Massage Therapy: Benefits Beyond the “Feel Good”
In 2016, I was working at a charity event as a massage therapist and a lady, approximately 35-40 years old, had tripped and sprained her ankle. The trauma caused an almost immediate response in her lower leg and foot; the response being pain and swelling. I administered a massage protocol for her ankle based in Chinese Sports Massage. After twenty minutes, her pain was almost completely gone leaving only a general soreness, the swelling was completely gone, and she was able to stand and even walk on it with minimal pain. This is a good example of how an individual can benefit from massage therapy.
Massage Therapy: Introduction
Massage Therapy has been used in virtually every culture around the world to help with pain relief and injury recovery for thousands of years. Clinically, the benefits of massage therapy are numerous; they range from helping athletes recover from the intense physical exertion, help cancer patients deal with pain and anxiety, surgical patients recover from surgery, and it is used as a stress relief in general. According to the Mayo Clinic (“Never Had a Massage? What You Should Know,” n.d.), massage therapy should be considered for more than general relaxation. You might think because you’re not an athlete, recovery from surgery, or stressed out, you don’t need to get massage. I would like to take this time to explain why you do. Massage therapy is used to help with recovery from intense physical exertion like in sporting events, to aid in the treatment of cancer related pain and anxiety, in surgical centers to aid in recovery from surgery, and in general stress relief.
Massage Therapy: Athletics and Fitness
When we work in our daily activities, jobs and do our workouts to maintain our health we often injure ourselves and don’t even realize it. We strain muscles, micro-sprain joints (micro injuries to ligaments), and sometimes just have Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOSM) because we tried a new exercise to tone our bodies. Massage therapy has been shown, in studies, (MASSAGE Magazine, “Massage Decreases Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness,” n.d.) to help with DOSM In my experience as a massage therapist and even in my times in the military, I found that massage helped me to recover from physical exertions. Many professional athletic associations use massage therapy as part of their regimen to aid the athletes. For example: The Chinese use massage for the Olympic Athletes at the Beijing Olympic Training Center and most NFL teams have their own Massage Therapist on staff. Even the military here in the U.S. has begun accepting it in clinics for rehabilitation and injury recovery. I have even seen massage therapy used in surgical centers.
Massage Therapy: Oncology
Massage therapy and its uses extend beyond the treating of athletes and injuries from workouts. In fact, it is often used as part of the planning for treating those suffering with cancer. I have worked as a lymphatic drainage therapist for several years. Many of my clients are anxious and uncertain of their futures due to the diagnosis. Massage has helped them to overcome the anxiety of their treatments and to manage the pain of said treatment without the use of pain killers. It has also served to alleviate the stress of the diagnosis to calm the mind and body. Lymphatic Drainage has been used to alleviate pain in cancer patients and studies have shown that it is quite effective, (Boyd et al., “Impact of Massage Therapy on Function in Pain Populations-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials: Part II, Cancer Pain Populations,” n.d.). There have been many research studies published on the subject of massage and cancer treatment, (Kutner et al., “Massage Therapy versus Simple Touch to Improve Pain and Mood in Patients with Advanced Cancer: A Randomized Trial,” n.d.). Research has shown that massage is beneficial for other things as well, like recovering form surgery.
Massage Therapy: Post-Surgical
During Surgery of any kind the body is traumatized and as a result there is swelling or edema, scar tissue, pain in the recovery process, and in some cases, restricted ability to move or loss of range of motion (ROM). Massage therapy can help with this through a variety of means. One way massage therapy helps with post-surgical recovery is through the pain management aspect. Just as in massage with cancer patients, pain and anxiety are problems in post-surgical recovery. Another way is by assisting in relieving pain by increasing circulation to and away from the traumatized area, which also helps to reduce the swelling. This, in turn, allows the body to better and more quickly heal according to some studies like, (Boyd et al., “Impact of Massage Therapy on Function in Pain Populations-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials: Part III, Surgical Pain Populations,” n.d.). Massage therapy has been shown to help in many areas in the medical community, but it is also a great stress reliever.
