The Benefits of Massage: Is Bodywork Right For Me?
Treating the Body
Massage therapy addresses a variety of health conditions, the most prevalent being stress-related tension, which, experts believe, accounts for 80%-90% of disease. Massage has been proven beneficial in treating cancer-related fatigue, sleep disorders, high blood pressure, diabetes, low back pain, immunity suppression, spinal cord injury, autism, post-operative surgery, age-related disorders, infertility, eating disorders, smoking cessation, and depression, to name just a few. Here’s why:
Bodywork offers a drug-free, non-invasive and humanistic approach based on the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Massage has many physiological effects, such as:
- Increasing circulation, allowing the body to pump more oxygen and nutrients into tissues and vital organs.
- Stimulating the lymph system, the body’s natural defense, against toxic invaders. For example, in breast cancer patients, massage has been shown to increase the cells that fight cancer.
- Relaxing and softening injured and overused muscles.
- Reducing spasms and cramping.
- Increasing joint flexibility.
- Reducing recovery time for strenuous workouts and eliminating subsequent pains of the athlete at any level.
- Releasing endorphins, the body’s natural painkiller. For this reason, massage is being incorporated into treatment for chronic illness, injury and recovery from surgery to control and relieve pain.
- Reducing post-surgery adhesions and edema and reducing and realigning scar tissue after healing has occurred.
- Improving range of motion and decreasing discomfort for patients with low back pain.
- Relieving pain for migraine sufferers and decreasing the need for medication.
- Providing exercise and stretching for atrophied muscles and reducing shortening of the muscles for those with restricted range of motion.
- Contributing to shorter labor and reduced tearing for expectant mothers, as well as lessening the need for medication, minimizing depression and anxiety, and shortening hospital stays.
It’s important to note that there are some conditions where massage is not recommended. For example, massage is contraindicated in people with:
- Certain forms of cancer
- Some cardiac problems
- Some skin conditions
- Infectious diseases
Your practitioner should ask you about your specific health conditions and determine if massage, bodywork or somatic therapies are a good idea. In some cases, the practitioner may need your doctor’s permission before providing services.
Treating the Spirit
Massage also provides another therapeutic component largely absent in today’s world: tactile stimulation, or, more simply, touch. In 1986, the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami published groundbreaking research on the effects of massage on premature babies. The pre term babies who received massage therapy showed 47% greater weight gain and six-day shorter hospital stays than the infants who were not receiving massage. But is this study evidence of what loving touch can do spiritually, or rather what massage can do on a physiological level? Regardless, babies are not the only benefactors.
Many adults have reported cathartic experiences on the massage table. As a therapist carefully unwinds a client’s stressed and tired muscles, the therapist may very well be unwinding the taut, pent-up emotions that one doesn’t always have time to process in the middle of the day. And the feeling of being touched in a safe, caring, compassionate manner can be a very powerful experience, reminding the client that she or he is not alone in the world.
As studies continue to reveal the link between kinesiology and physical and emotional health, the effects of massage will be further documented. However, one need only experience a good massage to know it’s beneficial to body and soul.