ATHENS, Ga. First documented in 3,000 B.C., massage therapy long has been used as a technique to relieve pain, fight fatigue and rejuvenate the body.
To date, there are more then 200 recognized forms of massage, ranging from the traditional kneading of Swedish massage to the deep tissue manipulation associated with oriental-style massage.
"Massage helps every single system of the body," said Elizabeth Alder, an Athens massage therapist who has practiced for more than 20 years.
And today, more and more people are turning to massage to ease pain, improve circulation and boost immunity levels.
"I think there is absolutely a larger audience for (massage)," said massage therapist Madison Gray of Georgia Medical Massage in Athens who specializes in spinal touch. "I think a lot of people are becoming more aware that pain killers are just masking problems."
A 2003 consumer survey released by the American Massage Therapy Association shows more people than ever before are seeking massage as a means of managing or reducing pain.
The survey also found massage is being viewed more positively, especially among younger clients. Ninety-five percent of surveyed adults ages 25 to 34 agreed massage can be beneficial to a person's health. That number rose to 99 percent of surveyed adults ages 18 to 24.
That's good news for massage therapists like Ben Roth of Athens, who said some misconceptions about massage therapy continue to linger, especially in the South.
One false notion about massage therapy is that it involves sexual touch.
"When I put an ad in the paper, I'll get about four to five calls a month (asking), 'Is it sensual?'" said Alder, who also performs color therapy.
Licensed massage therapists are held to a strict code of ethics, which prohibit a sexual relationship between client and masseuse or masseur.
Seeing a licensed professional is more affordable than one might think.
"If you look around and call around, you'll find that there's an affordable massage therapist for you," said Alder.
Some 30 states already supervise massage therapy as a profession, meaning they only allow individuals who meet specific educational and training criteria to practice massage therapy.
Massage therapist Tate Silcox of Athens recommends clients ask questions to find out if a therapist is trained to perform massage correctly.
"'Did you go to school? Are you a member of any national organization, such as the AMTA? Are you nationally certified?'" Silcox suggests.
After locating a licensed therapist, Silcox and other therapists recommend you tailor your massage frequency to your individual tastes.
"Ideally, for myself, I would say (receive a massage) once a week," Roth said. "But if you can get one once a month, you're a very lucky person."
Most therapists recommend a regular routine of massage, particularly for those suffering from chronic stress or recovering from injury.
Roth said relaxation and other benefits from massage have to be maintained over time to last, but whether you get one a week or one a year, therapists note massage as a personal treat that has real health benefits, including instant relaxation and beyond.
"In my point of view, everybody needs (a massage)," Alder said. "It would just make a better world if everyone would get one."
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