Friday, March 16, 2007

The Power of Massage

It is generally known and felt that massage relieves stress and tension. Clients come to me with issues such as tension headaches, neck pain, sciatica, low back pain, and general stress and anxiety. When they leave, their breath is fuller, slower, and deeper. They report feeling a reduction in pain or tension and experience greater range of motion in previously tight and strained areas of their body. They also report feeling relaxed, centered, and grounded. I love that deeply relaxed, sleepy-dazed look my clients have as they leave my office and enter the world again.

Some clients begin the massage with much to say--it is often hard to turn the mind off after a day at work--and by the end of the massage they are so relaxed they are almost asleep. I see and feel the stress leave their body and mind. I can feel first-hand how effective massage can be for stress and tension, but I have no scientific double-blind study "proof" that this is happening. Fortunately, there is much fascinating research on the subject of massage and stress reduction. Here is the Mayo Clinic's list of stress-reducing effects of massage. For some of the latest research in the area of massage, also check out the Touch Research Institute.

How Massage May be Helpful in Reducing Stress

Massage can relieve tension in your muscles, and most people use it for relaxation, relief of stress and anxiety, or to reduce muscle soreness. Massage can also cause your body to release natural painkillers, and it boosts your immune system.

While more research is needed to confirm the benefits of massage, some studies have found it helpful for:

  • Anxiety. Massage reduced anxiety in depressed children and anorexic women. It also reduced anxiety and withdrawal symptoms in adults trying to quit smoking.
  • Pain. Pain was decreased in studies of people with fibromyalgia, migraines and recent surgeries. Back pain also might be relieved by massage. However, back pain study results have been contradictory, and more research is required.
  • Labor pain. Massage during labor appears to reduce stress and anxiety, relax muscles and help block pain.
  • Infant growth. Massage encouraged weight gain in premature babies and reduced the number of days they stayed in the hospital.
  • Children with diabetes. Children who were massaged every day by their parents were more likely to stick to their medication and diet regimens, which helped reduce their blood glucose levels.
  • Sports-related soreness. Some athletes receive massages after exercise, especially to the muscles they use most in their sport or activity. A massage might help increase blood flow to your muscles and may reduce muscle soreness after you exercise.
  • Alcohol withdrawal. Massage during withdrawal from alcohol has shown benefits when combined with traditional medical treatment by increasing feelings of support, safety and engagement in the therapy.
  • Immune system. People with HIV who participated in massage studies showed an increased number of natural killer cells, which are thought to defend the body from viral and cancer cells.
  • Cancer treatment. People with cancer who received regularly-scheduled massage therapy during treatment reported less anxiety, pain and fatigue.
  • Self-esteem. Because massage involves direct contact with another person through touch, it can make you feel cared for. That special attention can improve self-image in people with physical disabilities and terminal illnesses. And using touch to convey caring can help children with severe physical disabilities

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