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Rub Me Right


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Kick your feet up for reflexology. This Asian-based technique focuses on the feet but energizes the whole body.

It’s a dream ending to any day on the slopes: strong hands kneading away at your exhausted body. There’s no arguing that massage feels good, especially when your muscles are tight and your body aches. And while some doctors might dispute the effectiveness of massage as a treatment for injury, none would disagree with its therapeutic benefits. Massage relaxes muscles, pushes lactic acid from where it has accumulated and alleviates soreness.

Things get more confusing when you set out to choose which type of massage is best for you. Most resort spas offer up to 10 types, and though the menus are usually standard, certain massage types work better for certain ailments and tastes.

The two most popular massage techniques for skiers, Swedish and acupressure, are often combined into one category: the sports massage. Swedish massage is famous for stimulating circulation, flushing metabolic waste and ridding areas of lactic-acid buildup. It uses long, kneading strokes to relax muscles. While Swedish massage is perfect for the overworked body, certain areas-such as those with chronic pain-might need to be targeted more specifically with other forms of massage. Acupressure uses the concept of acupuncture points, but fingers and palms are used instead of needles to stimulate the areas that will relieve specific pain. Sports massage incorporates both of these techniques, focusing more on either Swedish or acupressure, depending on the client’s needs.

If chronic pain, particularly in the back or neck, is keeping you from enjoying your day on the slopes, you might want to consider a deep-tissue massage. With this technique, the massage therapist focuses primarily on the troubled area, working much deeper than he or she would in the sports massage. Heat packs and anti-inflammatory herbs are sometimes used to help relax the muscle, as well. While minor injuries such as strains can be treated with deep-tissue massage, a great deal of pressure is used, so you’d be well advised not to request this technique on acute injuries.

Sports and deep-tissue massages soothe and relax muscles. Shiatsu, on the other hand, is a traditional Japanese technique that uses acupressure as well as full-range movement exercises to stimulate and energize the body. Shiatsu is performed on a floor cushion, and the client is dressed in loose, comfortable clothing. Lisa DeKoster, spa manager at the Vail Athletic Club, recommends this technique to clients who feel sluggish or stiff or who are uncomfortable either with undressing or having oil on their bodies. “You feel clear mentally after Shiatsu,” she explains, “but the purpose is not to feel relaxed. It’s invigorating.”

Reflexology is another energizing technique based on Asian methods. Using acupressure points on the feet, reflexology stimulates the whole body. Like Shiatsu, reflexology is advised for people uncomfortable with full-body massage. “Not only can the whole body be affected from the foot,” explains Kitty Beardon, spa director at the Wellness Center in Aspen, “but it feels great after a day cramped up in those stiff ski boots.”

Some resort spas may also offer a few alternative types of massage, such as the polarity or cranial sacral techniques. Most of these are “light-touch” massages that deal with balancing the body’s energy. Buyer beware: These massages don’t feel traditional, and clients should understand that they aren’t going to receive a “rubdown” before they begin. They’re often used when a traditional massage is not possible-if you suffer whiplash or another injury that’s painful to the touch.

There are not many arguments against getting a massage, but cost is certainly a persuasive one. At most major resorts a 50-minute massage runs between $50 and $100, so a rubdown at the beginning and end of each day might not be the most cost-effective means of staying loose. Pick aand choose.

Experts warn that if you’re beginning to feel under the weather, a massage might not be the best idea. During a massage, circulation and lymphatic flow is increased, which can actually work to spread infections or make a fever worse. DeKoster also prefers not to give massages to people if they’ve been drinking or just had a big meal. “Massage increases your circulation. If you already have alcohol in your blood, it can enhance the effects,” she explains. “And a full stomach can make you uncomfortable on the table.”

But Beardon doesn’t think skiers are just pampering themselves when they order a massage. “It’s almost a necessity,” she explains. “Especially when people come out for a week’s vacation-they’re going to ski better and safer if they’re loose and relaxed. It’s that simple.”

Skier’s Thumb: Nearly 75 percent of ski injuries to the upper extremities damage the spacebetween the thumband pointer finger.