After so many years, my wife and I finally surrendered to the suggestions of our trainer and started getting massages at least once a month. He had been telling us how massage can be great for recovering from the stresses left over from hard workouts. And, about six months ago, we decided to give it a shot and get massages on a regular basis.
So, I thought I will take some time to do some research into the role of massage therapy and share the research and our own experience in this blog post.
What Is Massage Therapy?
Massage therapy dates back thousands of years. References to massage appear in ancient writings from China, Japan, India, and Egypt.
According to National Center of Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) of the National Institute of Health (NIH) the term “massage therapy” includes many techniques and the type of massage given usually depends on specific need, physical condition and the expertise of the massage therapist.
In general, massage therapists work on muscle and other soft tissue to help you feel better. The following massages you hear most about in the US:
In Swedish massage, the therapist uses long strokes, kneading, deep circular movements, vibration, and tapping.
Deep (tissue)massage technique uses slower, more-forceful strokes to target the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue, commonly to help with muscle damage from injuries.
Sports massage combines techniques of Swedish massage and deep tissue massage to release chronic muscle tension. It is adapted to the needs of athletes.
Myofascial trigger point therapy focuses on trigger points—areas that are painful when pressed and are associated with pain elsewhere in the body. Examples of these are:
- Accupressure – where therapist applies strong physical pressure on specific point on the body.
- Reflexology – Similar to acupressure where pressure is applied to certain points on hands and feet.
But there are other massages that are not quite as common and are based on Indian medicine, Ayuerveda:
Marma-point Massage – where a therapist applies very gentle touch to some or all of the 107 different marma-points in the body to correct any imbalances in the body
Shirodhara – where warm oil is poured to the forehead
Abhyanga – oil massage is done by two people with synchronized movements
Massage therapy is sometimes done using essential oils as a form of aromatherapy.
Benefits of Massage
A lot of the scientific research on massage therapy is preliminary or conflicting, but much of the evidence points toward beneficial effects on pain and other symptoms associated with a number of different conditions. Much of the evidence suggests that these effects are short term and that people need to keep getting massages for the benefits to continue.
While more research is needed to confirm the benefits of massage, some studies have found massage may also be helpful for:
- Digestive disorders
- Insomnia related to stress
- Myofascial pain syndrome
- Soft tissue strains or injuries
- Sports injuries
- Temporomandibular joint pain
According to Arthritis Foundation regular massage of muscles and joints, whether by a licensed therapist at a spa or by self-massage at home, can lead to a significant reduction in pain for people with arthritis, according to Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, who’s conducted a number of studies on the benefits of massage, including on people with arthritis. In Field’s research and other recent studies on the effects of massage for arthritis symptoms, regular use of the simple therapy led to improvements in pain, stiffness, range of motion, hand grip strength and overall function of the joints.
In a study published in Science Translational Medicine by Dr. Mark A. Tarnoplsky et al found that a short, 10-minute Swedish-style massage session can reduce inflammation, which can help your muscles recover after a hard workout.
And, then of course, there are studies that attribute the benefits of massage just to receiving a dose of human touch that offers all sorts of healthy responses from lowering blood pressures, depression, improving immunity to oxytocin release for increased bonding response.
What are the risks of Massage Therapy?
Massage therapy appears to have few risks when performed by a trained practitioner. However, massage therapists should take some precautions in people with certain health conditions. NCCIH recommend that:
- In some cases, pregnant women should avoid massage therapy. Talk with your health care provider before getting a massage if you are pregnant.
- People with some conditions such as bleeding disorders or low blood platelet counts should avoid having forceful and deep tissue massage. People who take anticoagulants (also known as blood thinners) also should avoid them. Massage should not be done in any potentially weak area of the skin, such as wounds.
- Deep or intense pressure should not be used over an area where the patient has a tumor or cancer, unless approved by the patient’s health care provider.
Over the years, my wife and I have received massages during vacations etc. We received several different Ayurvedic massages at the Ayurrvedic Institute in Albuquerque NM every day for a week of an intense detox and cleanse program called Panchakarma. I have also received locally in Maryland Marma-Point massages. And, now for the last six month, we are receiving massages once a month.
I described my experience of relieving migraine using acupressure in another blog post.
Massages that we receive from the same person every month are very therapeutic in that the therapist is getting to know our body. She is able to adjust her technique based on what our body needs. I am able to tell her any specific issue I may have. Usually these tend to be some stiff muscles that she could pay attention to. During and after the massage, she is the one who tells me where the stiff muscles are.
Areas around my shoulders and neck are where I seem to burry my stresses and are getting more and more limber as a result of the massages. I can definitely feel the result of my relaxed muscles in my yoga practice.
I have found Ayuervedic massages to be totally blissful. It blows me away how such gentle touches at the Marma-points or pouring of oil on third-eye can totally transport my body into a meditative state.
Regular massage therapy definitely is valuable in creating and maintaining Optimal Health. Repeating from the NCCIH website:
- A lot of research on the effects of massage therapy has been carried out.
- While often preliminary or conflicting, there is scientific evidence that massage may help with back pain and may improve quality of life for people with depression, cancer, and HIV/AIDS.
- Massage therapy appears to have few risks if it is used appropriately and provided by a trained massage professional.
What do you think?
What are your experiences and knowledge of massages therapy?
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I would love to learn and share with others what I learn from you?