Shiatsu Massage – The Benefits and How It Works

Shiatsu is a form of manual therapy that originated as a modality of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and developed into the practice that it is today in ancient Japan. In Japanese “shi” means thumbs and fingers, and “atsu” means pressure. Shiatsu is characterized by a soothing and deep pressure, applied to various anatomical points on your body by the therapist’s thumbs and palms.

Scientifically speaking, it is believed that shiatsu affects your sympathetic nervous system, improving circulatory function, relieving tension, and helping release endorphins (your brain’s ‘feel good’ chemicals) into your bloodstream. Energetically, your therapist follows pathways, called ‘meridians’, in order to improve the flow of energy in your body, also known Qi.

In Shiatsu therapy there is no use of drugs, needles or mechanical devices. Essentially the therapist’s aim is to relax and balance your nervous system and to improve your health by stimulating your body’s natural powers of recuperation. It is especially effective in removing the fatigue and anxiety caused by the daily stresses and tension of life.

Other ways that shiatsu can help you include:

  • relaxation
  • back pain
  • headaches
  • anxiety
  • stress
  • depression
  • insomnia
  • PMS
  • neck pain
  • shoulder pain
  • fatigue
  • athletic injury
  • arthritis
  • digestive issues
  • constipation

Note that you should avoid shiatsu treatment in the following circumstances:

  • immediately after surgery
  • immediately after chemotherapy or radiation treatment
  • if you suffer from heart disease or are prone to blood clots, unless otherwise indicated by your doctor
  • if you suffer from an infectious skin disease, or have an open wound
  • if you have a fever
  • if you have heavy bruising, or a tumor, inflamed skin, or any area that might have fractured bone below the tissue surface

In your treatment, because your therapist uses his/her thumbs a great deal, the treatment will feel very localized. The benefit of this is that points of pain can be isolated, enabling the pressure of the massage to penetrate into your muscles and move the blocked energy. Be sure, however, to indicate to your therapist the level of pressure at which you are comfortable.

You should also be aware that traditionally, shiatsu massage is not done on a table, but is actually performed on a mat on the floor. You will also not undress for your treatment, but will instead be asked to wear comfortable clothing, e.g. what you might wear while exercising. Try to arrive early to your appointment to fill out any necessary forms, and be sure to not eat a heavy meal before treatment.