Not so long ago, getting a professional massage was outside the reach to the average American. It was “exclusive,” considered primarily for leisure. However, massage continues to morph from a luxury to a recognized form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).
In fact, a 2003 American Hospital Association (AHA) survey reveals that of the of 1,007 responding hospitals, 82% include massage therapy as part of their CAM healthcare offerings. Massages have also become more affordable for everybody in the United States.
A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF MASSAGE THERAPY
Massage involves the therapeutic manipulation, rubbing, and pressing of soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, and tendons) using the fingers, hands, forearms, elbows, knees, feet, etc.
Thanks to a recent rise in popularity, there are now over 80 variations of massage therapy to choose from, each offering a wide variety of movements and techniques. Indeed, the industry has developed to the point where you now have some categories of massage movements that cater to the entire body, while others are almost exclusively recognized as being suited for isolated muscle groups.
THE MANY BENEFITS OF THERAPEUTIC MASSAGE
Massage is among the most relaxing and soothing sensations one can experience. However, the benefits of a good rubdown go beyond relaxation and run deeper than you might think.
A recent study that appeared in the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) publication indicates that 50% of adults who saw a professional massage therapist in the past year did so for medical or health reasons. In contrast, only 28% of massage consumers sought massage for relaxation or stress reduction during the same period. So why are so many patients turning to massage therapy? Let’s review the health benefits to find out.
1. Stress Relief
For centuries, people have turned to massage as a way to de-stress. Indeed, recent studies confirm that massage significantly reduces physical and psychological stress.
Clinical studies show that massage therapy increases production of endorphins (natural chemicals that make you feel good), serotonin, and dopamine; while it reduces cortisol levels, heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen consumption; factors typically associated with stress.
2. Reduces Anxiety
That heightened sense of elation after a massage isn’t just in your head. In fact, several recent studies confirm that researchers can actually measure the impact that massage has on individuals experiencing emotional trauma. Likewise, massage has also been shown to bring about a corrective effect for those suffering from deep anxiety.
As a case in point, a 2004 study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, shows that women with breast cancer who received massage therapy had decreased levels of anxiety and hostility.
3. Eases Muscle Tension
The complexities of modern suburban life has made Americans more tense than ever—both psychologically and physically. As a result, back injuries, joint stiffness, and muscle tension is ever on the rise. Unfortunately, this is a trend that medical experts don’t see changing. However, one factor that could soften the impact of muscle stiffness is therapeutic massage.
For example, techniques such as Swedish massage, have a proven track record of loosening muscle groups and relaxing stiff joints.
4. Improves Overall Sleep Quality
Maintaining good health is impossible without adequate sleep. The good news is that researchers have confirmed that massage therapy may significantly reduce the incidence of sleep insomnia. Furthermore, the effect of massage therapy on sleep isn’t limited to any one age group.
A 2006 study by researchers from the University of Warwick found that massage helped infants aged six months or less sleep better and cry less. Testing in adults proved similar results as evidenced by a University of Miami School of Medicine study.
These studies have also confirmed that massage promotes better sleep because it aids in the release of serotonin, which helps the body achieve a state of restfulness.
5. Promotes Greater Relaxation
Massage helps you rest by reducing the cortisol level and triggering several brain chemistry responses which translate into extended periods of deep relaxation.
In a study of the “effects of massage therapy on immune, hematological, and psychological state of adult subjects,” researchers found that “massage is capable of inducing psychological relaxation.”
6. Provides Muscle and Joint Pain Relief
The body of evidence that supports using massage for the treatment of pain at the muscles and joints is rock solid.
Whether it’s chronic back pain, knee osteoarthritis, hand arthritis, or any other form of rheumatism; evidence suggests that massage not only reduces pain but improves range of motion and overall function.
7. Strengthens the Lower Back
There was a time when adults were highly mobile throughout the day. However, given the amount of time that we spend straining our necks and backs using mobile devices or sitting at our desks those days are long gone. Sadly, many adults have lower back pain for life in the information age.
However, all is not lost. Therapeutic massage has been shown to alleviate back pain. In fact,
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, back pain sufferers experienced more comfort from therapeutic massage than those who were given a placebo.
8. Helps Fight Depression
Massage has long been thought to reduce depression. But several recent studies provide conclusive proof that therapeutic touch relieves those who suffer from depression.
Furthermore, there is research which validates the impact of massage therapy in alleviating perceived pain and anger. reducing the frequency, intensity and duration of anxiety attacks and mood swings.
9. Enhances Blood Flow and Circulation
Therapeutic massage facilitates blood circulation by directing oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to and from our muscles and internal organs. In turn, this improved blood flow leads to growth, recovery, and healing throughout the body.
A 2014 study that appeared in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation found that massage therapy improved general blood flow. An earlier study published in Medical Science Monitor by Japanese researchers offered a similar conclusion.
10. Relieves Sports Injuries
Before massage therapy began making inroads in the medical sector, pro athletes and coaches had already adopted massage therapy as part of their fitness regimens.
While evidence was initially scant, new studies backed by reputable sources are firming up the effectiveness of massage therapy in sports, thanks to its proven impact on medical test subjects.
Additional Advantages of Massage
The benefits don’t end with the list above. There are many others. For example, recent studies have documented a correlation between therapeutic massage and improved cardiovascular health. For instance, a study published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine confirms a noticeable dip in blood pressure after a professional massage session. There are many other benefits of massage. However, the points above are among the most cited.