Massage isn't just for the pampered elite of southern California and Florida. And it does more than feel good, although that's certainly a big plus.

Done by a properly trained therapist, massage therapy complements to the care of a doctor, physical therapist, chiropractor or other health professional in keeping you well.

"No longer is it the feel-good rub," said Robin Zappy, owner of the Healing Arts Institute school of massage in Hamilton Township. "We complement the pain management clinics."

Massage proponents claim it does everything from helping to remove toxins from the body to enhancing the immune system to preventing diseases caused by stress.

A good rub-down can also help relieve depression, anxiety and other mental disorders, said Ed Smith, owner of the Seashore Healing Arts Center in Somers Point.

"It produces a state of relaxation in your body and your mind," Smith said. "If done appropriately, it releases deep tensions, which help calm the nervous system."

And, because most of the pain people feel originates in the soft tissue, massage therapy can help ease your aches and pains, Smith said.

Smith said he uses massage to treat migraines, other headaches, lower-back pain, neck pain and carpal-tunnel, syndrome. The therapy works best if done in conjunction with other health-care professionals.

For healthy people, Smith said he recommends getting a massage once a week or once a month, as your budget and schedule allow.

You might want to check with your doctor first, as massage is not recommended for people with high blood pressure, or if you have a fever, Smith said. Cancer patients can't have the area of the tumor massaged, as it could spread the disease.

It will soon be easier for New Jersey residents to find a professional therapist, said Zappy, who is on the state board for education and training of massage therapists. The legislature recently passed, and the governor signed, a licensing bill, requiring massage therapists to be certified and licensed. That should keep untrained people from practicing the craft, and keep others from using massage as a cover for seedier activities.

Contact Elaine Rose:

609-272-7215

What kind of massage to get?

There are more than 250 different types of massage, according to Robin Zappy, owner of the Healing Arts Institute school of massage in Hamilton Township. Many therapists use a combination of modalities in a single session, and each spa has its own special treatments.

Some of the more common forms are:

Swedish massage — The foundation of most other treatments, it is a basic massage where the therapist smoothes your muscles with a light to moderate touch.

Deep-tissue massage — The therapist goes into the deeper layer of the muscle to remove toxins. It is especially recommended for athletes.

Aromatherapy massage — The massage is performed with scented essential oils. When you inhale the scents, your endocrine system releases hormones to promote relaxation or other feelings.

Hot-stone massage — The therapist uses heated rocks to relax and soften your muscles.

Reflexology — The therapist manipulates points on your hands and feet that connect to your organs and other vital systems.

Neuro-muscular therapy — Improves posture by adjusting the muscular system.