by Susan Hamilton & r & & r & AHH THERE'S THE RUB & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & assage isn't just a relaxing spa treatment or the pleasurable touch from your partner. This therapeutic healing practice applies structured pressure, tension, motion or vibration to the skin, soft tissues and muscles of the body to heal injuries, relieve stress, manage pain and improve circulation. It utilizes the body's innate healing response and creates a relaxed state of being.

Massage isn't a new-age phenomenon either. The Chinese used massage more than 3,000 years ago. Later, the Greek physician Hippocrates used friction to treat sprains and dislocations. In the early 1800s, a Swedish medical-symnastic practitioner, Per Henrik Ling, devised a system of massage to treat joint and muscle ailments.


Athletes, businessmen and housewives as well as infants and the elderly receive massage to relieve pain, relax muscles and promote healing of sprain and strain injuries. The soothing action of massage can alleviate tension while more vigorous massage techniques can stimulate circulation and rid the body of toxins. Massage can soothe chronic back pain by reducing muscle tension and spasms. It can ease headache pain by targeting and releasing pressure points.

Research has demonstrated that massage can reduce heart rate, lower blood pressure, relax muscles and improve range of motion. It's been shown to boost the body's immune function. Clinical studies have also proven that massage therapy can alleviate the perception of pain and anxiety in cancer patients. It's used pre- and post-surgery for breast cancer patients, especially to encourage lymph flow and drainage. Patients who have undergone heart-bypass surgery and received massage as part of hospital-based surgery treatment have been found to have less pain and muscle spasms.

How does all this work? The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health reports that massage may work by providing stimulation to block pain signals, stimulating serotonin or endorphins, preventing fibrosis (the formation of scar-like tissue) and improving sleep. Studies indicate that compassionate touch speeds recovery from illness and healing. When tissues are massaged, muscles relax and take in oxygen and blood, helping the body gather needed strength.


With more than 80 massage techniques available, there are a variety of massage therapies for various conditions and situations. In all types of massage therapy, the intent is to relax the body's soft tissues, increase blood and oxygen to the massaged areas and decrease pain. Massage therapists often use several techniques during a session to address different conditions. The more popular types of massage include:

Swedish Massage, the most common type of massage, is often referred to as "traditional massage." Ling developed this therapy almost 200 years ago. Gliding strokes, kneading, friction, tapping and shaking motions are used to affect nerves, muscles and glands. Swedish massage is ideal for relaxation, increasing circulation and flexibility. It also improves muscle elasticity and can help heal adhesions. Physical fatigue, depression and stress as well as tennis elbow, rheumatism and carpal tunnel syndrome can be treated with Swedish massage.

"Everyone who's licensed as a massage therapist has to know Swedish massage," says Sandy Singh, an LMT (licensed massage therapist) practicing in north Spokane. "I use Swedish massage for stress and aches."

Steve Riggan, an LMT in Spokane Valley, uses Swedish massage for chronic aches and pains as well as headaches, TMJ and muscle tension. "The flowing strokes of Swedish massage are very beneficial," he explains. "I've also treated post-open heart surgery patients with cross-fiber friction, a Swedish massage technique that gets rid of adhesions."

Ginger Myers, an LMT practicing in Spokane uses Swedish massage for many applications. "It helps diabetics by opening up their blood vessels and increasing circulation. Massage also helps arthritis by moving toxins out and increases joint mobility."

Sports massage is used to prevent and treat athletic injuries by increasing circulation and warming up muscles. A combination of Swedish massage techniques and those of Russian sports trainers, sports massage relieves swelling, fatigue and muscle tension. Athletes use sports massage to increase flexibility, and some claim it helps them enhance their athletic performance. It also helps strengthen and tone athletes' muscles and supports their nerves.

Sports massage can be used before, during and after athletic events. It treats muscle spasms or pain that is caused by a deficiency of blood in a particular area of the body, which is a common side effect of physical exercise. Swedish massage techniques of stroking, kneading, friction, stretching and compression are used in specific ways that benefit athletes.

Deep-tissue massage reaches deep into muscles to loosen their fibers. This massage can be especially helpful for muscle damage from injuries like whiplash or back strain. It also can help release toxins and break patterns of tension.

For this focused massage work, therapists use deep muscle compression and put friction along the grain of the muscle. They also use patterns of strokes and deep finger pressure on tight, knotted muscles, focusing on layers of muscle deep under the skin.

Myers uses deep tissue massage for injuries, including low-back and sciatica.

"When someone has torn something, I use deep-tissue massage," Singh says. "But you have to know when the muscles are ready," she cautions.

Riggan uses deep-tissue massage for injury rehabilitation, chronic pain and on-the-job injuries, like a pulled back.

Chair massage is a great way to relax if you've only got 10 or 20 minutes to spare. This upper body massage can be performed anywhere -- health food stores, airports, health clubs or offices -- because it uses a special portable chair. It's convenient and promotes better circulation, muscle stimulation and stress relief. Chair massage reduces tension in the back, neck, shoulders, head, arms and hands.

The relaxation and pain relief provided by chair massage promotes a sense of well-being and productivity. It's been used by the corporate world as a means of stress relief. It also helps prevent on-the-job injuries.

