I am a science writer and a former Registered Massage Therapist with a decade of experience treating tough pain cases. I was the Assistant Editor of ScienceBasedMedicine.org for several years. I’ve written hundreds of articles and several books, and I’m known for readable but heavily referenced analysis, with a touch of sass. I am a runner and ultimate player. • more about me • more about PainScience.com

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BC 722-481: Huangdi Neijing is composed during the Chinese Spring and Autumn period. The Nei-jing is a compilation of medical knowledge known up to that date, and is the foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Massage is referred to in 30 different chapters of the Nei Jing. It specifies the use of different massage techniques and how they should be used in the treatment of specific ailments, and injuries. Also known as "The Yellow Emperor's Inner Canon", the text refers to previous medical knowledge from the time of the Yellow Emperor (approx 2700 BC), misleading some into believing the text itself was written during the time of the Yellow Emperor (which would predate written history).[7][8]

“Good pain” is at the heart of the pressure question: a strange, potent sensory paradox that many people actually seek out as the goal of therapy, consciously or unconciously. Either it isn’t literally painful (just intense), or it’s painful but desired anyway because of relief or belief: an actual biological relief or at least the belief that there is one. But it’s important to note that not all satisfying, relieving sensations are genuinely helpful (e.g. scratching a mosquito bite).

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Pain management. If you have a condition like sciatica or osteoarthritis and are suffering from chronic pain as a result, Swedish massage can be an effective method for managing that pain in a natural way. Notify your massage therapist about your pain points, he or she can target those areas and use a stroking motion to improve local circulation and reduce muscle tension.

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Thai massage – or Nuat Thai – combines both physical and energetic aspects. It is a deep, full-body massage progressing from the feet up, and focusing on sen or energy lines throughout the body, with the aim of clearing blockages in these lines, and thus stimulating the flow of blood and lymph throughout the body. It draws on yoga, acupressure and reflexology.
Reflexology also known as "zone therapy", is an alternative medicine involving application of pressure to the feet and hands with specific thumb, finger, and hand techniques without the use of oil or lotion. It is based on a pseudoscientific[57] system of zones and reflex areas that purportedly reflect an image of the body on the feet and hands, with the premise that such work effects a physical change to the body.[58]
It’s just a theory: no one knows if this is actually effective.11 However, it may explain why so many massage patients report a “gets a bit worse before it gets much better” response to quite painful treatments: motor end plates are (painfully) destroyed by strong pressures, and then that tissue is quite sensitive and a bit weak as it heals over a day or two … and then you finally feel much better after that!

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Harriet Hall, MD also known as The SkepDoc, is a retired family physician who writes about pseudoscience and questionable medical practices. She received her BA and MD from the University of Washington, did her internship in the Air Force (the second female ever to do so),  and was the first female graduate of the Air Force family practice residency at Eglin Air Force Base. During a long career as an Air Force physician, she held various positions from flight surgeon to DBMS (Director of Base Medical Services) and did everything from delivering babies to taking the controls of a B-52. She retired with the rank of Colonel.  In 2008 she published her memoirs, Women Aren't Supposed to Fly.


Thank you so much for your article The Pressure Question in Massage Therapy. I just read it all. I went for a sports massage two weeks ago as I was recommended to have one as it was suggested it might help with tight calves, a side effect of some other injuries I have. I’ve been for sports massages many, many times before over the years. This one was one of the most painful experiences of my life — when I got home I was almost sick and felt in shock. My right achilles tendon was raging and it’s been bad ever since. It hurt so much when it was done (like someone was sticking knives in) and I kept asking if it was meant to hurt. I wish I’d just stopped the session or objected but I didn’t. It used to be a bad injury that affected me walking for about 6 months so I’m just devastated about this. I can hardly bear to put shoes on and its all this time on. I know there are good practitioners out there but experiences like this just make me want to stay away. I wish I’d gone to a “gentle” one.
With no lotion or oil to cause sliding, it becomes possible to fully get a hold of the shortened fascia; this is necessary in order to lengthen it. Slow, sustained strokes are what can change this tissue from a short, hardened state to a lengthened, fluid state. The process is not unlike stretching salt water taffy. You’ve got to get a hold of it, warm it up, and work it very slowly. The work may sometimes be intense, eliciting moderate discomfort as old adhesions and chronic dysfunctional patterns are altered. But that leads to a much more fluid, easy sense in the body.
Swedish massage is the most popular type of massage in the United States. It involves the use of hands, forearms or elbows to manipulate the superficial layers of the muscles to improve mental and physical health. Active or passive movement of the joints may also be part of the massage. The benefits of Swedish massage include increased blood circulation, mental and physical relaxation , decreased stress and muscle tension, and improved range of motion.
Myofascial trigger points — muscle knots — are a ubiquitous muscular dysfunction, causing most of the aches, pains and stiffness in the world, and complicating virtually every other injury and disease process. A lot of massage is focused on them, directly or indirectly. Massage may be helpful because it relieves the symptoms of muscle knots, or even unties them. (No, not literally.)
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), this includes individuals with bleeding disorders, low blood platelet counts, or those who are taking blood thinning medications. When these types of conditions are present, the NCCIH indicates that a sports massage with deep tissue work is generally not recommended.

AD 1776: Jean Joseph Marie Amiot, and Pierre-Martial Cibot, French missionaries in China translate summaries of Huangdi Neijing, including a list of medical plants, exercises and elaborate massage techniques, into the French language, thereby introducing Europe to the highly developed Chinese system of medicine, medical-gymnastics, and medical-massage.[8]
Interestingly, many patients and therapists swear by massage as a way to reduce constipation or digestive upset, since the increased circulatory benefits and relaxation of the abdominal and lower back muscles can help relieve symptoms. In fact, a 2014 study from the British journal Nursing Standard highlights a number of the ways abdominal massage encouraging muscle contraction, nudging the gut to move things along.
For me, the opportunity to work with individuals who have such an awareness of their bodies is exceptional. You and the athlete are a team. Locating an area of dysfunction, aiding in the relief or facilitating improvement in the area, then watching the athlete go out and perform well is uplifting. The environment is charged. What’s more, learning from health care professionals while teaching them how massage fits into overall health and wellness is just plain awesome! 

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