Therapeutic massage has been used for stress and pain relief around the world throughout the ages. As long ago as the 5th century Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, wrote, “the physician must be experienced in many things, but assuredly also in rubbing.”
Modern research, such as studies by the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School, have demonstrated that massage helps reduce the effects of stress and promote well-being in a number of ways.
Respond to stress with grace and balance
Therapeutic massage has become well known as one of the best ways to deal with the overload of stress so common in today’s world.
Stress is inevitable and can inspire us to do our best, but when we experience an overload of stress for too long, our ability to respond with grace and balance may be challenged. Therapeutic massage can give you a break from the buildup of stress and trigger the “relaxation response,” a natural function of the nervous system that reverses the effects of excess stress. It can provide relief from chronic headaches, reduce anxiety, and promote more restful sleep, all conditions associated with an overload of stress.
Improves circulation, promotes healing
One of the key benefits of therapeutic massage is improved circulation. Good circulation is essential to bring oxygen and nutrients to healing tissues and remove irritating waste products. This, in turn, can help decrease inflammation and pain from injuries or overdoing it at work or play.
Massage also increases circulation to the joints, improving their function and mobility.
Relieves pain in a number of ways
Research has shown that massage relieves pain. Combined with stress relief, improved circulation may be enough in itself to help you relax and allow the pain to recede as you let go. Massage may help to actually stimulate the release of endorphins, the body’s own pain-relieving hormones.
Sometimes the perception of pain is changed when receiving the skilled and focused touch of massage. Without even trying, you may find you allow the new, pleasurable input of massage to take precedence over the painful sensations, at least temporarily.
Specific massage techniques help heal recent injuries or strain and minimize the effects of old, poorly-healed ones. Massage does this by: (1) relaxing tension in areas surrounding an injury, (2) reducing the painful buildup of fluids in swelling, and (3) helping to improve the condition of the tissues so that they are both stronger and more pliable.
Increases awareness of mind and body
Massage therapy can help increase awareness and sensitivity to the body’s signals. This not only increases self-knowledge, but can also bolster your respect for the requirements of the mind and body, for example, the need to take breaks at work or stretch after exercising. Increased awareness may even inspire you to spend more time doing the things you love, like painting or gardening.
Sports and fitness – help to perform your best
Sports massage can help you prevent muscle strains and sprains, recover from events and strenuous workouts, and heal from injuries. Before athletic events and workouts, massage prepares you by stretching, loosening, and oxygenating muscles. Afterward, it soothes the tissues, aids in repairing micro-tears to the muscles, and helps enhance circulation. Improved circulation helps reduce fluid buildup in areas of swelling and restore nutrient flow to the cells that need them. Between workouts, massage can help increase flexibility with assisted stretching and the release of chronically contracted muscles.
Help for moms-to-be
Massage can help a mother-to-be relax and feel more energetic during pregnancy. It can help ease adjustments to physical and lifestyle changes and relieve the discomforts often experienced by pregnant women such as headaches, fluid retention, constipation and heartburn.
And keep in mind that after a new baby arrives, massage can help reduce the discomforts and anxiety of caring for a newborn.
Making the most of the golden years
Everyone ages, gradually experiencing more wear and tear on the body. Massage can help increase the feeling of health and vitality in a number of ways.
Massage improves natural joint lubrication and helps relieve tension in the muscles around the joints, reducing pain and allowing easier movement. And as circulation to the brain improves, a temporary increase in physical energy and mental alertness can result. Feeling this way may inspire increased activity, which will further improve strength, flexibility and coordination.
Many conditions we associate with age, including insomnia, high blood pressure and breathing problems can be aggravated by an overload of stress. Massage promotes deep relaxation and reduces muscle tension, which often results in a decrease of these symptoms.
For the frail and ill – a special kind of touch
Gentle touch for the frail or ill can help reduce swelling from fluid retention, heal pressure sores, and promote relaxation, which, in turn, can decrease sensations of pain. Practitioners also offer a personal connection and a listening ear, which can help relieve feelings of loneliness and anxiety.
Often massage for the frail and ill is not meant to specifically treat a person’s condition or disease, but rather to address the whole person with soothing, nurturing touch. Practitioners use gentle and flexible techniques, designed to meet a person’s varying needs.
For caregivers, massage can help relieve tension and worry, ease fatigue, and restore physical and emotional resources.
Relief for chronic headaches
Massage can relieve chronic headaches by releasing tension in the neck, head, back and shoulders. This relieves pressure on nerves and blood vessels and improves circulation, which can lead directly to pain relief. Trigger points in the neck, head and shoulders can be another cause of pain which respond well to specific massage techniques. Although massage may not put an end to a migraine headache in progress, used between episodes it can be very helpful in reducing their frequency and intensity.
As a tool for maintenance, therapeutic massage offers complete relaxation and the chance to let go of the worry and anxiety that can both cause and result from chronic headaches.
Fibromyalgia, feeling better with massage
When received alongside medical attention, massage therapy can be immeasurably helpful to those suffering from fibromyalgia.
Massage stimulates the release of natural painkillers and increases circulation, cleansing tissues of irritating waste products and fluid build-up that contribute to fibromyalgia pain. Massage also reduces stress levels, allowing relaxation and a further easing of muscular aches and pains.
After a session, sleep is often more restful and restorative, which may prove essential to improvement. And the nurturing touch of massage can offer emotional support when the stress of coping with the illness feels overwhelming.
Help for managing arthritis pain
Massage therapy can help reduce pain and improve decreased mobility caused by arthritis.
Massage helps reduce tension in muscles that tighten in defense around painful arthritic joints. And it increases circulation, which reduces swelling and cleanses tissues of the painful by-products of inflammation. When pain and swelling are reduced, joint mobility increases.
Massage also calms the nervous system, allowing relaxation and the release of the stress associated with pain and loss of functionality caused by arthritis.