The Healing Benefits of Massage

Massage has become mainstream. Learn which kind works best for you.

Those who experience massage feel the benefits of therapeutic touch.

Patrice Scuse, a grandmother and administrative assistant from Smyrna, found immediate relief for a stiff neck when she made an appointment three years ago at It’s All About You Massage & Bodywork. She is recognizing the deeper benefits of consistent and regular massage. She now schedules a massage every month. “They offered a membership, and by going every month, everything feels better,” says Scuse. “With the computer, the phone, lifting grandchildren, trying to stay young, I feel better now. My neck doesn’t come out of place, I maintain.”

Massage is nothing new. It’s just become more respected. Research coupled with positive client-patient feedback moved massage into the mainstream, even the cutting edge. For some, it’s a necessity. 

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Scuse’s massage therapist, Karyn Malloch-Bailey, is not surprised. “Holistically, massage is medicine. It’s wonderful. It releases toxins,” says Malloch-Bailey.

In addition to helping people with pain through work habits and an active lifestyle, Malloch-Bailey’s patients include women dealing with serious health issues, such as lymphatic drainage issues associated with breast cancer. 

“I also have clients who come in for the basic feel-good, once-a-month massage. They go through a guilt process: Do I want to spend the money to have it done? Then at the end of the month, they know it’s worth it. Like that old saying, An apple a day keeps the doctor away. It’s the same thing. A massage every month keeps the doctor at bay. It’s no longer one of those things for the middle and upper classes. Massage is a necessity, something people need today. It’s hard to look at the rest and relaxation part of it because everyone has some kind of ailment.”

Ancient tradition continues

Massage is documented in writings from ancient civilizations of Egypt, China, India, Rome and Greece, but in America, it was once viewed as a luxury, coddling the rich and idle. Once it was even associated with underground, backstreet sexual solicitation.

No more. Options are abundant.

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In Delaware, there are 1,194 licensed massage professionals, 636 of whom are licensed massage therapists (LMT), a higher level of certification than certified massage technicians (CMT).

And there are at least a half dozen schools in Delaware where future therapists can train. In order to maintain a license, practitioners must pursue continuing education credits and renew their certification every two years. 

Massage therapists statewide deliver a common message: Massage is wonderful medicine and is therapeutic for nearly everyone. Massage can alleviate pain, reduce stress, increase range of motion, reduce anxiety and improve immunological functions, and it is beneficial for people dealing with fibromyalgia, migraines and sleeping disorders, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Clients, such as Scuse, first seek massage because they are experiencing discomfort. An appointment starts with a confidential intake interview and a consultation. Many massage sites provide a menu of services, the most common of which are Swedish, deep tissue, hot stone and sports massages, plus reflexology and, sometimes, specialty massages.

Prices vary. A hot stone massage that incorporates water-heated lava stones generally costs more, for example, and most offices offer time options—30-minute, 60-minute or 90-minute sessions, billed accordingly.

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Not all techniques are appropriate for all clients. Though the client may request a deep tissue massage, the therapist may explain that more is not always better. 

Most therapy is based on Swedish massage, sometimes called relaxation massage, which consists of long, fluid strokes that stimulate the blood and lymph fluids, which reduces inflammation.

It’s considered an investment in health, so other massage therapists add to the endorsements for regular massage.

Corina Perez, LMT, offers massage at Essential Touch in Lewes. 

A therapist with 16 years of experience, she works out of a chiropractic office and specializes in deep tissue, sports, and rehabilitative massage. “It’s become more accepted as people are educated about the benefits,” says Perez. She notes that massage works well with chiropractic treatment for people with arthritis and joint issues.

“Every other client I have has had knee surgery or hip replacement. I see them both pre-op and post-op. From pediatric to geriatric, we see wonderful results. People are always fighting some negative injury,” says Perez.

Kari Ainsworth of Kia Massage in
Millsboro treats people with PTSD.
(Photo by Keith Mosher)

Kari Ainsworth can attest to that. 

As the owner of Kia Massage in Millsboro, she regularly treats clients recovering from child abuse and post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Ainsworth has been a therapist since 2004. “Documented research shows that massage has benefits for everyone,” she says, adding that 70 percent of Americans, not just war veterans, have suffered some form of PTSD.

Cesar Estrada, a spokesman for A Magical Escape Therapeutic Bodyworks in North Wilmington, says many clients prefer the deep tissue option. “We do a lot of deep tissue which is great for aches and pains in the neck and shoulders, but it takes a certain individual to tolerate the discomfort. Deep tissue is on the rise, more than the hot stone, now,” says Estrada.

