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The World's Premiere Nordic Skiing Publication Volume 21, Issues 1

A Balanced Life
A Friend in Knead

Know what I need this time of year?
A good knead. It's the only thing I asked for this holiday season. A massage takes up no space in my drawers. Doesn't require watering or dusting. Won't send me hunting through closets when the giver comes 'round. And it's one of the best things you can do for your hard-working muscles.

What is Massage Therapy?
Essentially, massage therapy is therapeutic touch the hands-on manipulation of muscles, tendons, ligaments and other soft tissue, and sometimes (if you're lucky) the scalp. By applying pressure to and kneading these tissues, the massage therapist stretches and realigns the muscles, leaving them more flexible.

There are many schools of massage therapy enough to confound and confuse most massage newcomers. Whether Swedish, shiatsu or a basic sports massage, these rubdowns have earned their reputation for buoying mind, body and spirit.

They bring physiological benefits also, to the circulatory, lymphatic, musculoskeletal and nervous systems. With the focused pressure of a palm, a pair of thumbs or even an elbow, a massage therapist can unkink painful knots that form when fibers and connective tissues wind together. That's relief no gift of slippers can bring.

But there's more. After you slide off the table, your massage therapist will likely supply you with drinking water. This is more than a gracious gesture. The massaging of muscles actually moves fluids, and their collected waste, into your circulatory system. A glass of water helps flush the toxins out.

Finding A Qualified Therapist

    Contact one of these organizations for a referral. Or ask your friends for a personal recommendation.
  • American Massage Therapy Association:
    For deep tissue, sports and Swedish massage.

  • National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork:
    800/296-0664 or

  • American Organization for Bodywork Therapies of Asia:
    ( For shiatsu )
    856/782-1616 or

Your First Visit
When you first enter a massage clinic, many options face you. They include music (soothing think Enya or whale calls or just silence), scented oils (calming lavender, spicy spruce or merely baby oil), draping (a sheet or towel, or bare all) and pressure (anywhere from gentle to down deep).

To me, the latter choice matters most. I have enjoyed massages that nearly put me to sleep, so light, relaxing and boring were they. I have also endured massages that made me feel nothing short of battered fingertip bruises that crawled across my back were my scourge for the days to follow.

My happy medium is a massage that works over my trouble spots shoulders, lower back, legs and hands but leaves me feeling refreshed. In other words, a little pain is okay, a lot is not. Your particular condition and pain threshold should dictate the desired amount of pressure. And in the name of all massage therapists who cannot read minds, I urge you to speak up if you are out of your comfort zone.

Also, don't be disappointed if your first visit Also, don't be disappointed if your first visit doesn't turn you into instant pudding. Like any professional relationship, the one between you and your massage therapist will benefit from a degree of trust and commitment. Over time, you'll develop a rapport to put you both and your muscles at ease.

What Massage Can Do For Skiers According to a recent survey published by the American Massage Therapy Association, 60 percent of consumers seek massage for health and medical reasons, and only six percent for sheer indulgence.

More than just a luxury, massage therapy enhances the function of joint and muscles, improves circulation and general body tone and relieves mental and physical fatigue, says Maureen Moon, a freelance massage therapist and past-president of AMTA. For these reasons, massage treatments are covered by insurance in some states. A typical client visits every four to six weeks.

A cross-country skier herself, Moon advocates massage before hitting the trail. "Most people get massage after an event," she says. "I recommend people get a massage before an event just to loosen them up, to make sure those muscles are ready for that sport."

Seasonal activities such as skiing can be especially tough on muscles. "If you haven't done a sport in a while, you use different muscles," she says. For instance, backcountry skiers use arm muscles to break snow, while skate skiers use their hip flexors more. Massage prepares these underworked muscle groups. Still, reminds Moon, you'll need to stretch before and after you ski.

Choosing The Right Massage
What follows is abridged from Natural Health Magazine, October/November 2002.

Swedish Massage
The classic full-body massage for stress and muscle-tension relief. Eases lower back pain and relieves superficial tensions. With light pressure and kneading, your entire body will be massaged and your arms and legs stretched and gently shaken. Typical treatment lasts 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Cost: $45 to $100.

Deep Tissue Massage
A mix of Swedish massage, acupressure and deep strokes. Deeper reaching and less relaxing than Swedish massage, it penetrates the muscle layers to break up tension. Recommended for chronic tension headaches and repetitive motion injuries. You may request a full-body rub or focus on one area. Typical treatment lasts 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Cost: $50 to $120.

Sports Massage
Emphasis on sports-related injury and its mend and recovery. Practitioners use localized pressure to warm up and hand-work muscle fibers. May require you to supply resistance. Can be painful. Typical treatment requires multiple visits of 15 minutes three to four times per week or 24 to 60 minutes once a week, depending on the condition. Cost: $50 to $120.

An Asian art held as a treatment to unblock energy flow and relieve everything from insomnia to nausea. Practitioners apply pressure for up to two minutes to 12 key body points using their fingers, knuckles, palms, elbows and knees. Can be performed over clothing. Typical treatment lasts 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Cost: $45 to $100.

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