Shopping, holiday traffic and Steelers football are just a few of the things stressing people out this season. Whether it's the burden of finding the right gift or just trying to make it through another winter, many people turn to massage therapy to work knots out of tired muscles or reinvigorate shopped-out bodies.
Marisa Richers, owner of Hands On Massage Therapy and Wellness Center in Duncansville, said people come in droves around this time of year, either because they need a massage themselves or want to purchase gift certificates.
Richers said she serves a wide clientele, including stressed mothers, business owners and corporate employees. There is a common thread that unites them, however, and it's that people's lives are improved after they leave.
"One of the things I absolutely love most about being a massage therapist is working in a relaxing environment ... and having people leave feeling better," she said.
The Summit Tennis & Athletic Club's Fran Gongloss, a licensed massage therapist with 12 years' experience, said she is most busy from December to January - with some clients scheduling as many as two massages a month to de-stress for the holidays.
"Even after [the holiday season] we're busy with people coming in" to redeem their gift certificates, she said.
Most people who don't have centralized pain issues receive a Swedish massage, a general relaxation therapy that doesn't dig too deeply into the muscles to reach pain points. Gongloss said others who have pain request a deep-tissue or trigger-point massage, which focuses on little spots throughout the body where stress builds up.
Those who are thinking about getting a massage can justify the purchase beyond the immediate benefits of relaxation and loosened muscles. Other positive effects include a boosted immune system, improved blood circulation and lowered blood pressure, Richers said.
Medical research validates many of the benefits beyond pain relief; massage has been shown to reduce anxiety and even alleviate depression symptoms.
Gongloss also said massage can be about more than just relaxing.
"You'll get a full feeling of wellness" that can extend beyond the physical to mental or even spiritual wellness, she said. "You let go of everything."
Tiffany Hawn, who works at Desert Garden Spa in Huntingdon, said in her four years as a massage therapist she has seen the stress carried by the "overdoers," who are mostly overworked wives and mothers, coming in to redeem their Christmas gift certificates.
Hawn said many benefits to massage continue after a session ends. People have improved posture, relieved nerve impingement and many of the toxins stored in the body are flushed out.
"[Massage carries] bad things out of the body. ... It's like helping yourself heal without medication," Hawn said.
Gongloss said certain chemicals, like caffeine and sugars, are stored in the body and can be released with massage and that people experience longer-term improvements such as a regulated digestive system and improved lung function after a session - functions people certainly will need while enjoying Christmas ham and singing carols.
One of the No. 1 services massage therapists offer is compassion. Richers said nowhere else can a business provide someone with the care and nurturing of a massage therapist, who only feels accomplished if a client's pain is relieved.
Asked whether she sometimes goes for a massage herself after a stressful day, Richers laughed.
"Absolutely. I 100 percent believe in my own product."
Mirror staff writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.