Massage has been shown to ease many ills - choosing a trained therapist is important. (iStockphoto/iStockphoto)

As if anyone needed an excuse for getting a rubdown, recent studies have pointed to the physical and mental health benefits of massage. A small study in the Feb. 1 issue of Science Translational Medicine concluded that massage reduced inflammation caused by muscle damage from exercise. Another, in the journal PLoS One, found that an hour per week of Swedish massage reduced knee pain in people with osteoarthritis. For chronic lower-back pain, a third study found, patients getting a weekly massage of about an hour reported statistically significant improvement in pain relief and function. Other research has found it can help relieve anxiety, mild depression and stress.

A massage can involve light stroking, an elbow pressed into a knotted muscle or a person walking on your back. There are many methods, so how do you choose?

Where to start

Most people are familiar with chair or on-site massage found at airports, shopping malls and nail salons, but newcomers to the therapy may want to start with a stress-relieving Swedish-style massage, says Brenda L. Griffith, a certified massage therapist in Richmond. Swedish massage involves kneading the skin, muscles and tissue with long strokes as well as vibration and tapping.

If you have specific trouble areas, consider deep-tissue massage, Griffith says. It can include sports massage, which is similar to Swedish but uses deeper pressure on areas that may need extra attention, such as a runner’s leg muscles. Shiatsu, another type of massage, involves applying pressure to the body with fingers and hands. Deep-tissue massage and trigger-point massage focus on painful muscle knots that often result from injury. Both target deeper layers of muscle and tissue.

A typical session may last from 15 minutes for a chair or foot massage to 90 minutes for more intense therapy and will cost $20 to $100. Some methods, such as deep-tissue,usually require several longer sessions to achieve real results.

Your massage therapist should be trained at an accredited institution and should carry malpractice insurance, though not all states require that. When making an appointment, ask if your therapist is licensed to practice massage in your state and is certified by a professional organization. Look for credentials such as CMT (certified massage therapist) or LMT (licensed massage therapist).

Talk with your massage therapist about what you hope to get from a massage as well as your medical history and any symptoms. The therapist can then focus on particular areas using the most appropriate technique.

On the table

Once in the room, you should feel comfortable. You can opt to remain clothed, use massage oil or have music. Let the therapist know about sore and sensitive areas on your body. Don’t hesitate to ask for less or more pressure. You might have one or more sensitive spots in your muscles. Pressure on those spots might be slightly painful, but speak up if you feel serious pain.

To locate a certified therapist, go to the American Massage Therapy Association at (877-905-2700) or the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork at (800-296-0664). Your doctor can also suggest one.

Copyright 2012. Consumers Union of United States Inc.