Massage 101: The World Of Touch

With more than 200 variations of massage, how do you know what's what, and what's best for you?

By Carol Sorgen
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

Almost anyone -- from infants to seniors -- can enjoy the benefits of a good massage.

Massage is one of the oldest healing arts. Chinese records dating back 3,000 years document its use. The ancient Hindus, Persians, and Egyptians applied forms of massage for many ailments, and Hippocrates wrote papers recommending the use of rubbing and friction for joint and circulatory problems.

Today, the benefits of massage are varied and far-reaching, says Les Sweeney, executive vice president of Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP). Massage therapy has proven beneficial for many chronic conditions, including low back pain, arthritis, bursitis, fatigue, high blood pressure, diabetes, immunity suppression, infertility, smoking cessation, depression, and more. And, as so many of us already know, massage also helps relieve the stress and tension of everyday living that can lead to disease and illness.

But with more than 200 variations of massage, bodywork, and somatic therapies, how do you know what's what, and what's best for you? First, a definition of the different therapy categories is in order, says Sweeney.

  • Massage is the application of soft-tissue manipulation techniques to the body, generally intended to reduce stress and fatigue while improving circulation. It taps into the energy systems in the body.
  • Bodywork includes various forms of touch therapies that may use manipulation, movement, and/or repatterning to affect structural changes to the body.
  • Somatic, which means "of the body," is often used to describe a body/mind or whole-body approach as opposed to a physical perspective only.