Benefits of Massage
What is Massage?
Therapeutic massage is the manipulation of the soft tissue structures of the body to prevent and alleviate pain, discomfort, muscle spasms and stress.
It improves functioning of the circulatory, lymphatic and nervous system and may improve the rate at which the body recovers from injury and illness. Massage also promotes general relaxation, reduces muscle spasm, tension and stiffness, nourishes the skin, and increases joint flexibility and range of motion. Studies also indicate that massage stimulates the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. And although massage is not a panacea, its wide-ranging benefits – from stress relief to overall well-being – are impressive, and are documented in research conducted in the U.S. and abroad.
A fifteen year study of alternative healing modalities with the Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital found massage therapy to be the most beneficial and successful with patients of all the therapies studied.
Styles of Massage
There are variations of the basic Swedish/Western-style massage. But generally, to ensure smooth strokes and gliding movements, the practitioner applies oil or lotion to a partially or completely undressed person lying on a massage table. Deep muscle/connective tissue massage combines slow strokes and deep finger pressure across or following the grain of muscles, tendons, and fascia to release chronic tension patterns, remove structural imbalances, and align the body. Sports massage integrates Swedish movements with pressure-point techniques to prevent injury, improve athletic performance, and speed recovery. It is adjusted according to the body’s different demands before and after a workout and to the particular areas stressed by each sport.
Touch is a primal need, as necessary for growth as food, clothing, or shelter. Physical touch is more than skin deep. There are as many as five million touch receptors in our skin – 3000 in a single fingertip – that send messages along the spinal cord to the brain. A simple touch – a hand on the shoulder, or an arm around a waist – can reduce the heart rate and lower blood pressure. Touch also stimulates the brain to produce endorphins, the body’s natural pain suppressors, which is why a mother’s hug of a child who has skinned his knee can literally “make it better.”
Stronger, sustained touch can have even greater effect. Massage may increase the lymph flow rate. It enhances immune function and lowers levels of the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine. Massage also stimulates the vagus nerve, one of 12 cranial nerves that influence various bodily functions. One branch of the vagus nerve travels to the gastrointestinal tract, where it facilitates the release of food-absorption hormones like insulin and glucose.
This is one of the reasons that premature babies gain weight faster if they’re massaged several times a day by a trained therapist or nurse. Studies at the Touch Research Institute in Miami, Florida conducts experiments in conjunction with the University of Miami, Duke and Harvard and they have found preemies who were massaged were discharged from the hospital six days sooner – at a savings of $10,000 each. Preemies massaged three times a day for ten days will sleep more deeply and have less apnea. They gain weight 47 % faster. And will be more alert, active and responsive than non-massaged infants of the same size and condition. All of this is to indicate that massage is serious medicine.
The massage table is a safe place to be touched and get your skin hunger needs met. In this day of sexual harassment and digitalized lives, so many of us just don’t get the hugs and touch we need on a daily basis. Massage therapy allows you to experience your body in a safe environment and reconnects you to your body through skilled hands. Massage can teach you about your body, you’ll discover sore and tender muscles you didn’t even know you had. For many people, it’s one of the only times they get to be totally passive. As a therapist I strive to reconnect you to your amazing body that works so hard for you each and every day and to have you leave feeling better about yourself having just done something good for yourself.