Russian massage is a system of therapeutic and sports massage developed in the former Soviet Union. It uses a variety of manipulations of the body’s soft tissues to achieve benefits, including stress reduction and relief from muscle aches.
Many cultures around the world developed forms of massage therapy, including the ancient peoples of China, India, and Greece. One early advocate was Hippocrates, the Greek physician widely considered to be the father of medicine. Per Henrik Ling, a nineteenth-century Swedish physician who employed vigorous massage to stimulate circulation of the blood and lymph, is usually considered the founder of modern European massage. Massage was not studied or used scientifically in Russia until 1860. Treatment methods were developed further after World War II when pharmaceuticals were in short supply. The Soviet Union employed physiatrists—medical doctors with Ph.D. degrees in physical therapy—to research the benefits of using natural healing modalities. They developed a form of petrissage to reverse atrophy in muscles and help stimulate new growth. Russian physiologists found all movements of massage function on the basis of neurohormone and neuroendocrine reflexes. Unlike other massage therapies, Russian massage is based on the physiology of a dysfunction rather than on anatomy as the principal guideline for treatment.
Practitioners say that Russian massage is useful for a wide range of musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurological, gynecological, internal disorders, and in post-surgical situations. In Russia, massage therapists are regarded as medical professionals. The massage therapy department is often the largest in Russian hospitals and clinics because it is crucial to rehabilitation. Patients describe it as ‘‘waking up’’ both body and mind. It has been used to increase circulation of blood and lymphatic flow, to stimulate production of endorphins, control physical and mental stress, and to increase range of movement. Ailments said to benefit from massage therapy include asthma, insomnia, arthritis, bursitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, hip sprains and strains, rotator cuff injuries, myofascial pain, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems, headache, spastic colon, colic, constipation, and immune function disorders. Because of its gentle, non-invasive nature, Russian massage is considered especially suitable for seniors.
Russian massage is considered less invasive and more relaxing than many other forms of massage therapy. It uses four principal techniques:
- petrissage, a stretching or kneading motion
- effleurage, a gliding, relaxing stroke
- friction, a rubbing action
- vibration, a continuous-motion stroke ranging from very fast to very slow
Treatments may be as short as 15 minutes or as long as almost one hour. They may be repeated daily or every other day, but may also be interrupted after a dozen or so treatments to ensure that patient does not become dependant on massage.