There are different types of hand movements used by massage therapists. Stroking, which can be light or hard, is meant to relax muscles and improve circulation. Compression—including kneading, squeezing, and friction—stretches muscles and tendons to facilitate movement. Percussion, repeatedly striking the massage point with the sides of the hands, improves circulation.
If you suffer aching muscles or poor circulation, therapeutic massage may be the solution. First used over 3,000 years ago by the Chinese, massage therapy has made its way through other ancient cultures, including the Greeks, Japanese, Egyptians, Romans, and Arabs. But it was Swedish gymnastics instructor Per Henrik Ling who developed modern massage therapy in the early nineteenth century. The Swedish method combined exercise with massage to treat joint and muscle pain. In the 1850s, George and Charles Taylor, two brothers who studied massage in Sweden, brought this method to the U.S. Today it is a common treatment technique.
Almost everyone can benefit from massage—including infants, whose sleep-wake cycles can be regulated with a gentle massage at bedtime. However, individuals with fractures, infections, orthopedic conditions, or skin problems should wait until they have fully healed. Also, while prenatal massage may ease the discomforts of pregnancy, it may also induce labor.