Massage Therapy: Stress Relief
Studies have shown that massage therapy is a great and cost-effective way to reduce stress, relieve tension and help to give a peace of mind when life seems to be overwhelming us. Massage therapy has a psychological effect on the body. It activates the central nervous system in a way that creates calmness and, in some cases, a mild disorientation afterward that simulates intoxication. Massage therapists call this “massage drunk” and it is a short lived, temporary effect of massage therapy’s effect on the central nervous system that is caused by a significant reduction of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the body. According to the Mayo Clinic Staff, as referenced earlier, (“Never Had a Massage? What You Should Know,” n.d.), massage helps to alleviate stress, pain and many other effects too numerous to list here. The massage industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the last twenty years due to the saps that have opened to make massage therapy more affordable and accessible to the general population. Various medical studies have considered the option of massage as part of a preventative treatment for stress related conditions like heart attack, stroke, headaches, migraines, and a host of other conditions. It is highly recommended, by many physicians, that the individual receive massage on a minimum of a monthly basis to aid in reducing the stress levels in their daily life. Even during pregnancy massage has its uses.
Massage Therapy: Pregnancy
Studies have shown that major depression, pain and even post-partum depression after pregnancy have been alleviated by massage (“Pregnancy and labor massage,” n.d.). One of my favorite massage modalities is Prenatal or Pregnancy massage. I really enjoy helping a mother overcome the stresses of pregnancy with massage therapy. During pregnancy, the mother experiences a host of changes physically, hormonally, and even psychologically. There has been a noted uptick in premature births in the last several decades and massage has been shown to reduce the cortisol (stress hormone and believed contributor for the premature birth) levels for the mother. There has also been shown an improvement in women suffering from major depression during pregnancy that receive massage on a regular basis. Massage Therapy during pregnancy also helps to alleviate pain and edema as it occurs as a result of pregnancy. The numbers of changes a mother goes through during pregnancy cause a lot of discomfort. low back pain, carpal tunnel, hip pain, ankle and foot pain and so many others. Massage therapy is really a valuable method of dealing with some of the various issues we face day to day.
Massage Therapy: Conclusion
Massage therapy has been around for thousands of years and has been used to treat pain, injury and stresses. In our discussion here, we have gone over some of those methods and there are so many others that I have not covered here. Massage therapy is a huge passion of mine and of many other massage therapists and I hope this informative essay has encouraged you to do your own readings and find other uses as well. While further research and studies will find more uses and prove what was strongly believed by our ancestors, I certainly have no problem accepting that massage therapy is an extremely valuable resource. I certainly hope to see some of you in the clinic. Thank you.
Boyd, Courtney, Crawford, Cindy, Ashley, Xenakis, . . . Weimin. (2016, May 10). Impact of Massage Therapy on Function in Pain Populations-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials: Part II, Cancer Pain Populations. Retrieved January 15, 2019, from https://academic.oup.com/painmedicine/article/17/8/1553/2223186
Boyd, Courtney, Crawford, Cindy, Ashley, Xenakis, . . . Weimin. (2016, May 10). Impact of Massage Therapy on Function in Pain Populations-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials: Part III, Surgical Pain Populations. Retrieved January 15, 2019, from https://academic.oup.com/painmedicine/article/17/9/1757/2399356
Kutner, J. S., Smith, M. C., Corbin, L., Hemphill, L., Benton, K., Mellis, B. K., . . . Fairclough, D. L. (2008, September 16). Massage Therapy versus Simple Touch to Improve Pain and Mood in Patients with Advanced Cancer: A Randomized Trial. Retrieved January 15, 2019, from http://annals.org/aim/article-abstract/742783/massage-therapy-versus-simple-touch-improve-pain-mood-patients-advanced
MASSAGE Magazine. (2018, May 02). Massage Decreases Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Retrieved January 15, 2019, from https://www.massagemag.com/massage-decreases-delayed-onset-muscle-soreness-89034/
Never had a massage? What you should know. (2018, October 06). Retrieved January 15, 2019, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/massage/art-20045743
Pregnancy and labor massage. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2870995/