Massages aren’t just for relaxation anymore. Typically when you consider going to a massage therapist or a spa for a massage it’s to relax or relieve some stress. Maybe your neck has been bothering you or a specific set of muscles feels tight from overuse. New research suggests massage may have a larger impact on your overall health than simply helping you relax tense muscles, though. Massage as a means to heal, reduce pain and even cure illness has been around since ancient times. It is believed that massage first emerged in India as early as 3,000 BCE and was considered to be of divine origin.
From there, the techniques taught by Ayurveda (the traditional, holistic medical system of India) spread to both Egypt and China where they have been perfected and passed down over the centuries. There are even tomb paintings in Egypt depicting people getting massages. Despite its incredible popularity in various cultures, views on massage therapy began to shift away from a system of healing to simply an indulgence only the wealthy could afford, falling out of favor until its recent resurgence. With the developments of modern medicine, science has been able to catch up and prove what the ancients knew all along.
Benefits of Massage Therapy
Rest and relaxation is a major benefit of getting a massage. In a typical session, you’re ushered into a private, candle-lit room with soft music playing. You discuss any issues you’ve been having with the therapist before laying down on a table and letting them go to work. It’s an incredibly relaxing experience as their hands work like magic, loosening the muscles. This relaxation response has a lot of amazing added benefits, such as lowering blood pressure and heart rate, improving respiratory rate, giving a boost to the immune system and decreasing built-up tension in the muscles.
Massage therapy also has the ability to improve circulation, enhancing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to muscle cells and helping with the removal of waste products. These improvements may have value in the treatment of arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. No matter what kind of tension or chronic pain you may have, massage therapy could prove beneficial.
Massage Therapy and Low Back Pain
As new studies come to light about massage therapy, it appears sufferers of low back pain may have a new form of treatment. If you’ve ever had lower back pain, you know how horribly and totally it impacts your life. Every basic function, from how you walk, how you sit and even how you sleep is affected.
In fact, lower back pain is one of the top reasons why people visit a doctor’s office. Once you have it, it’s incredibly difficult to treat, often leading to endless months of injections, medications and therapy to try and relieve the nagging pain. Thankfully, recent research has suggested massage therapy may be the best treatment option when it comes to pain relief and recovery. A study of 400 randomly selected adults with differing levels of back pain, from moderate to severe, who had suffered for three months or longer were assigned one of several options for treatment. These included weekly massages that targeted a specific muscle group, weekly massages purely for relaxation and usual care (medication, injections).
As researchers tracked the patients, it was found after ten weeks that those who got weekly massages had greater-than-average pain relief and mobility than those who received typical care. This is huge news for those of us who have chronic back pain. Swedish massage, the kind performed in the study, is also the most commonly practiced form of massage, so you won’t be hard-pressed to find a specialist who performs that type.
The numbers are impressive. As many as 39% of those in the massage study said their pain was completely gone. Only 4% of those in the usual care group had complete recoveries. This study showed that massage is not only for relaxation, but can also be instrumental for actual healing of your worst back ailments. "It's not really harmful, and it does help a significant chunk of people who have not benefited from other treatments," says study researcher Daniel C. Cherkin, PhD, associate director and senior scientific investigator with the Center for Health Studies at Group Health Cooperative in Seattle.
Massage Therapy and Flexibility
If you struggle with painful joints and don’t seem to have the same range of motion you did when you were younger, massage therapy may be a great treatment option. Massage doesn’t just focus on muscles, but also connective tissues, joints, ligaments, and tendons. It stimulates proper blood flow to the affected areas. If you’re an active person, you know all about the importance of stretching daily. Ensuring your muscles have proper blood flow and that joints are properly lubricated is crucial not only in the recovery process after exercise, but also for preventing sprains, soreness, and other injuries. Massage therapy is yet another tool to help keep you safe and injury-free.
Massage Therapy and the Immune System
We all know that when we’re stressed out, we tend to have a greater chance of getting sick. When you combine stress with eating badly and not getting enough sleep, you set up the perfect conditions for illness. Our immune systems struggle during these times to protect our bodies against viruses and infection. The good news is, massage therapy is not only a great way to relieve stress, but it also gives a direct boost to your immune system.
Gail Ironson, M.D., conducted a study in which men infected with HIV were given massages for 45 minutes, five days a week, for one month. Not only was there a boost in serotonin levels, one of the so-called “happy hormones”, but there was also an increase in the disease-fighting cells known as the first line of defense used by the immune system to ward off infection. If you keep up with a regular exercise and diet program, adding massage therapy to your regimen will not only help keep you limber, but it’ll keep your immune system working at maximum strength too.
Massage Therapy and Mental Health
You may be surprised to learn that massage therapy can also help people who suffer with depression and anxiety. Anxiety is a normal response, designed for survival. Cortisol, the stress hormone, fuels our muscles to prepare for a fight or flight response. While this survival mechanism may not be needed as much today as it was in our distant past, many people still have an overabundance of cortisol flooding their muscles, leading to health issues, such as headaches, insomnia, and digestion problems.
The thing about anxiety is, it tends to have physical symptoms you carry with you. Cortisol is stored in your muscles. So if you carry anxiety in your neck and shoulders, a massage specialist will target those specific areas. Because massage encourages bloodflow and increases serotonin, dopamine and even oxytocin levels, it allows cortisol to be released, reduces blood pressure and improves overall mood.
When you’re relaxed and comfortable, your body responds. You breathe better and will even find that you sleep better, which can help to prevent future depressive or anxious episodes.
Massage Therapy and Insomnia
In a lot of the same ways massage therapy can treat anxiety and depression, it can also help you sleep. "When you are deprived of deep sleep, certain kinds of pain chemicals are released," explains Dr. Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. “But that changes with any kind of massage, whether for insomnia or increased flexibility or greater relaxation. There is a release of serotonin, which is the body's natural production of anti-pain chemicals.
Massage is very effective at increasing deep sleep." While massage itself is great for improved sleep, another study from the University of Maryland Medical Center has revealed that when combined with aromatherapy, massage can have an even greater impact on sleep. When a massage is given with essential oils, the benefits are increased. When lavender, for example, was added to a carrier oil and used in massage, individuals in a clinical study reported having a better night’s sleep.
Massage is an incredibly under-utilized tool for treating a barrage of symptoms, conditions, and ailments. Whether you need some time for yourself to relax or have nagging chronic pain and insomnia, regular massage therapy has been proven to offer incredible results that other forms of treatment don’t. In a lot of ways, massage is still seen as a luxury only for the rich, but it can be a necessary tool for achieving maximum health. Many employee health benefits plans now cover massage therapy, making it more accessible for everyone.
Along with massage, exercise and a proper diet are important for proper health. At Longevity Living, we know how amazing you truly are! Like us on Facebook for more excellent, carefully researched information about health and wellness. Here’s to your longevity!