It usually depends on the techniques used. Many massage therapists use a form of Swedish massage, which is often a baseline for practitioners. In a general Swedish massage, your session may start with broad, flowing strokes (effleurage) that will help calm your nervous system and relax exterior muscle tension. As your body becomes relaxed, pressure will gradually be increased to relax specific areas and relieve areas of muscular tension. Often, a light oil or lotion is used to allow your muscles to be massaged without causing excessive friction to the skin. Do not hesitate to ask questions or mention if you feel any discomfort so that the massage therapist can use another approach or technique.
Beyond the feel-good effects of the treatment, the practice and purpose go deeper than the skin and muscles by taking specific reflex points on the foot to induce a healing response in corresponding organs and areas of the body, as seen in the chart to the left. Kneading the soft fleshy ball of the foot, pulling on the toes, tracing around the heel and pushing deep into the arch are just a few of the many small, intense movements you’ll experience during a reflexology treatment.
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So what should runners book instead? Anna Gammal, a massage therapist who works with elite runners at the Boston Marathon each year and also massaged athletes at the 2004 and 2012 Olympics, recommends either a sports massage (i.e. targeted therapeutic treatment for the unique physical and biomechanical needs of athletes) or a myofascial release massage (i.e. the application of gentle, sustained pressure on soft tissue restrictions). Both specifically target muscle release and will help improve flexibility, reduce pain and increase range of motion.
Reflexology is based on an absurd theory and has not been demonstrated to influence the course of any illness. Done gently, reflexology is a form of foot massage that may help people relax temporarily. Whether that is worth $35 to $100 per session or is more effective than ordinary (noncommercial) foot massage is a matter of individual choice. Claims that reflexology is effective for diagnosing or treating disease should be ignored. Such claims could lead to delay of necessary medical care or to unnecessary medical testing of people who are worried about reflexology findings.