by Susan Donovan
Fitness Services Director JCC of Greater New Haven
It’s time to start thinking of massage therapies as a research-backed tool that can improve your health instead of just a luxurious indulgence.
“The notion that massage is ‘just an indulgence’ is antiquated,” says Brent A. Bauer, M.D., director of the complementary and integrative medicine program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
A number of studies offer scientific evidence on the health benefits of massage therapy. Massage offers not only direct effects like changes that happen at the muscle level, pain pathways and a reduction in stress hormones, but indirectly, a comfortable setting designed for relaxation can lead to profound effects on your emotional state. A few benefits worth better understanding include:
1. Massage decreases stress, depression and anxiety. When you’re anxious and feeling under pressure, your body pumps out the stress hormone cortisol. Unfortunately, this just makes you feel even more stressed and anxious. The relaxation response, accompanied with a massage therapy session, can ease this hormone reaction resulting in less physical and emotional tension.
2. Less pain. Pain is the body’s signal that something is wrong. Often times, many issues can be prevented with a routine massage program. Massage can help conditions such as osteoarthritis, muscle spasms or general soreness from physical activities. Improved circulation, fascia hydration and a little assisted stretching result in improved mobility and range of motion in the joints.
3. You’ll sleep better. Many of us have trouble falling asleep at night and nearly 10 percent of Americans suffer from chronic insomnia. A study in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology compared the benefits of massage to those of only relaxation therapy on people with fibromyalgia. After five weeks of twice-weekly, 30-minute massages, those in the massage therapy group slept longer and more soundly than those who had relaxation therapy. Plus, people in the massage therapy group also found their pain level decreased and they had fewer tender spots on their bodies.
4. Can help alleviate pain from carpal tunnel syndrome. With more of us logging longer hours in front of our computers, wrist pain is a problem many can relate to. In more serious situations, you may have carpal tunnel syndrome. A gentle hand massage may help.
One study reported in Rheumatology International divided carpal tunnel sufferers into two groups. One group got hand massages in addition to wearing wrist splints, while the other group just wore the wrist splints. At the end of the study, those in the massage group had better grip strength and less pain.
With specific information from the client or medical professional, a therapist can help rid the body of pain and discomfort, increase mobility and flexibility, while activating the lymphatic system; which improves general health and creates more energy, due to increased circulation.