Some Russian massage techniques may seem unusual or even dramatic. However, Russian (and Soviet) doctors have used massage in conjunction with medical treatments for more than a century. Russian massage techniques provide rehabilitation and therapy for athletes and others seeking increased range of motion, flexibility, and pain relief.
What Is Russian Massage?
You may have heard of the traditional Russian “venik” style of massage—sometimes called “twigging.” Clients lay face down while two venik practitioners “hit” them gently and rhythmically with water-softened oak (or birch) branches. The impacts and friction caused by these branches create body heat and increase circulation. This unique form of massage therapy has gained popularity in recent decades with Russians and non-Russians alike.
You can experience venik treatments at Russian steam bathhouses called “banyas.” Many clients enjoy immersing themselves in hot baths and sitting in steam rooms before their massages and jumping into cold water baths afterward. This traditional technique may have developed as a way for people to acclimate themselves to cold Russian winters.
However, many people enjoy a more modern style of massage that hails from the same region. Brought to Russia in the 1800s and perfected by the former Soviet Union, modern Russian massage bears many similarities to sports massage, reflexology, and point massage. This style of massage increases nervous system function, eases respiration, and improves immune function.
Russian massage therapists use slower and softer motions than typical sports massage practitioners. They use friction to create heat inside their clients’ bodies and increase circulation. Russian massage practitioners also employ vibration, slapping, and kneading techniques to release tension in muscles and other soft tissues.
Throughout the 20th century, Russian doctors used massage techniques (called “manual therapy”) in conjunction with standard treatments—even on the battlefields of WWII. In fact, in Soviet times, only medical patients and athletes qualified to get massage therapy treatments.
Many patients today use Russian massage to complement other therapies and medical treatments. It can accelerate injury recovery and aid in the healing of many diseases. Ask you physician if this style of massage would help treat your condition, reduce symptoms, or mitigate side effects.
Health Benefits of Russian Massage:
Russian massage can treat a wide variety of ailments:
- Muscular tension, stiffness, arthritis, and joint pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Limited range of motion
- Circulatory and blood disorders
- Slow metabolic and immune function
- Poor digestion, constipation, and stomach pain
- Stress and anxiety
- Asthma and other respiratory ailments
- Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) issues
Russian Massage Precautions
As with any other alternative therapy, you should talk with your doctor to see if Russian massage is right for you. For example, if you have burns (including sunburn), an infectious disease, or a skin condition (such as poison ivy), please delay or cancel your appointment. Also, people with deep vein thrombosis (or “blood clots”) and phlebitis should avoid getting massages.
If you have cancer, however, massage may positively impact your condition (though some experts question the use of massage directly on tumors). If you have a heart condition, massage may help you increase circulation—but it may not be appropriate for all patients. Cancer and heart patients should check with their physicians to find out if massage is appropriate for them. Some doctors recommend particular massage therapists who specialize in working with seriously ill patients.
What to Expect from Your First Russian Massage Session
Be sure to ask about your Russian massage therapist’s credentials. Though many U.S. states and regulatory bodies offer extensive certification, massage therapists in Russia must get college-level medical training in nursing or physiotherapy before their intensive massage training. Your practitioner should be able to inform you about their achievements and certifications. Russia leads much of the world in massage research; in Russia, massage therapists often garner the same high respect as other health care providers.
Russian massage sessions vary in length from about 15 minutes to an hour. Before you begin, be sure to talk with your therapist about the different techniques they will use. Russian massage practitioners use a wide variety of traditional and modern methods.
Your Russian massage therapist will probably use the rubbing, kneading, and stroking techniques common to all styles of massage. However, they may also employ less familiar techniques:
Vibration: Russian massage vibration techniques involve a continuous stroking motion that ranges from very slow to very fast.
Slapping: A common slapping technique called “percussion” loosens muscular adhesions.
Stretching: Your practitioner may help you through motions that feel like “assisted yoga poses.” These stretching techniques can dramatically increase your range of motion.
Infant massage: For well over a century, Russian doctors have studied and developed infant massage techniques. Modern Russian infant massage practitioners use quick, light, brushing finger strokes and apply virtually no pressure. These short (10 minutes or so) sessions also include some light, circular rubbing motions. By increasing circulation in an infant’s extremities, practitioners hope to stimulate infants’ mental and physical development.
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- Smale, W. (2015). The Russian massage that’s not for the faint-hearted. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/business-31921778
- Stubblefield, H. (2016). Russian massage. Retrieved from http://www.healthline.com/health/russian-massage#Overview1
- Russian massage. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.massageprocedures.com/techniques-procedures/russian-massage
- Wine, Z. (2008). A history of Russian medical massage. Massage Today 8(4). Retrieved from http://www.massagetoday.com/mpacms/mt/article.php?id=13796
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