By Michaela Gibson Morris
TUPELO – Modern life can twist you into a pretzel.
Massage therapy can be an effective tool for unknotting muscles twisted by stress, compressed by hunching over a computer screen or steering wheel and overburdened by multi-tasking.
“People come to me to hit the reset button,” said Tupelo massage therapist April Michael, who specializes in Ashiatsu – a form of massage that uses the feet to stretch and knead the muscles. “When they leave, they’re ready to go.”
Around Northeast Mississippi, there’s a diversity of forms of massage therapy.
“The world of massage is an evolving thing,” said Gloria Waldrip, a 17-year veteran of massage therapist and instructor of the Waldrip School of Massage. Massage therapists have to complete 24 hours of continuing education every two years. “There’s always something new to learn.”
Ashiatsu, where the feet are used instead of hands to deliver a soothing, deep massage, is relatively new to Northeast Mississippi. Michael is only one of two certified Ashiatsu massage therapists in Mississippi.
The name is Japanese – literally meaning foot and pressure. However, the technique as it’s taught in the United States, is derived from forms that originated in India and the Philippines.
Because the Ashiatsu therapist can use her body weight and gravity, she can bring more leverage into play than she could with shoulders and arms.
“I can be way more effective,” Michael said. “I can work deeper with my feet.”
Michael has found people who are prone to cricks in their neck or who have very tight neck and shoulders respond well to Ashiatsu.
“This releases it immediately,” Michael said.
Michael primarily uses the ball and the heel of her foot to deliver the massage. Michael and other Ashiatsu therapists use overhead bars for balance as they work. In most cases, Michael is using just one foot at a time. One of her favorites is a long soothing stroke that starts on the leg and moves up the back to the shoulder and down the arm.
Michael, who is also a Kripala certified yoga therapist, also offers Ashithai massages, which incorporate stretching with pressure point work. The Ashi Thai massages are typically done full dressed.
“They come out feeling like they did a yoga class,” Michael said.
Because Ashiatsu provides increased pressure, it isn’t recommended for people with diabetes, osteoporosis, pregnant women, children and the elderly.
“It’s too much pressure,” Michael said.
Michael, who has been a massage therapist since 1999, became certified in the form in 2005. She opened her Dharma Wellness studio at the Renasant Idea Center in downtown Tupelo this spring.
The most widely available form of massage is traditional Swedish massage. Known for its long sweeping strokes, the massage therapist uses oils to be able to glide over the skin. It is the focus of the initial training all massage therapists receive, Waldrip said.
“It’s light and relaxing,” Waldrip said.
It is appropriate for a wide number of people, including children, Waldrip said. It’s good for diabetics because it helps with circulation.
It’s also a good choice for people with fibromyalgia.
“They can’t tolerate deep tissue work,” Waldrip said. “It helps with the flushing of tissues.”
Other modalities can be mixed in with Swedish or done on their own.
A specialized technique, trigger point massage is used to address referred pain – where the pain is felt one place, but actually originates in another. It’s especially helpful for tension headaches and lower back pain, Waldrip said.
Tension headaches, for example, often originate from a trigger point in the neck, she said. Arm pain can often be traced back to the shoulder.
The techniques for deep tissue work are similar to the long flowing strokes with Swedish massage, but the therapist gradually works deeper to aggress an underlying problem, Waldrip said.
“It’s not about gouging,” Waldrip said. “The body has to give you permission to go deeper.”
Deep tissue work generally focuses on a specific problem, like frozen shoulder.
The fascia is a connective tissue that makes up a continuous sheath around the body and inside muscles. When someone suffers an injury, like a cut, the fascia can become adhered to the muscle.
“Scar tissue is gelatinous,” Waldrip said, and can keep the muscle fibers from moving freely in and out of the extensions and contractions needed for full-range of movement.
Myofascial release can be performed after the injury is well healed, Waldrip said. The area is warmed up and then the therapist works to break up the scar tissue
Any visible scars will remain on the skin, but scar tissue underneath will soften, allowing fuller movement, Waldrip said.
For athletes looking to perform at their peak, sports massage can help the muscles work more effectively.
Pre-event sports massage focuses on quickly warming and stretching the muscles. Post-event sports massage is focused on making sure they are ready to go without soreness that limits their ability to function.
“Anytime energy is expended there’s waste products,” Waldrip said. Breaking up those waste products and moving them out of the body keeps the athlete from hurting the next day.