Everyone has a different idea of what massage therapy is and what it is for. Some people view it as a luxury, or way to pamper oneself. Others may view it as a way to rehabilitate an injury. These are both legitimate reasons, however, I want to take a look at how massage therapy can benefit everyone if added to their health care routine.
There are so many benefits of massage therapy, I am splitting this blog post into a series. The focus of today's post will be about massage for your body, or the physical benefits of receiving massage.
Most people in our society seek treatment when something hurts, or when they begin displaying symptoms. Massage therapy is a great way to treat these symptoms, but it can also be used as a preventative measure to avoid being in pain in the first place.
We tend to take on so much stress that things begin to build. What may start off as a little tension in your shoulders may lead to back pain and headaches. Maybe your back pain will start to travel lower down your back as you hold your body in different ways to try to cope with the discomfort you feel. Perhaps from your low back, you will start to feel it in your hips because you are sitting differently now. The hip pain may lead to sciatica-like pain, which travels down your legs. Now you are walking differently which causes you to feel soreness in your calves and shins. It can just keep building and getting worse, until you don't ever feel well and suddenly you are always in pain. Taking the time to get regular massage can help to treat that initial area of discomfort before it gets to that point.
Experts estimate that approximately 90% of dis-ease is stress-related. Working on the stress before it gets to that point can save a lot of pain and a lot of money in the long run.
Here are a few of the great physical benefits that regular massage therapy can have on your body.
Relief from back pain
Or neck pain, or shoulder pain... or really any other kind of musculoskeletal pain. Massage therapy helps to relax tense muscles, and work out adhesions or trigger points or tender points in your muscles.
When the muscle tissue is adhered, it just means that it is kind of stuck together. By loosening it up, and unsticking it, your muscles should be more able to move, increasing your flexibility and range of motion, and decreasing any pain from movement.
Trigger points and tender points are localized points of hypertonicity. These are small spot in your muscles that are tender to the touch. A trigger point is a spot that refers pain to other parts of your body, whereas the pain from a tender point is more localized.
Relief from headache/migraine pain
There are several different types of headaches, each type with it's own sub categories. Each of these types of headaches can be helped by massage therapy.
• Tension headaches are caused by muscle tension. Usually a result of tight muscles in the back, shoulders, neck, head, and/or face, tension headaches range from minor to severe on a pain scale. By pinpointing and relaxing the muscles responsible for the headache, massage can help provide relief from a current headache, or when used prophylactically, can help to reduce the frequency and severity of chronic tension headaches.
• Sinus headaches are a result of increased pressure or swelling of the sinuses. You would generally feel a sinus headache around your nose/cheeks, or in the arches just under your eyebrows. Sinus headaches can also range from minor to severe on a pain scale. A massage therapist can use acupressure and other facial massage techniques to try to decrease the pressure in your sinuses. Some of the massage techniques feel less than pleasant, but have been shown to provide relief.
• A migraine is caused by abnormal brain activity, or a chemical imbalance in your brain. There are at least 13 different kinds of migraines, so we won't go into the specifics of each one. Sometimes a tension or a sinus headache is very bad and people will call it a migraine, however this is often incorrect. Migraines should be diagnosed by a doctor. An acute migraine is severe on a pain scale. What happens in your brain during a migraine is actually very similar to a seizure. You will not want to get a massage during an acute migraine as any movement or touch can be excruciating. So how can massage help? Well, you can see a massage therapist if you feel like one is just starting. Sometimes it can be hard to get an appointment last minute though. For people with chronic migraine issues, regular massage can decrease the frequency and severity of migraine pain. Massage effects your hormone and endorphin levels, which can help to keep your brain chemistry more normal. For severe cases of chronic migraines, I would recommend looking for a massage therapist who specializes in working with headaches or migraines.
Relief from joint pain
There are several different causes of joint pain. Here are some of the most common.
• Sometimes joints hurt because the surrounding muscles are overly tight causing a pulling, or straining on the joint. Sometimes the muscles are loose, allowing for too much movement in the joints. Both of these reasons can be addressed easily through massage by targeting the muscles responsible for the joint pain.
• Osteoarthritis occurs when you use your joints and they begin to break down over time. This is a very common occurrence, and most people will experience it as they age. Massage can be beneficial for this kind of joint pain because it helps to release tight muscles around the joints, and light mobilizations can help keep the joints looser and provide greater range of motion. Massage should not be done if joints are currently acutely inflamed. This means if there is swelling, redness, or heat around the joints.
• Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an auto-immune disorder which has periods of acute inflammation and remission. Massage is beneficial during times of remission, but should not be performed during periods of acute inflammation. Massage can help with RA by helping to relax the soft tissue around the joints and increase mobility. It also helps to calm and relax the person receiving the massage which can aid in limiting the number of flare ups.
Massage can help increase flexibility by relaxing or releasing muscle tension. If muscles are overly tight, it can impede range of motion in joints. By relaxing these tense muscle, the joints should be able to move more freely, thereby increasing range of motion and flexibility. Many massage therapist also use stretches that are designed to help increase flexibility. Make sure to talk to your therapist about your goals and intention for receiving massage. If you let them know that increasing flexibility is one of your goals, they will better be able to help you achieve it.
Exercise for weakened muscles
Massage is great for weakened or atrophied muscles. Some times when we might see this in extreme are with people who are on bed rest, or have suffered an injury that limits their mobility. By stimulating the muscles and mobilizing the joints, a massage therapist can help to strengthen muscles that have been weakened or atrophied. Bed rest and injury are two extremes, however most people have weakened muscles. Muscles that are overly tight or overly loose can become weak. This happens when we have postural imbalances. Working to correct these imbalances through massage and adaptations to regular activities can help to strengthen weakened muscles.
Massage can help to lower blood pressure, and increase circulation as well as relieve many symptoms that go along with it. Many massage techniques can help to push blood back up to the heart, and move any lymphatic fluid that may be pooling and causing swelling. Helping to move blood back to the heart from the extremities can help to decrease pressure in the blood vessels in areas of congestion. Work on the arms and legs are especially beneficial in improving circulation.
Relief from PMS symptoms
Massage can help to alleviate symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) such as cramping, fatigue, and water retention. It can help to promote relaxation which can help with mood swings, depression, and anxiety. It can also be used to help relieve pain from headaches associated with PMS.
Relief from digestive discomfort
Massage is a great way to relieve digestive discomfort. It can help provide relief from symptoms such as gas, constipation, and bloating to name a few. Abdominal massage is great for many symptoms of digestive discomfort, but is contraindicated for some disorders. Make sure to let your therapist know if you have a condition which may require caution.
Scar tissue therapy
Massage is very beneficial for scar tissue, especially when performed by a therapist who is knowledgable about working with it. Massage can be used to help diminish existing scar tissue and discomfort associated with it, however, receiving massage while scar tissue is forming is most beneficial. When your skin is opened, your body tries to repair it quickly by laying down new skin cells as fast as possible. Sometimes, especially with deeper cuts, the new cells are formed kind of haphazardly, which creates a scar. By using scar tissue therapy, we can coax the new skin cells in to a nicer pattern thereby decreasing the appearance and discomfort of a scar. If you are having surgery, or if you have stitches, some light techniques can be applied over bandages to avoid risk of infection.
Boost to the immune system
Massage helps to boost immunity in several ways. It can help by increasing circulation of lymphatic fluid and stimulating digestion, both of which can aid in cleaning toxins from your system. It can also help to decrease anxiety and stress, and improve your mood. When you feel better emotionally, your body is less susceptible to illness.
If you already have a virus such as the flu or a cold, massage can be beneficial in helping you to get it out of your system faster. I wouldn't recommend getting a massage while you are contagious because massage therapists touch people for a living. Other clients may pick up the virus from the therapist, or the massage table/room. Once you are no longer contagious, receiving massage can help boost your immune system and circulation and help you to feel better faster. If you are getting over a virus, you may find that you feel worse after a massage. This is normal, and you will most likely have a day or two where you feel worse, but you should start to feel better sooner than if you hadn't received the massage.
In conclusion, massage is a great way of increasing your physical health and wellbeing. People who receive massage report fewer instances of illness, lowered stress, and feeling better overall. Make sure when you go in for a massage to always disclose any conditions that you may have as well as any discomfort you may be feeling. The more your therapist know about what is going on in your body, the more they can help you feel better.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks for further installations in this series about the benefits of massage. Future topics that will be covered include massage for the mind, and massage during the childbearing years.
Meet the Author
Amanda Tarver, (LMT, CEIM, PES, RMT) is a massage therapist and birth worker in the Chicago area. She is dedicated to using a combination of bodywork and education to help people live a better quality of life.