Q: There are many different types of massage. Which produce the good outcomes that your studies found?
A: We use Swedish massage in our studies. That’s the most common type, the one most people are familiar with. We typically develop a specific massage plan for each problem. In cases where pain is localized, we usually directly massage the site or an area near the site. For instance, in our migraine study, we focused on massaging the nape of the neck. It was very convenient because once the participants were on their own, they could massage themselves. When we studied lower-back pain, we focused on the lower-back region, and when we studied hand pain, we worked on the hand. When an issue is systemic, though, such as some cancers, HIV or fibromyalgia, we use whole-body massage.
Q: Does pressure matter?
A: Moderate pressure such as you would experience in any kind of Swedish massage is the key to all the effects we achieve. Moderate pressure reduces heart rate and encourages brain wave patterns of heightened alertness and relaxation. What’s most important is that you stimulate pressure receptors. Light touch—that is, a featherlike stroke that mimics tickling—won’t work. Nor will pressure that’s so heavy that it causes discomfort and makes you tense up.
Q: Ideally, how often should people get massages?
A: Everyone who can should get a daily 10-minute massage. That doesn’t mean you have to rely on a partner to give you one. In fact, any activity that stimulates pressure receptors—such as walking, which presses the soles of the feet; doing yoga; scrubbing yourself with a brush or loofah in the shower; rubbing a tennis ball along your limbs—should have an effect similar to that of moderate pressure massage.
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