Surprising Benefits Of Massage
by Carol Milano
If you think massage is just a nice way to unwind after work
or a workout, you're missing out on its many advantages.
A growing body of reputable, respected research is beginning
to document its surprising benefits. The Touch Research Institute,
University of Miami School of Medicine, has shown that massage
- increased immune function in women diagnosed with breast
cancer in the past five years
- relieved severe premenstrual symptoms
- lessened labor pain and length, shortened hospital stays,
lowered likelihood of postpartum depression
- heightened alertness; raised speed and accurary at math calculations
- lowered migraine headache pain, distress, and sleep disturbance
- decreased depression, anxiety, stress, pain and insomnia
in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- reduced leg and back pain of pregnancy; improved mood and
- lessened itching, pain or anxiety for burn care patients
- lowered job stress scores
- led pregnant women to fewer labor or postnatal complications
The University of Arkansas College of Nursing in Little Rock
found back massage helped critically ill patients sleep at least
an hour longer than the control group. At Denver's University
of Colorado Health Sciences Center, over 2/3 of patients attributed
their increased mobility, greater energy and faster recovery
to the massages they'd received during their stays. In a two-month
study of low back pain at University of Guelph, Ontario, 63%
of subjects reported no pain after six massage therapy treatments.
In a recent survey, 54% of primary care or family practice
physicians said they would encourage patients to add massage
therapy to medical treatment. Here's what doctors have discovered:
"Following surgery to ligaments, bones or joints, the
surrounding muscles can benefit from massage," reports Alan
M. Strizak, MD, Associate Clinical Professor of Orthopedic Surgery
at University of California, Irvine. With hamstring strain, such
as torn muscle in the back of the thigh, gentle massage encourages
blood supply. For whiplash to the neck, or soreness in the upper
back and neck from long computer stints, massage works on small
trigger points in those muscles to promote healing.
Matthew Heller, MD, a rheumatologist in Peabody, MA, sends
all his fibromyalgia patients for massage. "Patients tell
me they feel better right away. It lasts for about a week. Massage
therapists show them where the tight muscles are, so patients
can learn guided stress relaxation," says the co-author
of "Clinical Research Opportunities" (Practice Management
Information Corporation, 1997).
At Texas Back Institute in Plano, massage therapy is used
to help reduce the swelling of edema (fluid accumulation in tissues)
or lymphedema (fluid accumulation in arms or legs after removal
of lymph nodes). "We make sure the patient has no blood
clots, cellulitis, or infection," says Nayan Patel, MD,
a physical medicine/ rehabilitation specialist there. Like Dr.
Heller, he uses massage as part of a physical therapy program.
People often rely on massage therapy when they can't tolerate
or would rather avoid the side effects of medication. Pregnant
women, chemotherapy patients, and ballet dancers are in this
category, notes Dr. Strizak. When acute or chronic low back pain
causes tightness and reduces mobility in the lumbar muscles or
hip, Dr. Patel's learned that massage therapy can definitely
loosen the soft tissue in those areas.
Given its versatility, it's not surprising that massage therapy
is becoming more popular. Consumers visit massage therapists
114 million times a year, spending between $4 and $6 billion.
More and more corporations invite massage therapists on-site
as both an employee benefit and a way to reduce stress and absence.
The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), the leading
has over 44,000 members.
Who're You Gonna Call?
Before you choose a massage therapist, it's important to understand
what the specialty includes. A physical therapist employs various
devices and exercises in the rehabilitation of damage caused
by illness or injury. Massage therapists use manual techniques
to normalize soft tissues affected by stress, injury, and illness.
They aim to improve circulation, induce muscular relaxation,
lessen pain and stress, and promote health.
Massage therapists have extensive training. 29 states and
Washington DC regulate the profession, usually requiring 500
or more hours of classroom instruction, as does the AMTA. The
National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork
offers a comprehensive written exam and certification, assuring
that a massage therapist has completed the required hours of
education and is qualified to enter the field.
Clients usually come to Susan Kaner, a Licensed Massage Therapist
in Brooklyn NY, for two main reasons: they're either in pain,
or stressed, overworked and sleepless. She frequently treats
headaches, repetitve stress injuries, and arthritic aches. "Massage
therapy relieves swollen muscles surrounding arthritic joints,
and promotes flexibility. You can see the swelling reduced after
a massage session. People generally feel considerably less pain
and more ease of movement."
Kaner treats pre-surgery patients, to help them relax the
day before an operation. "You can't massage the surgical
site eright after surgery. But collateral areas can be massaged,
to stimulate healing and relaxation," she explains.
The benefits are cumulative. "Once they start to have
more mobility and flexibility and a reduction in joint inflammation,
patients tend to maintain the advantages of a massage for a longer
time, feeling less pain," reports Kaner.
Americans will generally encounter two types of massage. Dr.
Patel usually recommends deep friction massage, known as Structural
Integration, which may initially be more painful than other techniques.
"The optimal therapeutic level for deep tissue massage is
just below the client's pain threshold," notes Kaner. "If
you massage too deeply, you cause the patient more pain, and
they are unable to relax."
Swedish massage, the more familiar (and gentler) variety,
"promotes relaxation, increases circulation and joint mobility,
relieves swelling, and hastens muscle recovery after exercise.
By hastening the elimination of metabolic wastes, you're less
sore after a work-out, the muscles are better-conditioned, and
you're more able to resume exercise without injury," says
In fact, athletes in Europe consider massage therapy a part
of their everyday training routine, Dr. Strizak observes. "It
cleanses muscles and relaxes them so they can sleep."
When it comes to massage therapy, "We see lots of different
medical indications," he points out. Dr. Heller, another
supporter, declares, "I absolutely think massage therapy
Find a qualified massage therapist in the consumer area at
the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage &
Bodywork website (www.ncbtmb.com) or through the American Massage
Therapy Association's free Find A Massage Therapist National
Locator Service (www.amtamassage.org or call 888-843-2682.)
NOTE: Fees vary with type and length of massage, and from
one city or region to another. The national average is $45 to
$65 per hour, AMTA reports. An increasing number of health insurance
companies are including massage therapy as a covered benefit.
Many of these articles
appear on the publication's website, which are often password-protected
or members-only. For your convenience, I've gathered them on my own