Holistic medicine, including massage, is a very controversial subject. There are passionate opinions on both sides. Opponents claim that if "alternative" treatments really worked, they would be more widely accepted and many illnesses and ailments would have been cured long ago.
Proponents feel that holistic treatments provide a more "natural" way to heal the body. Many times, "alternative" treatments are used to augment more traditional treatments and are not commonly used as the only treatment.
This article is intended to discuss massage therapy. The final decision to add these treatments to your pet's current regime should be decided between you and your veterinarian. To read the other side of the debate, see the article The Appeal of Alternative Therapy.
Massage has had a noted function in our society for thousands of years. The soothing sensation of touch and the manipulation of muscles has shown a benefit for humans and for animals. The known benefits from a massage include: An increased overall sense of wellness A general sense of calming and reduction of stress Increased flexibility and movement Pain reduction or relief of pain Decreased recovery time from surgery or trauma Increased circulation of the blood, lymphatic and nervous systems Removal of toxins from the body and its organs
Massage is not a substitute for veterinary care. If it is performed by a trained and certified person, it works with the individual needs of the pet along with veterinary-recommended treatments. Sometimes the massage therapist may even detect subtle underlying problems that may prompt a visit to your veterinarian.
Despite the many positive aspects of massage, there are some situations in which it may not be an appropriate treatment. Animals suffering from fever, shock, infection, open wounds, rashes, lumps and immune disease typically do not benefit from massage, and taking time to perform a massage will delay much needed veterinary care. A certified practitioner of animal massage is trained in anatomy, movement and observation and may decline to proceed with a massage treatment if the health of the patient is at risk.
The massage practitioner first observes the pet's gait and movement, demeanor, reactions and body language. The information obtained from this observation will help determine the type of massage. As the massage session proceeds, the practitioner will note positive and negative results and reaction to therapy. This will help the practitioner to modify and change the choreographed massage as needed by your pet. The average massage session is 30 minutes.
Massage involves applying pressure to specific parts of the body. The amount of pressure used will vary from five grams to five pounds and depends on the size of the pet, needs of the pet and the type of injury. The muscles will respond and allow manipulation only if the pet is comfortable and the touch is light and gentle. A firm, harsh, controlling touch is counterproductive. For this reason, massage is different than the normal everyday way we pet our animals.
Benefits of Massage
The aging processes take a toll on your pet. Arthritis, joint problems, torn or over- extended muscles and ligaments, injury and surgery are some of the more common ailments that can benefit from increased flexibility and reduced physical and mental stress. The massage itself will promote socialization of your pet, enhance the human-animal bond and help maintain the health of a pet that is kenneled. During a period of confinement or restricted movement, the body is at rest and the muscles are inactive or stiff when activities are resumed. Massage improves the flexibility of these muscles and aids to prevent injury. Many of the healthy pets we have are part of a competition, whether in the show ring or performing agility, tracking, herding, flyball, ... or playing chase or Frisbee. They use and abuse muscles frequently. Massage relaxes the muscle, reduces strain and helps avoid injury.
Each muscle affects other muscles. There is a domino effect to the way each muscle works in conjunction to each other, and to the bones of the body they are connected to. A muscle in the rear leg that has suffered trauma will affect the muscles throughout the back, abdomen, front legs and neck. This will change the way in which the animal walks, stands, eats and plays. It can also change his behavior. Medication alone will help control pain and inflammation and even help control the signs of trauma to the muscles. But, massage will help to heal the trauma. Manipulation of the muscles strengthens them and allows the pet to release adhesions and to use the muscles slowly.
The techniques used for massage should be used by the trained and certified individual, but the therapist or practitioner may show you some techniques that you may safely do in-between each massage session.
Massage is divided into different techniques based on the systems it affects. The circulatory system responds to the stroking. The muscles and skin respond to kneeding, passive joint movement and stretching. The nervous system benefits by passive touch and stroking. The massage therapist will evaluate the animal and determine which technique is best suited for the pet. That technique is then performed three times. The direction of application varies. Sometimes it is toward and away from the heart. Other times it is with the muscle fibers, across the muscle fibers or circular in motion. Efflurage is the movement of blood. Rotary, one-hand and hand-over-hand efflurage increases circulation, flushes the tissue and warms the tissue. This is used to open and close a massage and is used from head to tail, over the entire body, down the outside limb and up the inside of the limbs.
Passive touch requires no pressure or movement of your hands. The hand is held in place for 30 to 90 seconds to warm the tissue and calm the animal. This is used at any time during the massage.
Kneading techniques can be superficial or deep. Superficial kneading, which is skin rolling and pinching, stimulate the skin and hair coat. It increases circulation and flow. Deep kneading affects the muscle fibers. It is applied directly to the muscle not to the bone. This brings blood and nutrients to the belly of the muscle. It releases toxins and muscle spasms. The different techniques are compression, digital kneading, finger stripping, chucking (one- and two-handed) petrissage, cross-fiber friction, angel wing (one handed or two finger), V-spread (one handed, finger/thumb) and sifting.
Tapotement stimulates and enlivens the animal. These techniques are never to be used on an animal with a history of abuse. Cupping is used on the chest area and loosens mucus within the lungs. Hacking is used on large muscle areas, not on the spine. Tapping may be used over the body and head. Brushing is used on all muscle groups. These are applied three times only, for 30 seconds or less. The placement of the hand is light, quick and never finishes on the animal. The last stroke should land in the air.
Stroking is used to calm and quiet the animal. This is a closing technique, and is applied very lightly and slowly.
Passive joint movement and stretching is a range of motion physical therapy for the moveable joints. Positioning is important. Misuse could cause trauma to the joint and tissue.