To get the feel-good benefits of massage, take matters into your own hands.
Studies show massage can increase circulation, help heal tiny muscle tears, boost the body's immune system, and reduce stress. Here are some tips from Kate Jordan, chief massage therapist at the La Jolla Clinic of Family and Preventive Medicine in La Jolla, California:
- First, have a professional massage to help you tailor a program for your body and activities. This is especially true if it's sports massage you're interested in. If you're a runner, for example, you'll need more work from the waist down; if you're a swimmer, from the waist up. For a certified massage therapist in your area, call the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork at 800-296-0664, or visit their Web site.
- Never self-massage to the point of pain. "Massage should feel good," Jordan says. "Always use slow, steady, and rhythmic strokes."
- Massage across the muscle, perpendicular to the direction of the fibers. For example, for hamstring pain, rub across the back of the thighs, not up and down. This technique decreases pain and speeds healing by flattening and aligning torn or disrupted muscle fibers.
- Use acupressure. For something like a sore muscle or tight shoulder, "Find the place that hurts, press it, and hold for a minute," says Jordan.