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Health Benefits of Massage

The simple science behind this ancient healing technique


Kathy GruverMassage has existed for centuries. Historians believe that hieroglyphics portraying massage were discovered in ancient Egypt in 2500 BC. A Chinese book believed to date back to the first century BCE, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine mentions massaging the skin and flesh. What did these ancient people know? Massage feels good! But what else does it actually do? Other than just plain relaxing you, here are some things that massage will do and some things that it won’t do.

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Massage & Lymph

Research has shown massage lowers blood pressure [1] and heart rate, can lower and stabilize blood sugar [2] and moves lymph throughout your body. Okay, well, what is lymph?

Lymph is the cleansing system of the body. It runs through vessels similar to your circulatory system, but doesn’t have a pump to move it (like the heart). So lymph is moved through your body by movement, breathing, muscle contraction and massage. The more the lymph moves through, the better your immune system, as the lymph carries away the “bad stuff.”

When don’t you want massage moving lymph?  When there is cancer. The last thing you want are cancer cells being spread throughout the body. If you have cancer or have been treated for cancer, tell your massage therapist so they can make a determination if massage is right for you.

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Other Benefits of Massage

Massage helps with circulation, which is why it is so good for elderly people or those who are inactive due to injury. Massage helps move the blood and fluid around which is extraordinarily beneficial in healing. People with swollen legs and ankles like pregnant women or those with lymph edema can find relief with massage. The other benefit for the elderly is they often don’t experience touch and having a weekly massage can keep their bodies and their minds healthy.

When we think of massage we think of muscles as the main part of the body that massage addresses. After a hard workout, our muscles produce toxins such as lactic acid. We want to move those out of the body to avoid muscle fatigue or pain. Massage flushes those toxins, soothes the muscle fibers and helps relax them. Massage techniques like deep tissue and trigger point massage actually help stretch out the muscles. As a visual aid, imagine you take a rubber band and pull it taut between your hands. It’s stretched out. If you have another person take one finger and push down on the middle, it stretches even more. This is essentially what massage is doing for your muscle tissue. Massage helps with muscle injuries by bringing healing blood to the area. However, avoid deep tissue massage on a muscle tear, as it can exacerbate the problem!

Massage is also used on scar tissue. When we use our muscles we get small micro tears in the tissue. That is actually how we are building bulk. When scar tissue lays down it doesn’t lay flat like smooth muscle fiber. It lays cross-ways like fiberglass. Massage can help smooth out that tissue, keeping it healthy and suppler.

A technique called myofascial release can help those muscles even more by loosening up the fascia. Okay, another weird word, what is fascia?  When you take the skin off a raw chicken breast, the shiny film that lies over the meat is called fascia. It lies between the muscle and skin and helps support our movements. Sometimes the fascia gets bound to muscle and restricts our range of motion. Myofascial release works on unbinding that fascia to allow us more freedom of movement.

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The Takeaway

Whereas massage used to be seen as a luxury, more and more research is demonstrating its health effects. And more therapists like myself are doing medical massage. Current research shows that massage reduces nausea in cancer patients[4], decreases pain after surgery[5], reduces hospital stays in preterm infants[6], reduces anxiety and depression[7], reduces symptoms of migraine [8] and helps those suffering from fibromyalgia.[9] If you wonder if massage might be good for a condition you are faced with, contact a local massage practitioner or use your favorite search engine on the web.

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Kathy Gruver, PhD is the author of The Alternative Medicine Cabinet and Body Mind Therapies for the Bodyworker. She is the host of the TV series, The Alternative Medicine Cabinet and lectures on health nationwide.

Sources

[1]Touch Research Institute. Originally reported in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, January 2000, Vol. 4, No 1.

[2] www.dukemednews.com, Stress Management Can Help Control Glucose in Type 2 Diabetes, Duke University Medical Center, 2006.

[3] http://www.massagetherapy.com/learnmore/benefits.php

[4] Cassileth, Barrie, Ph.D., Vickers, Andrew, Ph.D, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s Integrative Medicine Service and Biostatistics Service, New York City. Originally published in Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, September 2004, Vol. 28, No. 3, pp. 244-249.

[5] JAMA and Archives Journals (2007, December 18). Massage May Help Ease Pain and Anxiety after Surgery. ScienceDaily.

[6] Journal of Perinatology (2008) 28, 815–820; doi:10.1038/jp.2008.108; published online 17 July 2008.

[7] Fields T. (2000) Touch Therapy, Churchill Livingstone. Touch Research Institute, University of Miami School of Medicine.

[8] Hernandez-Reif, M., Field, T., Dieter, J., Swerdlow. & Diego, M., (1998). Migraine headaches were reduced by massage therapy. International Journal of Neuroscience, 96, 1-11.

[9] Sunshine, W., Field, T., Schanberg, S., Quintino, O., Fierro, K., Kuhn, C., Burman, I., and Schanberg, S. (1996). Fibromyalgia benefits from massage therapy and transcutaneous electrical stimulation. Journal of Clinical Rheumatology, 2, 18-22.

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