Glossary of Terms

This glossary includes some of the most often applied techniques in massage therapy and bodywork. For more information – and for information on techniques not listed here – please consult the references at the end of the glossary.

Acupressure – Acupressure is a form of bodywork based in traditional Chinese meridian theory in which acupuncture points are pressed to stimulate the flow of energy or chi.

Alexander Technique – F. M. Alexander cured his loss of voice and nasal difficulties with improved posture and head positioning. There are three elements to the Alexander Technique. The first element teaches the client how to use his body properly by correcting improper posture. During the second element, a hands-on treatment is done to elongate muscles and release muscle spasms. The third element includes visualization exercises focusing on seeing the body longer and freer.

Bindegewebsmassage – Bindegewebsmassage is German for ‘connective tissue massage’ or ‘reflexive therapy of the connective tissue.’ It was discovered by Elisabeth Dicke, a physiotherapist in Germany. The practitioner strokes the subcutaneous fascia by pulling or dragging the tissues. Strokes in specific patterns activate the nerve endings just below the skin, creating a cutaneo-visceral reflex (skin to organ). Bindegewebsmassage is primarily used in Europe as a form of medical massage, treating a wide range of pathological conditions.

Bodywork – Bodywork is a general term for practices involving touch and movement in which the practitioner uses manual techniques to promote health and healing in the recipient.

Chair Massage – Chair massage refers to massage given with the recipient seated in an ordinary or special massage chair. Recipients remain clothed in chair massage. It has been called on-site massage when the chair is taken to a public place such as an office or commercial establishment.

Craniosacral – Cranio refers to the cranium, which is the bony part of the head. Sacral refers to the bony bottom of the spine called the sacrum. In the 1900s Dr. William Sutherland, an osteopathic physician, discovered cranio movement. In the 1970s Dr. John Upledger, an osteopathic doctor, helped to further Sutherland’s discovery as both an evaluative tool and a corrective one. Craniosacral therapy is a light touch manipulation of the head and bottom of the spine to restore optimal cerebrospinal fluid movement. It can be especially useful in treating headaches, eye and ear problems, jaw problems, whiplash and back pain.

Deep Tissue Massage – Deep tissue massage is also called deep muscle therapy or deep tissue therapy. It is an umbrella term for bodywork systems that work deeply into the muscles and connective tissue to release chronic aches and pains. Rolfing™ and Hellerwork are examples of deep tissue massage.

Esalen Massage – Esalen massage was developed at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. The emphasis is on slow, long, flowing, gliding movements done to provide deep relaxation.

Feldenkrais Method® – The Feldenkrais Method is an educational system which uses movement to bring about more effective ways to function. Moshe Feldenkrais, a Russian-born Israeli, was a physicist, and mechanical and electrical engineer before developing his movement theories. Feldenkrais is offered in two forms. One form is called Functional Integration®, which is a one-on-one session. The other form is called Awareness Through Movement®, which is group lessons. The goal is to ‘rewire’ or re-educate the nervous system.

Hellerwork – Joseph Heller, a Rolfer, developed Hellerwork after he studied with Judith Aston. Hellerwork is a series of eleven 90-minute sessions of deep tissue bodywork, movement education and dialogue designed to realign the body and release chronic tension and stress.

Jin Shin Do® – Jin Shin Do (JSD), the ‘way of the compassionate spirit,’ is Iona Marsaa Teeguarden’s synthesis of Eastern and Western theories and practices. It is a method of releasing muscle tension and stress by applying deepening finger pressure to combinations of specific points on the body. It combines classic Chinese acupuncture theory, Taoist Yogic philosophy and breathing methods, and Japanese acupressure techniques.

Manual Lymph Drainage – Manual lymph drainage is a gentle method of promoting movement of lymph into and through the lymphatic vessels. It reduces edema, a condition in which the tissues of the body contain an excessive amount of fluid.

Massage – Massage is the intentional and systematic manipulation of the soft tissues of the body to enhance health and healing. Joint movements and stretching are commonly performed as part of massage. The primary characteristics of massage are touch and movement.

Massage Therapy – Massage therapy is a general term for health and healing practices involving touch and movement, which are based in massage and related manual techniques.

Myofascial Release – Myo means muscle and fascia is the elastic connective tissue wrapped around muscles and other parts of the body. During myofascial release restrictions (stuck areas) are located and gentle sliding pressure is applied in the direction of the restriction to stretch the tissues. The stretching of tissues and the heat imparted by the practitioner’s hands are thought to help produce a softer consistency of fascial tissues.

