The other day I stumbled across an online forum discussion where someone was describing their first full body massage experience. They couldn’t understand why their therapist was karate chopping them during the massage, and asked if there is some actual purpose behind it (aside from them getting slapped around.) This is a really good question, and if you’ve ever wondered the same thing without getting a solid answer… today’s your lucky day!
Let me explain…
The chopping techniques used in massage (also called “percussion” or “tapotement”) actually have some pretty awesome benefits. Here are the 4 big ones:
Increased Blood Flow
By using the hands to create steady vibrations on your muscles, we are actually stimulating an increased flow of the blood, hormones and nutrients that your body needs for optimal function. This increased flow is also important for helping your body clear away the waste products [of cellular metabolism] that may have built up or are being released from that particular area.
The result: Your body is more efficient, and you feel better overall. (And who doesn’t like to feel good??)
Strengthening the Heartbeat
So, this is one benefit that you may not have guessed on your own, but yes, the “karate chop” may actually be helping to improve the health of your HEART! By creating these vibration forces, we are giving a stimulus that encourages your heart to become stronger and more efficient at pumping the blood that your body needs every minute of every day! When the heart is stronger, it can pump more blood in each beat… (and having more “bang” for your heart-beating buck will reduce the number of times the heart has to contract in order to supply the blood you need throughout the day — reducing your overall heart rate). Take a look here for more detailed information on this!
The result: Your heart doesn’t have to work as hard, and your cardiovascular health improves overall. (Yay!)
Inducing Deeper Relaxation
Possibly the most obvious reason we use percussion during massage treatments is because it helps ease your body into much deeper levels of relaxation. But how exactly does this actually happen?
Well, the massage jury’s still out on any one specific answer… but there are a few theories as to what might be happening under the skin to make this relaxation effect happen. One main idea is that the vibration may be causing mini contractions within the muscle, which actually causes a gradual desensitization as the chopping continues that can ease the area into a much deeper sense of relaxation (especially if your therapist doesn’t rush through it, and actually uses chopping for longer than 30 seconds in that area). Desensitizing the nerves in that area allows the muscles to relax and the muscles are given “permission” to let go of some tension they may still be holding on to.
The result: Your body relaxes more than before the chopping started. (And you realize how GOOD chopping feels!)
Increasing Energy and Alertness
Hmm… now this seems to be a bit of a contradiction to point 3 above. You’re probably wondering “How can something relax you so deeply, yet energize you at the same time?” This, my friends, is actually one of the beautiful effects of Thai Massage overall! By varying the application of techniques throughout a treatment, it is very possible that you will gain both benefits within the same session. In the case of chopping, one simple rule is this: the longer it lasts, the more relaxing it becomes. Also, the faster and more vigorous the percussion is, the more it will invigorate your body.
So, if the goal is to bring more alertness, and to energize that area (or the body on a whole) your therapist will likely spend a shorter amount of time chopping in that area, or use a more vigorous pace.
The result: Although your body is relaxing overall and letting go of tension, you will have increased energy and awareness! (Which is helpful if you’re feeling a bit sluggish, or need a pick-me-up.)
So… there you have it. The karate chop mystery solved!
Now that that’s taken care of… the next time you go for a massage, and your therapist starts chopping – just relax, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and allow the drumline routine of chops and thumps to deliver the deeply relaxing and highly beneficial gift that is being shared in that moment!