Reduce pain, speed healing and improve your overall health
Not only is massage therapy an effective way to help soothe sore muscles and improve blood flow, it also doubles as a powerful, natural stress reliever for many people. Today, there’s a wide range of massage techniques used by therapists to help people overcome common health conditions such as fibromyalgia, anxiety and arthritis. Massage techniques including Swedish massage, spots massages and reflexology are now commonly being offered at spas, yoga studios, hotels and chiropractic offices.
Quick Facts About Massages:
- There are currently more than 250 different types of massages being offered around the world, according to The Association of Bodywork and Massage Professionals. Body massages offer different benefits, depending on what the patient’s goals are, but most have the same underlying principles.
- Surveys show that 52 percent of adult Americans who had a massage in 2015 received it for medical or health reasons such as pain management, soreness/stiffness/spasms, injury rehabilitation or overall wellness.
- In 2015, more than 51 million American adults – 16 percent – had discussed massage therapy with their doctors, and about 69 percent of their doctors or health care providers referred them to a therapist/strongly recommended massage therapist.
- Some studies have found that up to 91 percent of people agree that professional massages can be effective in reducing pain.
- Massages are also quite common for reducing stress and fatigue; thirty-three percent of massage consumers in 2015 had a massage for relaxation or stress reduction.
What Is Massage Therapy?
Massage therapy is defined as “the manual manipulation of muscular structure and soft body tissues of the human body (including muscle, connective tissue, tendons and ligaments).” Massage “modalities” have been used for thousands of years by people living all over the world as a means of naturally treating both mental and physical body ailments.
Today, scientific studies show that massage therapy improves functions of the lymphatic system, helps regulate hormones and can prevent many injuries.
Types of Massages & Massage Techniques
There are many different types of body massages offered today by a range of trained – and sometimes untrained – massage therapists. Some of the most common types include:
- Swedish Massage: This is the most popular form of massage worldwide. It works by stimulating circulation and involves five basic kneading strokes, which can be performed either gently or more firmly, all flowing toward the heart to manipulate soft tissue.
- Deep Tissue Massage: These massages utilize deep-tissue or deep-muscle movements to affect the sub-layer of musculature and fascia. They are normally used for treating chronic muscular pain, injury rehabilitation and reducing inflammation-related disorders such as arthritis.
- Sports Massage: Sports massages are often performed on athletes to warm the body, improve blood flow to muscles and tissue, and help prevent or treat injuries. They are performed pre-event, post-event and as part of preventative injury treatment plans.
- Prenatal Massage: Pregnancy massages have been found to be both effective and safe or both mother and fetus. They are usually performed with the woman on her side and can help reduce pregnancy discomforts such as lower back or leg pains, and improve emotional well-being.
- Thai Massage: Thai massages – also called nuad bo rarn – have been practiced in Thailand for over 2,500 years and are often included in sacred ceremonies. They are performed on a firm mat on the floor instead of on a table, and feature kneading and positioning that stimulate tissue and organs, according to certain energy lines.
- Soft Tissue Massage/Release: This method was developed in Europe to help treat athletes and runners. It works by placing the muscles in a certain position and softly manipulating them, so they stretch in a very specific direction or plane.
- Acupressure: Acupressure is an ancient Eastern healing art that uses the fingers to press key points on the surface of the skin. This stimulates energy channels – sometimes known as Qi – helps improve blood flow and lowers muscular tension.
- Shiatsu: Shiatsu is an Ancient Japanese massage that is similar to acupressure in that concentrates on unblocking the flow of life energy and restoring balance in the body’s channels or meridians.
While massage is the application of soft-tissue manipulation techniques to the body, “bodywork” therapies and “somatic” treatments are also similar in many ways. Bodywork encompasses various forms of touch therapies that use manipulation, movement or repatterning. At the same time, somatic therapies focus on the meaning “of the body” and its energy channels, and the mind-body connection. When you combine the fields of massage therapies, bodywork and somatic treatments, around the world the most popular modalities include:
- use of oils, lotions and powders
- pressure to muscular tissue or organs
8 Massage Therapy Benefits
- Treats Lower Back Pain
According to a Cochrane review on massage therapy for chronic lower back pain featuring 13 clinical trials, massage might be beneficial for patients with acute and chronic low-back pain, especially when combined with other holistic exercises and education. Some evidence suggests that acupuncture massage – acupressure – can be even more effective than classic, Swedish massage for lowering back pain.