Therapists use a combination of acupressure and Swedish massage techniques for chair massage. Compression, friction, stretching, tapping and stroking are used on the client's clothed body.

Shiatsu massage is a form of acupressure developed in Japan. The massage therapist applies pressure to specific points on the body's meridians to increase the flow of energy. Its goal is to bring the body into balance and restore the flow of vital energy, or qi. Therapists use finger and hand pressure combined with gentle manual manipulation of the body to promote healing. Knowledge of acupuncture and traditional Eastern massage, Amma, is essential for therapists who administer Shiatsu massage. Shiatsu is said to release toxins, tension and energy blocks, leaving the patient relaxed yet energized. It also tones the body's organs.


It's important to know about a therapist's training. They should have graduated from a program accredited by the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation or from an American Massage Therapy Association member school. Therapists should be licensed or registered as a massage therapist in their state (as required in Washington and Idaho). It's beneficial if the therapist is certified by the National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.

Ask if the therapist has training in specific types of massage and whether he or she has used massage to treat medical conditions you have. Find out how many treatments may be needed, the cost and if there is insurance coverage. Remember that each therapist has a different style and technique.

"I can work so light, you hardly know I'm touching you," says Singh. "But I can also work so deep, you swear I'm massaging your bones."

& r & & r & by Suzanne Schreiner & r & FLOWER POWER & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & B & lt;/span & y its very appearance, the cheerful yellow flower of St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) seems to have been cast as a remedy for depression and anxiety. The name stems from hoary tales of a fern that produced a magical flower, which bloomed only on Midsummer's Eve, the night before the Feast of St. John; wort is the old Anglo-Saxon word for plant. For centuries, its flowering tops have been used to prepare teas and tablets to treat mental disorders and nerve pain. In ancient times, herbalists wrote about its use as a sedative and a treatment for malaria, as well as a balm for wounds, burns, and insect bites.

Today, some scientific evidence suggests that St. John's wort, sometimes called Klamath weed or goat weed, helps with mild to moderate depression, and some users believe it helps them get a good night's sleep. But two large studies, one sponsored by National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), part of the National Institutes of Health, showed that the herb was no more effective than a placebo in treating major depression of moderate severity. NCCAM is studying the use of St. John's wort in a wide range of mood disorders, including minor depression. As a dietary supplement, St. John's wort is not regulated by the FDA.

The standard dose for mild to moderate depression is 500-1,050 mg per day. Some patients see effects as early as two weeks, but Ryan Skinner of Humble Earth Natural Market says, "One of the biggest misconceptions about herbs is that they will work immediately."

Skinner advises customers to give a supplement at least a month to work, though he says it can take up to three months. Urging patience, he adds, "A tree doesn't grow 30 feet tall overnight. Depending on a person's state of health, herbal supplements are directed to crucial body functions first, then to areas of need" -- to the nervous system, for example, in the case of stress or anxiety. Though St. John's wort became popular in the early '80s, Skinner says he doesn't sell that much of the liquid tincture or tablets that he stocks because the trend now is to use St. John's wort in combination with other herbs, such as lavender flower, celery seeds, skullcap and oatseed, in products like nervous system tonics for overall mood lift.

NCCAM cautions the herb is not a proven therapy for depression, which can become severe if not treated appropriately. Skinner agrees, saying that like all herbal supplements, "Sometimes they don't work, just like prescription drugs." Other warnings range from possible increased sensitivity to sunlight to side effects that can include anxiety, dry mouth, dizziness, gastrointestinal symptoms, fatigue, headache or sexual dysfunction. Advocates counter that side effects of St. John's wort are often far milder than from pharmaceutical antidepressants.

Users should pay close attention to the interactions of St. John's wort with other drugs. The herb may affect the way the body processes or breaks down certain prescription drugs, in some cases speeding or slowing a drug's breakdown. Drugs affected can include those used to control HIV infection, cancer drugs, anticoagulants, birth control pills and antidepressants. Additionally, cyclosporine, which prevents the body from rejecting transplanted organs, and digoxin, which strengthens heart muscle contractions, can be harmful in combination with St. John's wort. Patients should always check the safety of any drug combination with a doctor or pharmacist.

Though unsubstantiated, some dieters claim that St. John's wort helps improve energy and alertness and relieves stress and anxiety. Pointing to its use as a remedy for mild to moderate depression, advocates say that since depression can lead to weight gain, and medications with actions similar to St. John's wort have been used for weight loss, the herb can be useful for weight loss, too.

Chemically, the major constituents in St. John's wort are a mix of hypericin and other dianthrones, flavonids, xanthones and hyperforin. Researchers previously thought the antidepressant actions of St. John's wort were due to hypericin and the inhibition of the enzyme monoamine oxidase, but current research focuses on other constituents, such as hyperforin, and flavonoids. Studies suggest that St. John's wort extracts may work against depression by inhibiting the reuptake of the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, possibly a function of the hyperforin. The idea is that St. John's wort is able to act as an antidepressant by making more of these neurotransmitters available to the brain.

Of course, those suffering from depression and anxiety usually don't care how St. John's wort works, so long as it does.

Reclaiming Culture: The Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska Repatriation @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through May 2
  • or

About The Author