The Health Benefits of Massage
These days more and more people are recognizing the health benefits of massage. In fact, according to a 2007 American Massage Therapy Association survey, “almost a quarter of all adult Americans had at least one massage in the previous year.” People are now seeing that massage is not just for rest and relaxation, but is also used to gain relief from certain symptoms, heal injuries, or to help with specific health conditions. People these days are constantly looking for overall wellness, and are discovering that massage is one of the best sources for achieving that goal.
Massage Chairs Can Help Eliminate Health Problems
Benefits of massage go above and beyond relaxation to actually improve or even eliminate health problems. One of the main ailments that massage is used for is back pain. Sometimes painkillers are just not enough. A study conducted in 2003 showed that “massage worked better than acupuncture or spinal modification – reducing the need for painkillers by 36%.” More than one study has shown that headaches also respond to massage therapy. For many people, massage has been proven to reduce the number of migraines suffered and improve sleep.
Massage has also been very effective in improving the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Swedish massage has been proven to be the most effective for knee osteoarthritis. In the first clinical trial on testing the effectiveness of Swedish massage, those participants who received a one-hour massage one or two times a week had improvements in pain, stiffness and function.
Massage Chairs Help Cancer Patients
Massage has even been used as a supplement to modern medicine for people suffering from cancer. It can promote relaxation and reduce the symptoms of cancer, as well as the side effects of treatment including nausea, fatigue, and depression along with pain and swelling. A massage can improve the function of the immune system, making it the ideal complement to certain treatments for people with cancer.
Not only can massage reduce physical pain within the body, but it has also been proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. This has been proven in a review of more than 12 studies. The studies showed that massage actually “lowered levels of cortisol by up to 50%,” while increasing levels of neurotransmitters that assist in reducing depression.
The Effects of Massage on Heart Rate and Stress: A Scientific Approach
In today’s society, high levels of stress and heart rate are not uncommon. People experience stress from all walks of life, whether you are a stay-at-home mom trying to run a family, or a CEO of a large corporation struggling to make a deadline.
Taking the time to relax and calm your nerves is more important than people actually realize. In fact according to the article, “Massage and Stress: Understanding the Research,” written by Cynthia Pilch, PhD, CMT, and Martha Brown Menard, PhD, CMT, not only is there a link between muscle tension and stress, but “a broad range of other conditions and illnesses are thought to stem from or be exacerbated by stress.” Stress can cause tissue repair, such as wound healing, to slow down and can cause high blood pressure.
Massage Can Prevent High Blood Pressure
Massage is one of the ways to reduce stress and relax the body in order to prevent high blood pressure and an increase in heart rate. This is especially true for those in high-demand jobs. According to Pilch and Menard, “having a sense of control or autonomy for men and social support for women can help protect against the negative impacts of stress.” There are also an increasing number of employers who are providing their employees with on-site chair massages.
There have been quite a few studies done that have shown that massage can reduce both stress and heart rate. These studies have shown that after receiving a message, there has been a significant increase in the parasympathetic nervous system of the test subject. This system, also simply called PNS, counteracts any stress response produced by the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) in order to allow the body to come back into balance.
In a study done by New Zealand researchers who were testing the role of massage therapy on migraine headaches, levels of stress were measured through levels of cortisol. A daily log of the participants’ own perceived levels of stress were also recorded after each massage session. The study concluded that, “compared with control participants, massage participants showed decrease in heart rate, anxious mood and salivary cortisol right after the massage.”
In an article from Massage Therapy Magazine entitled “Moderate vs. Light Pressure in Massage,” a study conducted by the Touch Research Institute has shown how moderate pressure in massage can reduce heart rate. The study consisted of 36 participants (average age of 28, 58% female, 42% male) who were randomly assigned to equal numbered groups. Similar to the study conducted by the New Zealand researchers, these people were asked to complete self-reports related to baseline stress and anxiety levels. This was done prior to the massage therapy tests, a.k.a, “touch protocol.” *EEG caps and EKG electrodes were placed on the participants. Activity was recorded before, during, and after a 10-minute massage treatment. Self-reports were conducted after the session as well.
