Once used as an integral part of medical treatments, massage therapy dates back to ancient China. Even today, in countries such as Germany, Russia and Japan, massage therapy is part of the standard healthcare practice. But in the U.S., this soothing practice is often considered a relaxing luxury--only 43 percent of women have had a massage in the last five years, reports the American Massage Therapy Association.
Not among this group? You should be. Massage therapy offers many benefits to the active woman--it can help alleviate muscle injury, prepare you for a workout, relieve muscle tension or increase range of motion. It's also calming for the mind and excellent for the health of your skin.
But it can be hard to sort through all the choices at a spa. Use this primer to find the most beneficial massage treatment for you.
"Massage prepares bodies for movement," says Bernadette Lehmann, a Boston-based certified massage therapist who works specifically with athletes. "It also helps people become more aware of their bodies through touch. Most of us don't realize we have tension in our bodies until we feel pain."
Lehmann recommends a sports massage for injury prevention both pre- and post-athletic activity. Before an event, she massages an athlete's muscles with light shaking and pressure. "It's a gentle way of warming up the body, not working too deeply on the tissue, for 20 minutes to a half hour."
After competition, massage can be especially therapeutic. "Typically there's a lot of lactic acid built up in the muscle," she says. "Massage helps increase circulation and the flexibility of the muscle, decreasing the chance of injury."
The Right Strokes
Like any other form of therapy, the type of massage therapy you choose should be specific to your desired result--as well as your comfort level. "Find a qualified massage therapist who belongs to the American Massage Therapy Association (amtamassage.org)," Lehmann says. "Every massage therapist is different. Find someone who works for you." Don't be afraid to ask questions--a qualified professional will have no problem discussing her credentials and explaining her technique.
Active women can benefit from any one of these massage techniques.