- Reduces Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, Bursitis & Joint Pain
Around 35 percent of all people who receive massages do so to help ease pain associated with stiffness, soreness, injuries and chronic health conditions. Massages have been found to effectively relax muscles and stiff joints, plus lower symptoms associated with fibromyalgia – a chronic syndrome characterized by generalized pain, joint rigidity, intense fatigue, sleep alterations, headache and muscle spasms.
In 2011, the journal Evidence Based Complimentary and Alternative Medicine printed findings from one randomized controlled clinical trial investigating whether massage-myofascial release therapy could improve pain, anxiety, quality of sleep, depression and quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia. Seventy-four fibromyalgia patients were randomly assigned to experimental or placebo groups for 20 weeks. Results show that immediately after treatment and at the one-month mark, symptoms of anxiety, quality of sleep, pain and quality of life significantly improve with massage-myofascial release therapy.
- Can Help Lower High Blood Pressure
According to a 2013 report published in the International Journal of Preventative Medicine, patients who receive massage therapy, on average, display lower mean systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings than those in control groups. Evaluation of massage therapy’s effects on blood pressure (BP) shows that “massage is safe, effective, applicable and cost-effective intervention in controlling BP and pre-hypertension.”
- Lowers Depression, Anxiety & Fatigue
Massage therapy has been shown to help lower feelings of stress, along with depression and the fatigue that accompanies it. Studies find that the presence of depression is often triggered by active and chronic pain, and that depression itself then leads to worsened muscle tension and pain.
Some findings show that chronic pain and depression can both be attributed to alterations in cognitive functioning, specifically in the hypothalamus-hypophyseal-adrenal axis. Multidisciplinary massage approaches can help reverse the cycle of depression and have achieved significant improvements in patients with chronic muscle tension, pain, low energy, trouble sleeping and depression.
- Helps Regulate Hormones & Control Diabetes
Alternative therapies are now being used to treat the underlying hormonal and inflammatory causes of diabetes, including massage, dietary supplements, acupuncture, hydrotherapy and yoga therapies. These seem to be effective for lowering diabetes symptoms and risk factors, and they don’t have the side effects of conventional medications or approaches for treating diabetes.
Massage therapy has been recommended for diabetes for over 100 years, and various studies have found it can help with inducing relaxation, lowering nerve damage (neuropathy), helping people to become more active, reducing emotional eating, improving diet quality, improving sleep, helping to restore proper use of insulin and lowering inflammation caused by hormonal imbalances.
- Raises Immunity
The Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah, Georgia, has found that Swedish massage therapy can help cancer patients deal with symptoms of their illness and lower distress, which might be able to boost recovery.
Swedish massage interventions on oncology patients show positive results for reducing perceived levels of four measures: pain, physical discomfort, emotional discomfort and fatigue. A total of 251 oncology patients volunteered to participate in the hospital’s study for over a 3-year period, and an analysis found a statistically significant reduction in patient-reported distress for all four of these measures.
- Helps with Smoking Cessation
Research done by University of Miami School of Medicine shows that that self-massages can be an effective adjunct treatment for adults attempting smoking cessation. Massage has been shown to alleviate smoking-related anxiety, reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, improve mood and reduce the number of cigarettes smoked.
- Helps Improve Athletic Performance & Sports Prevent Injuries
Certain types of massages, including sports massages, are specifically designed to enhance athletic performance and recovery – while preventing problems such as ligament tears or running injuries. It’s common today for athletes to receive massages that are performed at their athletic arena or training site to help establish blood flow and warm up muscles prior to an event. Some sports massages also utilize other practices such as visualization, meditation and deep breathing to calm the nervous system and improve the quality of healing between events.
This article originally appeared on DrAxe.com and is republished here with permission.