From the time we're children, we instinctively know the healing power of touch. Crying babies respond to being held and stroked. A toddler's upset stomach can be soothed by a quiet tummy rub, and a parent's kiss makes that bruised knee or elbow all better.
As adults, though, many of us are "touch-deficient" -- we spend long hours without any physical contact, adding to the stress and isolation of everyday living. When we do make time for a massage, it's often for simple relaxation and much-needed stress relief. But studies show that massage therapy has much greater benefits, including chronic pain relief and boosting immune systems.
How Does Massage Relieve Pain?
Massage for chronic pain relief helps minimize physical pain and alleviates the stress and anxiety associated with it. It increases blood flow to stiff, sore joints and muscles, warming them through extra circulation. Researchers have found massage therapy reduces stress on a cellular level, decreases inflammation, and increases mitochondrial biogenesis in study participants. Mitochondria exist within cells, provide energy and respiration, and contribute to the healing of cellular injuries. Studies show that massage triggers the release of natural painkillers (called opioids) in the brain, while also stimulating the flow of oxytocin, a hormone that relaxes muscles and promotes feelings of calm and contentment.
Four Significant Benefits of Massage Therapy
- Treat Lower Back Pain. A Cochrane review of 13 clinical trials on massage therapy for lower back pain found that massage may be beneficial for patients with acute and/or chronic low-back pain. Whether a lumbar spine issue, herniated disk, or some other cause, the muscles of the back tighten as a way to protect the injured area — causing even more pain. Deep tissue massage, especially Swedish massage accompanied by trigger point therapy, loosens the pain points and seems to offer the best relief.
- Reduce Fibromyalgia Pain. Numerous studies have demonstrated the positive effects of massage therapy on fibromyalgia sufferers. One report from Sweden showed that participants who received massage therapy felt less pain up to six months after treatment, easing depression and reducing dependence on pain medicine. Other research found that massage improved fibromyalgia patients’ moods, with members sleeping for longer periods and with more restful sleep, thus improving their moods.
- Enhances Cancer Treatments. Hospital studies in the U.S. and abroad found that cancer patients derive a variety of benefits from massage therapy, including reduced pain and depression both from treatments and from the cancer itself. A Memorial Sloan-Kettering research group found that massage reduced symptoms such as anxiety, nausea, and pain by about 50 percent.
- Helps Regulate Hormones and Control Diabetes. Massage therapy for diabetes is not new -- it has been recommended for diabetics for over 100 years -- but it and other alternative therapies are becoming more common. Besides the obvious relaxation and anti-anxiety benefits, various studies have found that regular massage decreases nerve damage (neuropathy), allowing sufferers to become more active and improve their overall health. Massage also appears to increase activity of the vagus nerve, 1 of 10 cranial nerves, that affects the secretion of food-absorption hormones. This can help to balance insulin requirements and lower inflammation caused by hormonal imbalances.
How Often Should You Get a Massage?
One question we're often asked is how often should someone get a massage to reap the maximum benefit? There's no single answer to this -- It’s different for everyone. What we do know (and what numerous studies confirm) is you’ll get better results if you are on a regular schedule — whether it’s monthly, weekly, or some other formula that works for you. Research shows that a 30 - 60 minute massage a few times a week has tremendous benefit in alleviating chronic pain. This frequency can give you an initial boost in symptom relief, then you can reduce sessions to a maintenance level.
Discuss massage work with your doctor, then work out a treatment plan to meet your specific needs with one of our experienced massage therapists. Many insurance plans now cover massage therapy. Whatever you decide, we're here to support you in whatever you need to feel your best.