The Healing Art of Massage

by John W. Cartmell, LMP

Published in the Well Being Journal, March/April 1996,
published on the web at

Massage is one of the oldest healing arts. When you rub your hands together or pat yourself to create heat, you're doing massage. When you rub a toe you've stubbed, or rub a baby's back, you're doing massage. The word "massage" derives from the roots "mass" and "massa", Portuguese and Arabic meaning to touch or handle. Massage is a natural thing to do, and the effects of massage promote health in a natural way.

Rubbing the skin and underlying soft tissues stretches the microscopic fibers that make up these tissues. Abnormal fibers are stretched or broken, muscles loosened and relaxed, and the circulation of the blood and lymph is enhanced. Cellular wastes trapped in tight tissues can cause chronic irritation and pain. Massage helps to release these wastes and allow them to be carried by the circulation to be processed and excreted. 

Kneading the muscles loosens the soft tissues, frees up the circulation and relieves the physical pressure of the muscle on the nerves. The release of tension has a balancing effect on the nervous system, which helps to balance all systems of the body. When a person is in balance they're in a state of health and well being. Thus sleep patterns, appetite, hormone balance, energy production, waste elimination, and emotional and physical well being may all be enhanced by massage.

There are many styles of massage and they all balance the soft tissue tension, enhance circulation of body fluids and balance the nervous system. Most massage falls into one of three groups:

  • Deep Tissue; effective in breaking up abnormal tissue often associated with surgery or chronic pain. 
  • Light Tissue; more rhythmic, lighter flowing movements inducing a deep state of relaxation.
  • Neither Deep nor Light; stretches, joint range of motion techniques, polarity techniques and others fall into this group.

Polarity techniques like Therapeutic Touch, balance the soft tissue of the nerves by balancing the electromagnetic field associated with the nerves. As any physics book will explain, when you have a current through a wire, you have an electromagnetic field around the wire. Our nerves generate a weak DC current. The nerve field of the person receiving the massage is affected by the field of the massage practitioner and vice versa. A massage practitioner who knows how to utilize this principle can manipulate this field and relieve things like pain, constipation, PMS, hormone imbalance, ulcers, infections, nausea, anxiety and depression without physically touching the body.

Massage has something for everyone. Massage for athletes is increasingly seen as essential to achieving optimal effects in physique, performance and stamina, with less injury and faster recovery. Babies benefit from the soothing, nurturing and reassurance of loving touch. Seniors benefit from circulation enhancement and the comfort of physical human touch.  An hour of massage enhances the circulation equivalent to a three mile hike. Disaster workers pushed to exhaustion are restored, victims in shock after emotional trauma are calmed and sedated. Patients in acute or chronic pain find relief without drugs, and surgery wounds heal faster with less scarring.

The art of massage is in tailoring the work to the needs of the individual. To be optimally effective, the massage practitioner must tune into the client to know what needs to be done, how best to proceed and how long and how deep to work. Massage as a healing art is a natural time proven method of treatment that promotes health and well being in ways unique to massage. Everyone needs to be rubbed the right way and massage done properly can be a valuable adjunct to optimal health.

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