It’s Your Health: Benefits of massage go beyond relaxation

If you’ve ever had a massage, you know how relaxed and tranquil you feel afterwards. Your stress melts away and you have an overall sense of well-being. But now there is scientific evidence indicating massage is actually beneficial to our health.

Researchers haven’t determined exactly how massage therapy subdues pain. One theory is that massage activates the blockage of pain signals to the brain. Another consideration is the release of endorphins, which function as “natural” painkillers.

A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine claims that massage therapy alleviated patients’ back pain more than other therapies, resulting in a 36 percent reduction of painkiller medication. This is noteworthy since more than 100 million Americans shell out about $25 billion each year for back pain remedies.

What about your throbbing head? According to M.K. Brennan, R.N., president-elect of the American Massage Therapy Association, “There are trigger points in the neck and jaw that can feed up to the head and lead to headaches.”

Ms. Brennan specializes in trigger point or neuromuscular therapy. A study done last year and published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine reinforced positive results for migraine victims, who had fewer episodes and better sleep during the weeks they experienced massage.

Other research shows promising results: Less pain and depression in fibromyalgia sufferers; reduced pain in cancer patients; less pain and muscle spasms in heart bypass patients; and better management of carpal tunnel syndrome.

The physiological benefits are significant and usually meld with the added bonus of stress reduction.

The University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute (TRI) conducted a study highlighting decreased blood pressure and cortisol (stress hormone) levels in adults with high blood pressure who incorporated massage. Since cortisol levels drop, the body’s biochemistry is changed. Serotonin and dopamine levels increase which decreases anxiety and depression. The TRI also reported that employees who garnered a work-site massage had less stress and improved job related performance. How lucky were they?

The Institute also gleaned interesting research regarding children. Massage alleviates stress in babies too. In addition, it stimulates weight gain in premature newborns, reduces glucose levels in diabetic kids, improves lung function in children with asthma, increases alertness in autistic children, and lowers ADHD hyperactivity. As research continues, additional progressive data will emerge.

Finally, if squelching pain and assuaging stress isn’t enough to sway you, massage has been shown to increase the immune system’s cytotoxic capability. That means you’re better at fighting off disease.

Other perks are improved circulation, elevated body image, better range of motion and that overall general feeling of well-being.

The only down side is the cost of a professional or therapeutic massage which ranges from about $50 to $150 per hour depending on where you go and what type of massage you book. However, some places charge the same for all, whether it’s deep tissue, reflexology, or other types of massage. Be sure to ask before you schedule an appointment.

Convey to the receptionist exactly what it is you want — even if you don’t know the appropriate terms. Now relax and enjoy. Try not stressing about your massage ending in an hour!

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Kay Sager is a certified fitness and aquatic specialist living at Port of the Islands. She is a personal trainer using land and water fitness and teaches swimming. She also has written articles for Physician and Sports Medicine among other publications. Kay can be reached by e-mail: kswimfit@aol.com.

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