If you are pregnant or living with someone who is, you know how many aches and pains can accompany this otherwise exciting, joyous period of life!
And you may have been tempted to try shiatsu as a way of easing those sore muscles.
But is it safe?
Let's take a look at the topic of shiatsu and pregnancy.
First off - What is shiatsu?
Shiatsu massage has its origins in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), but it was primarily developed by Japanese massage therapy practitioners.
The term "shiatsu" is derived from the Japanese for "finger pressure."
As you might imagine, therefore, shiatsu massage involves using the fingers, thumbs, palms, and heels of the hand (or in some cases, massage tools) to apply pressure and stimulation to various points on the body.
In some cases, the therapist will simply ask the client where he or she feels tense.
Then it's simply a matter of working on the muscle knots and other sore spots to relieve any pain or discomfort.
This also loosens the muscles, and makes the client feel incredibly relaxed -- as you know if you have ever received a massage!
More traditional methods
True practitioners of shiatsu, however, go about the process a bit more methodically.
They apply pressure for a specific length of time at each point on the body, and in a continuous sequence that moves from one spot to the next.
This is part of what makes the technique effective.
Shiatsu may involve other motions and types of touch, including kneading, stroking, light tapping and stretching of the muscles.
Traditional shiatsu also has a great deal in common with acupressure and acupuncture, two other healing therapies that have their roots in TCM.
All three subscribe to the theory that the human body has a flow of vital energy, called "chi" or "qi," that runs up and down pathways called "meridians."
When an individual is sick or experiences some sort of health or wellness issue, it's because that chi is stuck.
Shiatsu, acupuncture, and acupressure all seek to release the stuck energy, allowing it to flow freely once again, and help transmit health and vitality through the entire body.
Shiatsu massage chairs and pillows at home
Have you ever been to one of those stores in the mall that offers a massage chair? Or maybe you've encountered one of the delightful seats when having a pedicure.
There is a wide variety of shiatsu-based gadgets that you can use at home to provide relief to your aching muscles.
These range from handheld devices or those that drape over the shoulders like a shawl, to full size massage chairs will many different settings, levels, optional heat, and other bells and whistles.
Before you make the leap and invest in one of these solutions for at home massage, make sure you have been medically cleared by your physician to use one.
If there are any contraindications, because of pregnancy or other health issues, don't take the chance.
See a professional practitioner instead.
What are the benefits of shiatsu for pregnant women?
Massage and other complementary treatments are still being studied in clinical settings to determine their empirical scientific value.
There is evidence that shiatsu can have a calming effect on the sympathetic nervous system, relieve pain, stimulate blood flow, and help the body heal itself.
Of course, there's also plenty of anecdotal evidence that shiatsu is a wonderful way to treat yourself!
Because pregnancy puts a lot of stress on a woman's body, resulting in auxiliary conditions and issues such as swollen legs and feet, sciatica pain, aching muscles, heartburn, and so on, massage can feel especially good during this stage of life.
Among the many benefits of massage for pregnant women are:
- Lessened anxiety
- Decrease in pain, particularly in the back, legs, and feet
- An improvement in sleep quality
- Lowered levels of norepinephrine, one of the so-called "stress hormones"
- Higher levels of the so-called "feel good hormones" dopamine and serotonin
- Increased levels of the "feel-good" hormones serotonin and dopamine
- Lowered levels of cortisol, another indicator of stress
- An overall boost in mental and emotional health
Evaluating the safety of shiatsu when pregnant
Whether you are a regular devotee of shiatsu who is considering becoming pregnant, or you're the partner of a woman whose pregnancy and associated physical changes are causing her muscular discomfort, you might be concerned about the safety of this technique.
Is shiatsu safe when pregnant?
The answer is yes -- with some exceptions.
There are some pressure points that should not be massaged during pregnancy.
Additionally, because the risk of miscarriage is greatest during the first trimester, some medical experts advise pregnant women to avoid complementary treatments during the first three months of their pregnancies.
This may be especially wise if the woman has experienced miscarriage previously or has other high-risk factors.
The best course of action is to seek out a shiatsu practitioner who is fully trained, certified, and licensed as a massage therapist or bodywork professional.
Regulations and requirements for certification and licensure vary from state to state, so be sure to do your homework.
Find out what the highest levels of education and accreditation are in the area where you live, and seek out a shiatsu provider who meets those benchmarks.
Tips for finding shiatsu when pregnant
Another good idea is to find a practitioner -- whether it's shiatsu or any type of massage therapy or other complementary treatment -- who is experienced in working with pregnant women.
Pregnancy websites and message boards, as well as word-of-mouth, can be a surprisingly effective way to locate someone who will take care of your body -- and its precious cargo!
Too, don't hestiate to look at reviews on Yelp, Google, Facebook, and elsewhere.
If you see anything that raises red flags, it's absolutely fine to cross that practictioner off your list and move on to the next one. Listen to your intuition, Mama!
If you want to sit down with any potential massage therapist before actually having the treatment, call to ask about a consultation.
A true professional will be happy to answer any questions you may have, address your personal concerns and needs, and let you know whether or not she is comfortable treating you.
In the event that she doesn't feel qualified to offer pregnancy shiatsu, she may be able to recommend a colleague who has more experience in that area.
Shiatsu massage is safe (and great) for pregnant women
In the final analysis, the answer to the question "is shiatsu safe when pregnant" is usually "yes."
There are some situations that merit further research, medical advice, and caution.
However, for the most part, if you are pregnant and experiencing pain in your shoulders, upper back, legs, or feet, shiatsu massage -- delivered by ane experienced, educated, certified professional -- could be just the ticket to making your comfortable once again!
Have you ever gotten a massage while pregnant?
Was it a good experience?
How did you find your current massage therapist?
Share your thoughts in the comment section below!