The results showed that the participants had an overall reduction in stress and anxiety through the treatment. However, the results were much more significant for the group that received moderate pressure. “Researchers say the increase in frontal delta power and decreased heart rate for the moderate pressure subjects suggests a relaxation response with lower arousal.” Additionally, moderate pressure subjects exhibited a greater shift of EEG levels that are associated with a positive emotional response of mood and affect.
Overall, all groups displayed a shift in activity, varying in degrees, and participants of both groups perceived the experiment as “pleasant.” The only difference was the results for the moderate pressure group were more pronounced.
*(Electroencephalography (EEG) is the measurement of electrical activity produced by the brain as recorded from electrodes placed on the scalp.)
Blood Pressure and Massage Therapy
Massage therapy has not only been proven to reduce heart rate when the correct amount of pressure is applied, but it has also been proven to reduce, and help regulate, blood pressure.
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against blood vessel walls. The heart pumps blood into the arteries, which distributes the blood throughout the body.
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is dangerous because it makes the heart work harder in order to pump blood to the body. This contributes to hardening of the arteries and the development of heart failure. “Hypertensive adults who received regular biweekly massage sessions experienced less depression and hostility and showed a decrease in measured stress-hormone levels, according to a recent research study.”
A study executed in conjunction with the Touch Research Institute, the University of Miami School of Medicine and Nova Southeastern University in Florida entitled, “High blood pressure and associated symptoms were reduced by massage therapy” was carried out in May of 1999. It consisted of 30 adults with controlled hypertension (up to the last six months) that were all assigned at random to be a part of either a massage therapy group or a progressive relaxation group. “Those in the massage group were given twice-weekly 30-minute massage sessions in the afternoon or early evening for five weeks.” The participant received massages by various therapists based on a rotation system.
The subjects would lie on their backs facing upwards while the therapist would massage the head, neck, arms, torso and legs. This was combined with stroking, squeezing, pressing and pulling motions. Then, the subjects would lie on their stomachs with their head facing downward while the therapist would massage the person’s calves and thighs, and then would massage the back in its entirety.
The subjects in the progressive muscle relaxation group received instructions on how to complete self-administered exercises that they would do for 30-minutes twice a week for five weeks. In order to ensure that their schedule was compatible with the massage groups, researchers told the participants to only conduct their session only in the afternoon or early evening on the days that they were assigned.
The subjects were instructed to breathe deeply for several minutes while lying on their backs with their hands alongside the body. Then, they were told to tighten and relax different muscles, progressing from the feet all the way up to the head.
The results of the experiment showed that both groups had lower anxiety levels (STAI) and lower levels of depression (CES-D). However, only the massage therapy group showed “decreases in sitting diastolic and systolic blood pressure; decreases in salivary and urinary cortisol stress-hormone levels; and lower scores for depression, anxiety and hostility.”
Even though this experiment proved to be quite successful, researchers suggested that studies done in the future should be long-term, and the effects of massage should be examined on those with high stress levels. Conducting the experiment for a longer period of time would determine more accurately if the results were merely just short-term effects, or if the effects would actually continue beyond each of the groups’ treatments.
The researchers concluded that, “If massage therapy can effectively reduce symptoms associated with hypertension, then it might reduce life-threatening complications, such as the risk of stroke or heart attack.”
- Hoffman, Matthew, MD (reviewed by). “Massage Therapy Styles and Health Benefits,” WebMD, LLC Medical Reference: July 30, 2008.
- Massage Magazine. “Research: High Blood Pressure Reduced by Massage Therapy,” Touch Research Institute. Originally reported in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, January 2000, Vol. 4, No. 1.
- Pilch, Cynthia, PhD, CMT and Martha Brown Menard, PhD, CMT. “Massage and Stress: Understanding the Research,” Massage Therapy Journal: Summer 2007. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals.
- Shiatsu Massage Therapy History and Practice. “What is Shiatsu?” www.ultimatewatermassage.com: 2000-2008.
- Vanderbilt, Shirley. “Moderate vs. Light Pressure in Massage: New Studies from Touch Research Institute,” Massage and Bodywork Magazine, April/ May 2005.
- Wong, Cathy. “Alternative Medicine: Ten Most Popular Types of Massage Therapy,” About.com Health’s Disease and Condition content: September 19, 2007.
- Wong, Cathy. “Alternative Medicine: What is Shiatsu?” About.com Health’s Disease and Condition content: April 21, 2006.
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