Susan Chester of Ashland gets her face massaged at The Phoenix. Chester says she believes massages improve her circulation and reduce stress. - Jim Craven

Spas add to health

We all know that a day at a spa is good for you, at least emotionally and spiritually. All that massaging, steaming, scraping off of dead skin and generally being fussed over and coddled has to help your attitude big time.

But what about your health? Do such treatments actually make you healthier? Definitely, says Mary Beth Wright of Medford, who, after serious muscle damage in a car wreck three years ago, found massage was the one thing that helped.

"I felt immediate relief. When my muscles got tense, massage would work it right out. The pain level goes down immediately," says Wright. "My insurance wouldn't cover it. They covered physical therapy, but the money I spent on my health and my attitude was worth it."

Wright's case is the extreme example. For the average spa-goer, benefits are summed up in talk about lymph, blood and toxins.

"I'm a dancer and an athlete and not to get a massage would go against everything I value," says Susan Chester of Ashland, a regular at Phoenix Day Spa and Salon in Ashland. "It gets my blood flowing and that carries the toxins out of my body and counters my stress, like yoga and meditation do."

Tiana Bramson, an aesthetician at Phoenix Day Spa, says her facials, which include acupressure, balance oils and water in the skin, repair sun damage and counter the lines and wrinkles of aging.

A facial "mask" treatment lifts impurities from the skin and helps unclog pores from pollutants and dirt, she adds.

In for a facial, Chester said she believes that a quarterly massage "keeps me from getting sick, especially if I'm in an emotionally loaded period. It's healing just to have physical touch from another person."

Facials get blood and oils to the skin, says Roseann Claflin of Therapeutic Touch Day Spa in Medford. Massage stems the effects of aging, allowing people to be more active and less stiff in the morning, she adds, while steam rooms, saunas and hydrotherapy increase circulation, skin moisture, oxygenate blood and help the body get rid of toxins through sweating.

Massage is often used on muscle pulls or whiplash, where the muscle has chronically tensed up and "forgets how to let go into its natural state of relaxation," she adds.

Whether it's from day-to-day stress or traumatic injury, massage relieves tension and allows pain to dissipate, says Jessica Vineyard, Phoenix Spa owner. Substances such as salt, kelp and seaweed detox the body by relaxing muscles and drawing toxins out through the pores, she adds.

Not surprisingly, because of old taboos around "massage parlors" and the stereotype of spas as "feminine and frilly," men make up only 15 to 20 percent of clientele, says Vineyard.

However, notes Wright, since her husband has seen how much better she looks and how much happier she is, "now he gets regular massages and he loves them. He's in construction work and carries a lot of stress in his back, so it's a big stress reliever for him."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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