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Massage Therapy for Stress Relief and Much More

Experts describe massage tips you can try on yourself to ease headaches, back pain, and to help you relax.
By Susan Seliger
WebMD Feature

Few sensual experiences rival a full-body massage for pleasure and stress relief -- at least among those things you can talk about in front of the children at the dinner table. Word on the health benefits of massage therapy for stress relief has spread. In 2006, 39 million Americans -- one in six adults -- had at least one massage, according to a nationwide survey by the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA).

"Americans are looking to massage for much more than just relaxation," says Mary Beth Braun, President of the AMTA. "Massage therapy can be effective for a variety of conditions, including arthritis, lower back pain, insomnia, headaches, anxiety, circulatory problems, and recovery from a sports injury."

When you can't get to a massage therapist, you can still reap many of the benefits of this age-old healing practice -- with your own hands. WebMD consulted several massage experts to find these simple, self-massage techniques that incorporate the best soothing rubs and pressure-point applications that massage has to offer.

Try them on yourself -- or someone you love -- throughout the day to boost your energy and increase concentration. You can also use them at night to relax and get a good night's sleep. You'll find the benefits of massage therapy for stress relief are only the beginning.

Massage Therapy to Relieve Tired Eyes

"This one is great for tired eyes from staring at the computer -- it brings circulation to the area and relieves sinus pressure, eye strain, and headaches," says Dale Grust, President of the New York Chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association and a licensed massage therapist in New Paltz, N.Y., for 23 years.

  • Close your eyes. Place your thumbs under your eyebrows, starting at the inside corner of each eye socket. Press and gently move the thumbs in tiny circles, working slowly towards the outsides of your eyebrows and continuing this movement all around your eyes, ending back at the bridge of your nose.
  • Repeat this several times, spending a little extra time at the indentation of the inner eye socket, where the bridge of the nose meets the ridge of the eyebrows - an especially tender point on many people.

Massage Therapy to Ease Headaches and Tension

  • Start by placing your thumbs on your cheekbones close to your ears, and use your fingertips to gently apply pressure and rub the temples (the soft spot between the corner of your eye and your ear).
  • Using very firm pressure and a tiny circular motion, gradually move your fingers up along your hairline until they meet in the middle of your forehead, massaging your entire forehead and scalp as you inch along.

Massage Therapy to Relax the Hands

Here are several moves that will relieve the strain from pounding the keyboard all day.

  • Stretch your hands and fingers out. Rub each finger from the base to the tip, gently pulling and twisting each finger as you go.
  • Next, rest your left hand, palm upward, on your lap. Squeeze the fleshy part of your palm between your right thumb and index finger, moving from your wrist to the base of your thumb.
  • Now squeeze that web between your left index finger and thumb several times, looking for any tender points.
  • Then rub the entire palm with your right thumb, applying firm pressure and using gliding strokes from the wrist to the base of each finger.
  • Repeat this process on your right hand.

"Massaging the hands is not only great for the hands but can help to relieve headaches as well," Grust says. The hands, like the feet, contain reflexology points that correspond to the entire body, including the head, neck, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and sinuses.

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