Some people are enjoying the therapeutic benefits of the big chill. Ann DiStefano, co-owner of Peak Cryotherapy & Massage in Wilmington, opened her spa in January after using cryotherapy last year as a last-ditch treatment for a nagging shoulder injury. “It was so good for me the first time I tried it.”

Cryotherapy consists of standing in a tank of air that is super-chilled by liquid nitrogen for two or three minutes. The client wears underwear or minimal clothing, and the extremities are covered.

Cold reduces inflammation and pain, DiStefano says, and the treatment complements the massage services available on the premises. “It’s amazing,” she says, noting that clients with nagging muscle aches and recent injuries find it beneficial.

Patients are exposed to air that is cooled to -240° F, so DiStefano recommends massage after treatment.

But DiStefano warns that cryotherapy is not for everyone. Pregnant women or people with extremely high blood pressure should steer clear of cryotherapy. People who have been cleared by a doctor for exercise should be fine.

Sports massage is also a popular technique because it can reduce fatigue, enhance flexibility and endurance, and prevent injury.

Scott Blackson is a Milford-based
massage therapist who specializes in
treating men. (Photo by Keith Mosher)

Scott Blackston, LMT, a Milford-based massage therapist has found a niche market: men and sports massage. “I’m seeing the plumber, the roofer, the construction worker. They are not just coming in for a back rub. Men come in for services for the sore shoulder or back. I don’t have a spa and they don’t have to walk through a room full of women and hair dryers. They make an appointment and come in. It’s their turn,” he says. 

Like therapists, Jen Carbone, LMT, of Every Body Needs a Massage in Trolley Square says that nearly all of her clients come in for more than just a relaxing experience. “They usually have an issue. Some come every other week for chronic tight muscles,” she says.

In the world of sports injuries, Forever Fit Foundation offers non-traditional soft tissue manipulation to treat injuries often associated with sports injuries.

Nancy Hawkins of Forever Fit
Foundation offers non-traditional
soft tissue manipulation to treat sports
injuries. (Photo by Luigi Ciuffetelli)

Owner Nancy Hawkins combines a variety of hands-on techniques, including Hawk Grips/Graston techniques (using special tools to locate scar tissue), muscle activation technique (MAT), active release technique (ART), coupled with cryotherapy, stretching and strengthening to return a client’s injured area to optimal functioning.

The injured area is treated every three to four days for about 10 to 15 minutes at a time. It works especially well for people recovering from knee replacement surgery, as well as for golfers, people with tight hamstrings, and those with chronic neck and back issues. “Treatment is very effective, and we have had a lot of great results with clients: decreased pain and swelling with increased pain-free range of motion,” she says.

MORE: Massage experts share their tips.

Healing benefits in a healthcare setting

Massage has migrated into the clinical world of healthcare.

Since 2012, inpatients (and their caregivers) at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington may receive massage therapy as part of their treatment plan, says Jennifer Sciolla, director of Child Life, Creative Arts Therapy and School Programs.

Massage, explains Sciolla, is part of the hospital’s integrative medicine program for patients “who are good candidates,”  Sciolla says. They may include children with brain injuries, cardiac and orthopedic problems and concussions, as well as oncology patients, but not everyone is a candidate.

“There are contraindications here in a hospital setting,” she adds, so before a patient receives massage, there is discussion among the treatment team. Here, the massage therapist is a clinician.

“It’s an opportunity for patients to decrease pain, address anxiety, depression and isolation. It’s very beneficial to the patients,” Sciolla says.

“Massage treatment is very individualized, but that’s how we support all of our patients. Of course, we talk to the families, and they give permission, and it’s done under the guidance of a physician and documented in medical records.”

In addition to supporting patients, the hospital staff recognizes the importance of involving and supporting caregivers. “A lot of adults know the benefits of massage. When we can provide those to a child in a non-medical way, they remember that experience. Families come to Nemours for great medical care, and it’s important for children to understand what’s happening to them. A big part of our job is maintaining childhood.”

“It’s a unique part of our program,” adds Sciolla, noting that parents and caregivers are taught nurturing touch, and can also request a massage for themselves.

“What I see is that patients are more comfortable, more in control, more able to manage their own body and their pain,” she says. 


Deep tissue  Bodywork that works deeply into muscles to release pain.

Myofascial release — The practitioner applies pressure to soften fascia, or connective tissue around muscle.

Reflexology — Work performed on a specific body part, usually feet, to stimulate response in other parts of the body.

Sports — Generally a variation of Swedish massage requested by athletes to improve performance and prevent injuries.

Swedish — Classic massage, a scientific system of manipulations to promote relaxation and rehabilitation via therapeutic use of five strokes.

Thai  An ancient form of bodywork in which the practitioner unblocks trapped energy by using slow rhythmic pressure and yoga-like stretches.

Source: The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork

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