Neuromuscular Therapy – Neuromuscular therapy (NMT) is a generic designation for trigger point work.1 (See Trigger Point Massage)

Ortho-Bionomy™ – Ortho-Bionomy is a technique where points of pain are located and then the body is gently moved to fold around the point and rest in a position where there is no pain. The body is placed in the most comfortable position called the preferred position. In doing this, reflexes are initiated, relaxing muscles and freeing the body of its stresses and tensions. Ortho-Bionomy was developed by British osteopath Arthur Lincoln Pauls, D.O.

Polarity Therapy – Polarity therapy is a form of bodywork that uses light touch and gentle rocking movements intended to balance life energy by affecting general and muscular relaxation. Polarity therapy was developed Dr. Randolph Stone, who was trained in natural healing methods of chiropractic, naturopathy and osteopathy.

Pregnancy Massage – Pregnancy massage is the massage of pregnant women (prenatal) and women after giving birth (postpartum). It address the special needs of pregnant women such as discomforts in the low back, feet and legs.

Reiki – Reiki is a Japanese word pronounced ‘ray-kee’ and means ‘universal life energy.’ It is a light touch or no-touch technique for channeling this omnipresent energy to promote healing.

Reflexology – Reflexology is a form of bodywork based on the theory of zone therapy, in which specific spots of the body are pressed to stimulate corresponding areas in other parts of the body. Foot reflexology, in which pressure techniques are applied only to the feet, is the most common form of reflexology.

Rolfing® – Rolfing is also called structural integration and was developed by Ida Rolf. Rolfing seeks to reestablish proper vertical alignment in the body by manipulating the myofascial tissue so that the fascia elongates and glides rather than shortens and adheres. The 10-session series can cause deep changes in the body that are physical as well as emotional.

Rosen Method® – The Rosen Method, developed by physical therapist Marion Rosen, is a system of bodywork and movement that helps the client experience himself in a more accepting and loving way through non-intrusive, subtle touch, awareness of breath, movement exercises and gentle coaxing.

Shiatsu – Shiatsu (Japanese for ‘finger pressure’) is a system for healing and health maintenance that has evolved over thousands of years. Shiatsu derives both from the ancient healing art of acupuncture and from the traditional form of Japanese massage, amma. The goal of each of the different types of shiatsu being practiced, Zen shiatsu, tsubo point therapy, shiatsu massage and water shiatsu, is balancing energy flow.

Sports Massage – Sports massage is applied to athletes to help them train and perform free of pain and injuries. Massage therapists blend classic Swedish strokes with such methods as compression, pressure-point therapy, cross-fiber friction, joint mobilization, hydrotherapy and cryotherapy (ice massage) to meet the special needs of high-level performers and fitness enthusiasts.

Swedish Massage – Swedish massage is also known as the Western or classic style of massage. It is credited to the Swedish fencing master and gymnastics instructor, Per Henrik Ling. It is a scientific system of manipulations on the muscles and connective tissues of the body for the purpose of relaxation, rehabilitation or health maintenance. Swedish massage therapy is comprised of five basic strokes and their variations: effleurage, petrissage, friction, tapotement (or percussion) and vibration.

Therapeutic Touch – Therapeutic touch was developed by nurses Dolores Krieger and Dora Kunz in the early 1970s after studying the ancient practice of laying on of hands. It is based on the idea that human beings are energy in the form of a field. In health, the field flows freely, while it becomes out of balance when disease is present.

Thai Massage – Thai massage is an ancient bodywork system designed to unblock trapped energy and improve vitality by applying pressure along energy pathways called sens. These pathways carry vital life energy. Thai massage uses slow, often meditative, rhythmic pressing by fingers, thumbs, hands, forearms, elbows and feet (which are used extensively) and yogalike stretches coupled with gentle rocking motions.

Trager® – Milton Trager M.D. created Trager. It is also known as Tragerwork and Trager Psychophysical Integration. It operates on the principle that one learns to be lighter, easier and freer by experiencing light, easy and free sensations in the body. Practitioners introduce pleasurable sensory information to the soft tissues by steadily, gently and rhythmically rocking and stretching the body.

Trigger Point Massage – Trigger point massage utilizes ischemic compression of individual areas of hypersensitivity in muscles, ligaments, tendons and fascia. These trigger points are defined by their referral of pain to distant locations in muscles, connective tissues and organs. Janet Travell, M.D., pioneered trigger point therapy in the United States.

Watsu® – Watsu, or water shiatsu, is a system that employs the stretches of Zen shiatsu in a pool of warm water. The pool provides a deeply relaxing environment where weight and pressures are removed from the body. The client is floated and rocked as the spine is gently pulled and stretched, following the precepts of Zen shiatsu. Harold Dull originated Watsu.

Zero Balancing® – Zero balancing, the innovation of Fritz Frederick Smith, M.D., is a hands-on procedure for evaluating and balancing the relationship between body energy and body structure. The term zero balancing refers to the experience of balance after a session.