Are they effective? Oh, yeah.
YouTube has many videos on self-massage, foam rollers and stretches for ITBS relief. Search for “self-massage IT” to find additional techniques that work for you.
If you have or live with someone who has irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you already know that chronic abdominal pain, frequent constipation or diarrhea, fatigue, and bloating diminish your quality of life. You may be absent from school or work often and also might avoid social events because of pain and embarrassment.
No one knows what causes IBS. There is no identifiable underlying infection or pathology associated with IBS. Sometimes it develops after an acute intestinal infection, but not always. Most IBS patients are female. Some people with the condition have food intolerances. Stress and depression seem to be connected to IBS, perhaps because of a combination of a predisposition to the condition and the stress-coping mechanism of these patients.
The physician treating IBS may prescribe medications – laxatives, stool softeners and anti-diarrheals – that have unwanted side effects. Treatment recommendations include increasing fiber in the diet and trying to determine if specific foods exacerbate the condition.
Patients also are encouraged to learn new ways to reduce stress and fight depression. The Mayo Clinic web site recommends several methods for encouraging patients to relax, including massage. A primary benefit of massage for anyone, with or without IBS, is that it decreases the level of tension, anxiety and stress. Managing stress is part of managing IBS.
During massage, an endorphin called serotonin, a natural anti-stress weapon, is released into the body, producing both physical and emotional relaxation. In addition to producing a general feeling of well-being, seratonin increases gut motility, a technical term for waste moving forward through the intestine. Abdominal massage, using light pressure strokes in a clockwise direction, also encourages motility. Increased gut motility means less constipation, less bloating and less abdominal pain.
In a study in Sweden a couple of years ago, a group of patients with severe constipation was treated for eight weeks with laxatives only, and another group was treated with laxatives and abdominal massage. The group that received massage had significantly less severe gastrointestinal symptoms, constipation and abdominal pain throughout the study and at the conclusion. One favorable study isn’t scientific proof, but it certainly suggests that massage is beneficial in treating this set of symptoms.
To summarize, regular massage makes the person with IBS more comfortable and improves bowel function without the potential side effects of strong medications.
Yoga, hypnosis, relaxation therapy and even acupuncture also can provide benefits to IBS patients. So can such herbal remedies as peppermint and turmeric. Enteric coated peppermint oil capsules are helpful especially in mild cases of IBS, although the safety for use during pregnancy has not been established. Probiotics, often found in yogurt, can help ease IBS symptoms.
Massage and all the methods mentioned here are helpful in managing the symptoms of IBS, but don’t replace medication or a physician’s care. They are only part of a treatment plan.
My friend who was going to have her first ever massage e-mailed me a few days before her appointment. “I guess if I just wear shorts and a t- shirt, that will work,” her message said, “or is there a recommended attire for a massage?”
I replied, “The recommended attire for a full body massage is a sheet, which I will supply.”
If you’ve never had a massage, you probably don’t know what to expect the first time you visit a massage therapist. When you arrive at my office, before we enter the massage room, I ask you to complete a brief intake form. This form gives me the highlights of your medical history and tells me if you want your massage to focus on a specific pain or general relaxation.
The medical history is important because massage may negatively affect some medical conditions – kidney stones, rashes and varicose veins are a few examples. You should avoid massage while you have a fever or a contagious condition. If you’re pregnant, lighter massage strokes benefit you.
Information on the form and a few follow-up questions about what hurts, how much it hurts, and what aggravates or relieves the pain enable me to customize your session to your needs. Massage is not a one size fits all service; if you tell me pain burns between your shoulder blades when you work on your computer or your legs ache from your increased running schedule, I spend more time working those areas of your body.
In the massage room, I step out of the room to allow you undress to your comfort level and lie down on the massage table under the sheet. Most clients undress completely so I have better access to the muscles in the hips and lower back, but some clients aren’t comfortable doing that, especially if they’re new to massage.
During the massage, dim lights and soothing music enhance your relaxation throughout the session. A sheet covers you from neck to toes to keep you warm and preserve your modesty. I fold the sheet back from each area of the body as I work on it, then replace the sheet so you never feel exposed.
I don’t care – and I won’t tell anyone – if you shaved your legs before you came or if you have an interesting tattoo on your thigh. My goal during your hour on my massage table is to make you feel better, not to embarrass you or develop conversational topics for later.Unlike most business people with whom you work, I don’t care if you doze off during your session. Stress relief and relaxation motivated you to come to my office, and light snores signal that you’re relaxed.
Although an hour sounds like a long time to lie still on a massage table with no television, cell phone or book to distract you, it flies by. When I tell you our time is up, your stress level has dropped from off the chart to zero, your tight, aching muscles have relaxed and, I hope, you consider this the best hour of your week.
Wouldn’t it be great if those extra pounds so many of us carry could simply be massaged off? People would be slender, and massage therapists’ wallets would be fat. Hey, it works for me.
While it isn’t that easy or that direct, you can use massage to help you lose weight in several ways:
Increasing physical activity to burn calories and increase metabolic rate is a key element in losing weight and keeping it off. If you’ve been a classic couch potato and enthusiastically begin a strenuous exercise program, however, you’re going to hurt from overworked muscles and even may injure yourself. You may be too uncomfortable to continue your ambitious exercise program and too discouraged to begin a less challenging workout.
Obese people with arthritis have an especially difficult time losing weight, according to the Centers for Disease Control, because arthritis limits their mobility, and pain prevents the physical activity necessary to work off extra pounds. The CDC reports that 41.3% of adults with arthritis in Missouri fall into the obese weight category (that figure is from 2009). But losing even 10 or 12 pounds can help the obese arthritis sufferer decrease pain and increase mobility.
Massage increases range of motion – how much movement you have in a joint – and alleviates muscle pain without the use of drugs, enabling both those with and without arthritis to increase their physical activity. In addition, it increases your circulation and reduces muscle injuries. Because massage helps the muscles in the body get rid of the lactic acid and wastes produced during exercise, it speeds recovery time between workouts so that you can continue your exercise program. And as noted above, increased activity means decreased weight.
Of course, lack of physical activity isn’t the only reason we’re overweight. We also eat too much and eat the wrong foods. Besides eating to fuel our bodies, we eat because we’re stressed or bored, or just because something tastes good.
Massage reduces stress and helps you relax. My clients sometimes are so relaxed they start to snore – and as a massage therapist, I am not insulted when you fall asleep while I’m working with you. Reducing stress through massage cuts down on stress-related eating. During massage your body produces endorphins, which promote a general feeling of well-being. If you already are walking around with a general feeling of well-being, you are less likely to grab a snack simply because it tastes good and provides momentary pleasure.
The end result of skipping those unhealthy snacks and increasing your physical activity will be to lose weight. It won’t happen as quickly as you want; it will happen only because you discipline yourself to change your bad eating habits and push yourself to increase your activity level. To keep motivated and stick to your plan, you may want to celebrate meeting interim goals with a non-fattening reward such as scheduling a massage for each five or 10 pounds you lose. That’s not pampering yourself, it’s taking good care of yourself.
Besides, you aren’t snacking during the hour or so you spend on the massage table. That has to count for something.