Massage: More Than Just an Indulgence

For those who depend on medicine for pain relief, consider this healthy alternative.

Alex DuMonde is intent on rubbing people the right way.

She is a massage therapist at BFit Enterprises in Newark, a personal training center that combines fitness, nutrition and massage.

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DuMonde uses brisk, precise strokes to soothe the muscles of athletes and prevent pain after a workout. She gently massages the skull and neck to relieve tension that contributes to headaches. She focuses on the hands and feet of people who suffer from neuralgia, a painful nerve condition that sometimes results from diabetes, multiple sclerosis or chemotherapy treatments.

“There are a lot of people out there who depend on medications for relief when they could be getting help from massage,” she says.

Massage is more than a blissful indulgence. Studies have shown that massage can lower blood pressure, boost immunity, soothe an aching back, and relieve pain from nerve damage, injuries and other ailments. It’s sometimes recommended as a complementary therapy to relieve anxiety, pain and fatigue in cancer patients.

DuMonde had her first massage when she was 14. Her mom arranged the session as a treat for her birthday. She had recently been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a syndrome characterized by sore muscles and an overwhelming lack of energy.

“I got up from the table and I felt good,” she recalls. “From that moment on I wanted to learn all I could about massage therapy, because I know from personal experience that it can help people.”

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BFit founder Marcellus Beasley encourages his personal training clients to schedule monthly massages.

“I believe massage promotes both physical and mental wellness,” he says. “We know that there is a strong connection between body and mind, and massage helps us to relax and de-stress.”

Once perceived as pampering, massage is flowing into the wellness mainstream. Medical benefits typically don’t pay for it, though worker compensation plans and auto insurance cover therapeutic massage for people who are hurt on the job or in vehicular accidents, if their doctors advise it.

At Limestone Therapeutic Massage, clients are often referred by chiropractors and physical therapists, says founder Byron Hobson.

“People also come to us for help with aches and pains after shoveling snow or gardening,” he says. “We also see people with headaches, people with insomnia, athletes and people who are interested in preventative wellness.”

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Frank Rodriguez, a massage therapist at Limestone’s office at the Christiana Spine Center, uses a combination of techniques to tailor massage to the client’s needs.

He was originally trained in shiatsu massage, which uses finger tags applied to various pressure points on the body. 

“Over the years, I’ve learned many techniques, so each massage is different,” he says.

On a recent afternoon, Rodriguez cradles a client’s head in a towel, gently stretching her neck. He uses his fingers to work to free scar tissue that has adhered to muscle fibers and connective tissue, then teaches the client’s spouse how to massage the scar tissue at home between visits. 

Vinny Edmund-Pizzo is an accountant who spends long hours at the computer. Years ago he began getting massages at Limestone every few months to relieve tension in his shoulders. Massage therapy also was part of his treatment when he was recovering from injuries sustained in an auto accident.

“I used to think of massage as a luxury, a treat I would give myself maybe three or four times a year,” he says. “Now I make monthly appointments for preventative care, which keeps that tension in my shoulders from coming back.”

Massage offers hands-on treatment for the wear and tear our bodies experience in day-to-day life, says Chris Asay, founder of Christopher Asay Massage in Dover. That includes the pressures of dealing with work and family.

“You aren’t in physical danger when your mother-in-law walks through the door, but you still get that release of stress hormones,” he says.

Our primitive fight-or-flight reflex floods our bodies with hormones that charge us with the energy we need to battle an enemy or run like the wind. Modern life is filled with lots of smaller stresses that build up over time, causing tension and increasing our risk of anxiety, depression and heart disease. Stress also interferes with sleep and concentration.

“In many countries, massage therapy is a regular part of most people’s wellness routine,” Asay says. “But in the United States, a lot of people are introduced to massage when they need relief from a problem.”

Janet Miller of Felton did a lot of heavy lifting while getting her house ready for sale. She felt good about her hard work, but afterward, her shoulder hurt so intensely that she couldn’t get a proper night’s sleep.

“I went to Chris two times a week for massage and began doing some gentle shoulder exercises he recommended three times a week,” she says. 

Miller has regained her full range of motion and now schedules monthly massages to keep limber.

Asay became interested in massage nearly 30 years ago, after he suffered a back injury. 

“I had a martial arts instructor who had massage training,” he says. “After he gave me a massage, I felt so much better that I enrolled in training, too.”

He began with Hawaiian massage, also known as lomi-lomi, a combination of stretching, gentle touches and deep strokes that promote healing and aid digestion. 

In recent years Asay has seen an increase in demand for Thai massage, in which the therapist uses his or her hands and feet to stretch the joints and muscles of people who have a limited range of motion due to hip replacements and other conditions. Unlike traditional massage, the client remains clothed. No oils or lotions are used.

“We work on a mat on the floor,” he says. “It’s sort of like yoga, except the massage therapist moves your body for you.”

Massage therapists are trained in anatomy—the structure of the body—as well as physiology, the workings of the body’s various systems, such as the digestive system and the immune system. 

In Delaware, the state Board of Massage and Bodywork regulates the practice. It approves two levels of professionals.

Licensed massage therapists must complete 500 hours of training at an approved school and pass a national exam. Certified massage technicians must complete 300 hours of training. No written test is required.

Despite its benefits, there are times to avoid massage. Don’t get on the table if you have a bleeding disorder, are taking blood thinners, have a wound that has not healed or suffer from severe osteoporosis. Speak up if you are allergic to oil or lotions.

Before you begin treatment, your massage therapist should ask you to fill out a medical history form, and mention specific concerns you have.

“Talk to your massage therapist,” Asay advises. “A good therapist wants to give a massage that is as unique as the individual.”  

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