(Jupiter Images )

Q:I have all sorts of aches and pains from being over 55 years old. My friends all recommend massage. Is it really beneficial or just an indulgence? — L. Rodriguez, Denver

A: Massage was used in ancient Greece and Rome, as well as in the earliest civilizations in China, Japan, Egypt and India. Once considered an "alternative" medicine, massage therapy is recommended by many medical professionals to patients suffering from anxiety, sciatica, fibromyalgia, stress, athletic injury and general soreness. According to the Mayo Clinic, massage has also been found to be helpful for those undergoing cancer treatments to ease their anxiety, pain and fatigue.

"Massage" is the abbreviated term for what is, more appropriately, massage therapy. There are more than 80 types of massage therapy (Swedish, Shiatsu, Thai, and Trigger Point Therapy are some), all with specific applications and methods for treatment. In general, a massage therapist will use many techniques to rub, press and manipulate muscle and soft tissue in order to relieve pain and stress.

To be sure that you are putting yourself into the right hands — literally — look for credentials. "A massage therapist should be a graduate of an accredited, respectable brick- and-mortar school," says Elaine Calenda, academic dean of the Boulder College of Massage Therapy. "They should have no fewer than 500 hours of training."

Today, many states, including Colorado, require massage therapists to be registered or licensed. Before being licensed or registered in Colorado, the therapist must undergo a background check and must prove that he or she has graduated from an accredited school with at least 500 hours training.

"Graduates of massage schools study anatomy, physiology and kinesiology in depth," says Calenda. "A well-trained therapist knows how to cater to your specific needs and give you an effective massage regardless of whether you need a light touch or something much deeper. You should never be bruised or sore — you should leave the session feeling comfortable, relaxed and invigorated."

Massage promotes blood flow, which makes the therapy popular among athletes for the relief of muscle soreness, rehabilitation and healing of sports injuries. Massage stimulates the lymphatic system (the body's waste management system), helps blood vessels dilate (which slows breathing and heart rate), and improves sleep.

Stress is toxic to the body and can be the root cause for expensive ailments such as hypertension and anxiety disorder. Allowing the body to relax, even if just for an hour, can make the difference between constant anxiety and pain and improved overall wellness.

A national survey conducted in 2008 by the National Institutes of Health found that 38 percent of adults use complimentary and alternative medicine. While massage therapy should not be substituted for regular medical care, it has established itself as a viable and often, essential, part of a good wellness program.

Linda J. Buch is a certified fitness trainer in Denver; linda@ljbalance.com.