Massage is an ancient form of treatment. In many cultures, especially Asian cultures, massage has been viewed as an essential part of health treatment. However, in many western cultures until recently, it has been viewed as a luxury. That is now beginning to change. In 2007, a survey in Australia showed that massage is the most commonly used form of complementary medicine. In that same year it was found that 8.3% of Americans received massage, and again in 2007, the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society started recommending massage for low back pain.
Although massage has not had an overwhelming number of research studies, probably due to the expense of funding studies, there have been a number of research studies undertaken, and many of these show the effectiveness of massage.
Many studies on massage for back pain have shown very positive results in pain reduction, both in the short term and the long term. A massage study done in 2011 found that massage helped decrease the symptoms of chronic back pain for even 9 months after the study had finished as well. Massage can help to inhibit pain such as pain from rheumatism, osteoarthritis, arthritis, fibromyalgia, nerve pain, the pain of fibromyalgia and even post exercise pain. As an aromatherapist, I have to mention that when massage is used together with essential oils, it becomes even more effective.
Massage is also great for stress. Many studies have had quite successful results in proving that massage therapy decreases stress and anxiety and induces relaxation. These studies have used healthy adult populations as well as populations which have been diagnosed with cancer. Massage, as well as being a therapy, is a comfort measure for everyone but especially for those with terminal diseases such as cancer. Studies have shown how massage can help manage the symptoms of these patients and also increase the quality of life as well as increasing feelings of wellbeing. These studies have shown that sleep is improved, depression is decreased, as is pain. According to Tiffany Field (researcher with the Institute of Touch), massage causes us to spend a greater time in deep sleep, which is the phase of sleep where the body can repair itself (2012, More magazine). Massage helps people with terminal illnesses reduce stress and to feel better in their daily life. It can also be a great comfort for those going through major life events as massage can reduce anxiety. It has also been found in many studies that massage reduces stress hormones in the blood (such as cortisol) and also increases the immune system by increasing the amount of white blood cells released (2010). At has also been found to decrease the amount of proteins in the blood related to inflammation.
Research also shows how massage can lower blood pressure. Massage directly lowers blood pressure after a session and does an even better job if massage is regular. These results were also found in a 2009 study which used breast cancer patients as its subjects. Another study found that massage boosted the immune system (2010).
Other studies have shown how pulmonary function increases in children who suffer from asthma after undergoing regular 20 minute sessions of massage. It also helps digestive disorders. Research studies have shown how it has a positive effect on constipation.
There has also been good evidence that massage is useful as a tool to make childbirth more comfortable. Research has also shown how beneficial massage is in childbirth, making it more comfortable and even shortening labour. Research on pediatric massage has also shown many benefits, ranging from calmer babies to better growth for premature babies. For preschool children, much research has shown how even as little as 5-10 minutes of massage can reduce aggression and hostility.
Because massage manipulates the muscles, the skin, the connective tissue, and also the nerves, or at the very least the central nervous system, massage brings increased vitality to the body and to all systems. Deep tissue work releases shortened muscles and adhesions in the connective tissue which cause pain and so brings about great relief. Maybe more than anything though, massage can be viewed as a holistic healing tool. Massage not only helps heal the physical body and its ails, it helps the emotional and psychological body as well. It allows you to deeply relax which we may not always give ourselves time to do.
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