What Are the Benefits of Massage Therapy?
Nothing beats a relaxing massage after a hard day’s work. We love it, and our bodies crave for it.
But what exactly is massage therapy? Do its effects go beyond simple relaxation I’ll let scientific studies provide all the answers for you.
What Is Massage Therapy?
At its core, massage is the use of the power of touch to relieve pain and provide deep relaxation. The “touch” can range from simple tapping to long, deep strokes.
The history of massage can be traced back to earliest civilizations. Its use as a healing method was mentioned in the ancient texts from Egypt, India, Japan, and China.
Today, a wide array of massage techniques are applied to a diverse clientele.
There’s sports massage for athletes whose vigorous training programs leave their muscles sore and swelling. Through a combination of Swedish and deep tissue massage, athletes can recover from muscle strains more quickly.
Swedish uses light pressure and gentle strokes to offer relaxation to the mind and body. It’s different from Shiatsu, another popular stroke which applies firm pressure on different points of the body to restore the energy flow.
Myofascial trigger point massage is another interesting variation of massage which focuses on releasing muscle “knots,” painful points of the body that are also known to refer pain to other areas.
Is Massage Therapy Safe?
As long as a trained and certified massage therapist does it, rest assured that you’re in good hands.
However, there are specific conditions which limit the types of massage that can be used. In some cases, massage therapy is contraindicated.
Avoid receiving massage therapy or talk to your doctor before getting one if you’re one of the following:
- Pregnant women.
- People with bleeding disorders, low platelet counts, and those who are using anticoagulants.
- People with wounds or tumors.
What Science Says About the Health Benefits of Massage
Although their results are inconclusive, scientific studies suggest that massage therapy is good for our health. The effects may be short-term at best, but massage has shown amazing beneficial effects on people with the following conditions:
If you want something that can overpower the pain you’re experiencing, try massage. Aside from muscle relaxation, massage therapy also helps release “feel-good” neurotransmitters in your brain, leading to a calmer mind and body.
In a 2008 systematic review of thirteen randomized controlled trials, researchers concluded that massage therapy is a safe and cost-effective method to treat low back pain if combined with patient education and exercises.
A 2009 and 2012 NCCIH-funded studies, meanwhile, found that massage therapy can also relieve discomfort among patients with neck pain and osteoarthritis of the knee, respectively.
Although the result is insubstantial, another study also proved that massage therapy also provides pain relief to women in labor.
Although massage doesn’t offer a cure for cancer, it does benefit the patients by relieving its symptoms.
Studies show that massage therapy provides patients with short-term pain relief. It also improves their moods and helps promote relaxation.
In two studies published in the International Journal of Neuroscience and Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, it is shown that patients with breast cancer and leukemia showed increased levels of lymphocytes and natural killer cells after weeks of receiving massage.
Natural killer cells are a type of white blood cells known for attacking viruses and arresting tumor growth.
However, the National Cancer Institute advises the public to be careful when giving massage to cancer patients, especially in areas directly above a tumor, blood clot, wounds or bruises, and sensitive areas following radiation therapy.
Those with pulmonary problems may experience lung infections caused by nontuberculous mycobacteria, an organism that is present in soil and water.
Depression and Anxiety
Massage therapy has been linked to increased levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, sleep, and appetite. Hence, it’s small wonder why massage can assist you in getting past the dark clouds of depression and anxiety.
This is supported by a 2010 meta-analysis of different clinical trials which all pointed toward the beneficial effects of massage in reducing depression.
A 2012 NCCIH-funded clinical trial also showed that massage, along with yoga, can lift up the moods and reduce pain among pregnant women with depression.
For anyone who has tried to offset a stressful lifestyle with a few minutes of daily massage, this is a no-brainer. And science agrees too.
In a study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience, massage is shown to help reduce levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) by 31 percent while increasing the levels of “feel good” hormones like serotonin and dopamine by as much as 30 percent.
There are two ways that massage helps to reduce stress.
First, it increases blood flow to the areas of the brain which regulates mood and stress. Second, the healing touch activates the pressure receptors of the skin which then send signals to the vagus nerve to regulate breathing and heart rate as well as lower the levels of cortisol.
Fibromyalgia is a long-term condition that causes widespread pain to the body.
Although it needs more evidence, a 2010 review provided proof that massage therapy can help lessen pain, fatigue, and other symptoms among people with fibromyalgia.
Since the patient is already in pain, aggressive massages aren’t recommended.
There’s a reason why sports massage exists, and athletes incorporate it into their recovery program: It works.
In one Australian study published in the Journal of Athletic training, a short 10-minute massage given after a workout is proven to be effective in reducing muscle soreness by 30 percent.
The Bottom Line
Although we can all vouch for how amazing massage feels to our body, there’s not enough evidence to prove it can reverse more serious health problems.
For one, there’s no way to eliminate the possibility that all the good things we associate with massage could just be a placebo effect.
However, since massage doesn’t cause the same side-effects as medications, more health professionals are now open to the idea of incorporating it into their holistic therapies.
As long as you have no condition that may prevent you from receiving massage, you can enjoy it as long and as frequent as you want.
Just remember that massage is not a cure-for-all but a powerful therapy designed to complement traditional medical interventions