Medical Problems of Performing ArtistsMedical Problems of Performing Artists

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Massage Therapy in Dance Medicine

Maureen O'Rourke
From: Medical Problems of Performing Artists: Volume 13 Number 2: Page 61 (June 1998)

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Abstract: Modern massage therapy theories, and the techniques developed as a result, have progressed from simple pain-alleviation and relaxation interventions. They now encompass a wide range of methods to stimulate the body's natural healing mechanisms and, as a result, are more than ever applicable to the treatment of dance injury. They can be divided into the categories of mechanical approaches applied directly to tissues, autonomic or reflexive approaches acting indirectly through the nervous system, and movement and retraining approaches.1 Many specific techniques in these categories are particularly useful in treating dance injuries. Effectiveness of some techniques is based on their physiologic effects on the human nervous system'stimulating or inhibiting a response. Massage enhances circulation, helps eliminate metabolic byproducts, reduces soft-tissue adhesions and swelling, restores normal muscle tonus, and calms the peripheral and central nervous systems. It is unusual to encounter soft-tissue dysfunctions without proprioceptive hyperactivity (excessive neural "feedback").2 Massage therapy is an ideal intervention here, since this hyperactivity leads to increased muscle tonus in one area, with hypoactivity in the opposing muscles. Massage can substitute different neurologic stimuli to fatigue pain sensors, reset muscle tonus through muscle/connective tissue stretching and stimulation of proprioceptors, and use range-of-motion movements to re-educate muscles. Traditional Swedish techniques of effleurage, pétrissage, tapotement, vibration, friction, and joint manipulation have been expanded upon in recent years, and massage therapy training is now more varied in terms of techniques. Although physical therapists, nurses, and other health care professionals receive an introduction to basic massage techniques as a part of their training, massage therapy receives little emphasis because of the vast body of information taught in these programs. The training of a licensed massage therapist (LMT) includes studies in anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, palpation, commonly-encountered soft-tissue pathologies, and hydrotherapy, along with training in and practice of actual massage therapy techniques. Many LMTs reinforce their skills continually throughout their practices, and become specialists in different areas of massage therapy. Continuing education requirements,3 an important part of the relicensing procedure, can ensure further theoretical and technical training throughout a massage therapist's career.

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