By: Amanda King
Do you think of getting a massage as a guilty indulgence? Maybe you get a gift certificate to the spa for mother’s day, and feel like you’re doing something naughty. The truth is, getting a massage is more than just a special treat. The Chinese have been using massage therapy as medicine for thousands of years, and recently, proponents of Western medicine are realizing that there is more to massage than we once thought. While everyone knows that getting a massage feels good, few are aware of the numerous associated health benefits.
Health benefits of massage therapyRelaxation – probably the most commonly recognized health benefit of massage. Studies show that massage helps to relieve anxiety and stress. It lowers levels of cortisol, a hormone related to stress that can be responsible for an increase in blood sugar, suppression of the immune system, and weight gain. Massage has also been shown to increase neurotransmitters that reduce depression.
Back pain – Studies show that massage can relieve back pain and reduces the need for narcotic pain relievers by as much as 36 percent.
Headache – When you have a headache, the source of the pain usually originates in the muscles of the neck or shoulders and can be alleviated by massage. Massage has also been shown to reduce the frequency of migraines in sufferers.
Cancer – Massage can help to reduce problematic cancer symptoms, such as pain, stiffness, swelling, fatigue and nausea. It also helps to improve mood and quality of life for cancer sufferers, reducing depression and anxiety over the illness.
Blood pressure control – A study out of the University of South Florida followed people with high blood pressure, determining that hypertension patients who received massage therapy over a three week period showed significant improvements in blood pressure level. This improvement is probably due to stimulation of the action of the vagus nerve, which is a nerve that connects directly to the brain and is responsible for regulating blood pressure.
Immunity boost – The hormone cortisol actually kills cells that are important for healthy immune function, which is why chronically stressed out people get sick more often than their relaxed peers. Massage reduces cortisol by as much as 50 percent, which can ward off colds and other illness.
Reduction of inflammation and osteoarthritis – A recent gene study confirmed that massage reduces inflammation and prompts growth of new mitochondria in skeletal muscle. Athletes have long testified to the feel-good properties of receiving a massage after strenuous activity, and now there is scientific evidence to give credence to their claims. Simon Melov, PhD, who was responsible for analyzing the samples from study participants said, “Our research showed that massage dampened the expression of inflammatory cytokines in the muscle cells and promoted biogenesis of mitochondria, which are the energy-producing units in the cells.” He also added that the pain relief experienced via massage was scientifically similar to using anti-inflammatory drugs.
Infants can benefit from massage, too. Adults aren’t the only people who find relief at the hands of a masseuse. Infant massage can help your baby sleep better, reduce fussiness and alleviate colic and constipation. Like in adults, it also can boost a baby’s immunity, keeping them from getting sick at an important juncture in development. Tiffany Field, PhD and director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine explained in Parents Magazine, “When you give your baby a massage, you’re actually stimulating her central nervous system. It makes her brain produce more serotonin, a feel good chemical, and less cortisol…. As a result, your baby’s heart rate and breathing slow down, and she becomes more relaxed. “
The research seems to favor all types of massage evenly, so no matter whether you’re treating yourself to a Swedish, Shiatsu or deep tissue massage, you’re sure to reap countless health benefits and help yourself on your way to a happier, more relaxed and pain free life. You also now have several reasons to incorporate massage into your life on a basis more regular than every mother’s day!