Massage is the practice of applying structured pressure, tension, motion or vibration- manually or with mechanical aids- to the soft tissues of the body, including muscles, connective tissue, tendons, ligaments, and joints, to achieve a beneficial response. As a form of therapy, massage can be applied to parts of the body or successively to the whole body, to heal injury, relieve psychological stress, manage pain, and improve circulation. Where massage is used for its physical and psychological benefits, it may be termed “therapeutic massage therapy” or manipulative therapy.
A massage therapist may assess clients by conducting range of motion and muscle testing and propose treatment plans; treat soft tissue and joints of the body through soft tissue manipulation, hydrotherapy, remedial exercise programs and client self help programs; provide courses of treatment for medical conditions and injuries or wellness maintenance; maintain records of treatments given; and may work with other healthcare professionals as part of a team that facilitates an environment that promotes health and overall wellness. A massage therapist is not licensed to diagnose, perform manipulations or adjustments of the human skeletal structure, diagnose, prescribe or provide any other service, procedure or therapy which requires a license to practice chiropractic, osteopathy, physical therapy, podiatry, orthopedics, psychotherapy, acupuncture, dermatology, cosmetology, or any other profession or branch of medicine unless specifically licensed to do so.
In commercial settings, massage techniques involve the client being treated lying down on a massage table or in a massage chair, or on a mattress on the floor. Except for modalities such as Thai Massage or Barefoot Deep Tissue, the massage subject is generally unclothed, and the body may be “draped” with towels or sheets. This also helps keep the client warm. In some jurisdictions it is required that certain areas such as the genitals on both genders and the breast/nipple area on women be draped at all times. Due to the necessary physical contact between the practitioner and the client, sexual arousal (or signs of it) is possible, but rarely intentional. In Swedish, the most popular style in the USA, the treatment may start with the client face up or down for the first part of the session: the client then rolls over (draped by the towels or sheets) for the second half of the session. Relaxation is necessary for maximum therapeutic benefits to be achieved.