Magnificent Massage: The Health Benefits of Bodywork
With experts estimating that nearly ninety percent of disease is stress related, now more than ever it's imperative that Americans make the most of self-care options available today to help decrease and manage stress levels. Massage, the application of soft-tissue manipulation techniques to the body, has shown to reduce stress and fatigue while improving circulation. Massage helps to decrease anxiety, enhance sleep quality, provide energy, improve concentration, and more. For the everyday American, as well as sufferers of chronic conditions, this translates into a proven method for managing pain and stress.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, massage therapy is a practice dating back thousands of years. References to its uses have been found in ancient writings from Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Japan, China, and Egypt. Massage therapy first became popular in the United States in the mid-1800s for a variety of health purposes, complemented with the mineral essentials of natural hot spring resorts so fashionable at the time. It fell out of favor in the 1930s due to advances in other medical treatments at that time. However, it made a return in the 1970s, due in some part to athletes who discovered its benefits in preparing for, or recovering from, strenuous workouts.
Massage is used in both conventional and alternative medicine therapies. There are more than 80 types of massage therapy, and in all of them, therapists apply pressure and movement with the use of their hands and fingers mostly. However, forearms, elbows, and feet may also be a part a therapist's technique. The well-known Swedish massage uses long strokes, kneading and finger pressure on tight or knotted muscles. Trigger point massage utilizes deeper, more focused pressure on knots that form in muscles. Shiatsu massage applies varying, rhythmic pressure from the fingers on parts of the body that are believed to be key to the flow of vital energy called chi.
Perhaps the two most obvious benefits of massage are increased circulation and flexibility. Designed to work independently of one another, as muscles dehydrate, their fibers stick together resulting in stiffness. With the use of massage, fluid is reintroduced, softening the muscles and allowing for flexibility. Increased circulation in between the muscle fibers allow nutrients to reach the cells and for toxins to be carried away more efficiently. Dehydrated muscle fibers also cause a lack of circulation which leads to a decrease in oxygen to the muscles. This in turn causes pain to the affected area. Professional massage, combined with adequate dehydration (8 to 10 glasses of water per day), can relive areas of pain and increase flexibility.
Additional benefits of massage are far reaching. Massage therapy has been successfully combined with rehabilitation programs as a treatment for chronic conditions including back pain and arthritis, as well as injuries associated with exercise or injury. Other chronic conditions such as depression, anxiety, smoking cessation, and high blood pressure have been greatly aided with the use of professional massage.
Research studies show that massage therapy also reduces heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and increases endorphins. Although therapeutic massage does not increase muscle strength, it can stimulate inactive muscles and partially compensate for the lack of exercise and inactivity resulting from illness or injury. Research has also indicated that office workers who receive massages regularly perform better and with less stress than those who weren't massaged.
In children, massage therapy creates body awareness from head to toe, as well as relieve growing pains in older children. Studies also show massage for children can aide in digestion and constipation. Premature infants receiving massage reportedly gained more weight and fared better than those babies who did not receive massage. Bodywork therapy has also show to be beneficial for autistic children, who displayed less erratic behavior following a massage.
"Often times people are stressed in our culture," said Dr. Joan Borysenko in a Massage Journal interview. "Stress-related disorders make up between 80-90 percent of the ailments that bring people to family-practice physicians". One of the complaints heard frequently is that physicians don't touch their patients any more. Years ago, massage was a big part of nursing. Now nurses for the most part are as busy as physicians. I believe massage therapy is absolutely key to the healing process not only in the hospital environment but because it relieves stress, it is obviously foundational in the healing process anytime and anywhere."