A massage is a less-expensive yet still relaxing alternative to an in-person visit with a psychologist. The technique has long been used in Eastern cultures to reduce stress and increase muscle flexibility, but it’s becoming more common in the West as well. Massage therapists put their hands or fingers on your body to manipulate muscles and other tissues.

Massage therapists are trained in a variety of techniques, and their techniques cannot be learned from the Internet or books. If you’re considering having a massage, talk to your doctor about the safety of doing so. Also make sure the therapist is certified by one of the national associations, such as the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA).

There are several kinds of massages: Swedish massage–an extension of osteopathic medicine–relaxes muscles with long strokes along firm or smooth surfaces. It also stimulates small blood vessels and lymph channels on your body. Deep-tissue massage uses kneading, slicking or suction to loosen and separate deep muscles that may have become stuck together. It’s used to treat chronic pain and sports injuries. The manipulation may focus on trigger points in the muscle, which are reflex areas that tighten after injury or overuse.

Many people have learned to tweak their own muscles with self-massage techniques, but these can’t match a professional massage for control and relaxation. As with any self-treatment, you should always check with your doctor or a healthcare professional before starting any massage therapy program.

Moral of the story: If you’re looking for a quick stress-relief massage, look into the services at your local chiropractor. But if you have chronic or ongoing pain, consider a specialist.

Chiropractic: The science behind it is not as mysterious as it seems. Chiropractors by definition are physicians who specializing in the treatment of just about every musculoskeletal ailment, from back pain to carpal tunnel to arthritis. Chiropractors treat the body by adjusting (or realigning) small joints through the spine and breaking up any interference that has developed between them over time.

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