The Health Benefits of Massage

By Jeff Payne

Massage therapy is an ancient form of healing that has steadily gained traction and popularity over the years. Although it is often seen as an adjunct treatment for a variety of conditions, massage therapy on its own can be useful for preventing and treating certain conditions. Despite this, massage therapy is typically not the miracle cure that some therapists would have you believe.

There is a lot of misinformation and scientifically off-base information that exists within the field. Any therapist that claims to be able to cure a condition, or fix a complicated injury in a short amount of time, is most likely not being truthful or ethical. To improve most conditions, multiple massage sessions are usually required over a period of time. However, this does not apply to all conditions - some will improve within a single session. When dealing with some small injuries or working to improve posture, some people will see improvements almost immediately after receiving good hands-on work.

Some less ethical, or in many cases less knowledgeable, massage therapists also feel the need to make false claims about what is going on in a client’s body. I have heard many therapists tell clients that they have “knots” in a particular area or areas. Little does the client know that knots aren’t a real thing. “What about those lumpy things in my upper back?” you may ask. Those are almost always either the upper trapezius muscles passing over the rhomboids or tendons within the traps themselves. That means that they will not go away, regardless of how hard you push on them. They are a normal part of your anatomy, and if you or your therapist spends too much time working on them, it can actually cause harm.

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Even though knots aren’t a real thing, there are similar things called “adhesions” that are definitely real. Adhesions are lumps of scar tissue that typically form after muscular or even skeletal injuries. They can feel unpleasant and can limit your range of motion. By having a skilled therapist help rehabilitate an injury, you can reduce the amount of scar tissue around an injured area. This makes massage an essential part of injury recovery and rehabilitation.

If you are looking to improve your athletic performance, getting regular massage can be very useful. Massage has been shown to improve flexibility and mobility in several different studies. This not only leads to better and more efficient movement for the recipient, but also a reduced chance of injury. Massage therapy has also shown to reduce muscle soreness in those who are experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness. A recent study showed that massage significantly reduced delayed onset muscle soreness and muscle swelling in all participants who were examined.

Massage has also shown to be useful for improving circulation. This is obviously good for muscle recovery, but it can also be beneficial for lowering blood pressure. A recent study found that massage was an “effective, applicable, and cost effective intervention in controlling blood pressure of women with pre-hypertension.” If it works for women with pre-hypertension, it also probably works for many groups of people, and just hasn’t been proven yet. This isn’t to say that massage should replace what you already do to lower your blood pressure, but it may be a good adjunct treatment.

Massage can also have some powerful psychological benefits for recipients. It has been shown to decrease anxiety, improve mood, promote energy, and reduce stress. Reducing stress and stress hormones, such as cortisol, can be helpful for those who are trying to lose weight and gain muscle mass. These reductions in stress hormones have shown to persist days after the massage has been completed, meaning that there is a noticeable lingering effect and benefit. 

For more information on health and massage therapy, check out commencewellness.com.

References:

Blood Pressure Study https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3203301/

Mobility and Flexibility Studies http://www.jssm.org/researchjssm-06-498.xml.xml http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/39/9/594.full

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness Study https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1250256/