“Soothing touch, whether it be applied to a ruffled cat, a crying infant, or a frightened child, has a universally recognized power to ameliorate the signs of distress. How can it be that we overlook its usefulness on the jangled adult as well? What is it that leads us to assume that the stressed child merely needs “comforting,” while the stressed adult needs “medicine”?” — from Job’s Body: A Handbook for Bodywork by Deane Juhan
Right now, maybe you are that jangled adult hunched over a computer, who could derive immense and immediate benefits from a great massage. If you think that massages are just a form of frou-frou pampering, think again. Massage has been linked to such an array of substantial and scientifically researched health benefits that The American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society officially recommend massage as a part of a treatment for lower back pain. It may seem obvious that massage would reduce and soothe aches and pains, however as a therapy, its benefits are more far-reaching and profound than simple physiological improvements in the body. A large body of scientific research not only points to the tangible benefits of massage, but also uncovers the underpinnings of the therapeutic practice.
In a fascinating small study done with just 11 participants at the Mc Master University, researchers discovered that massage aids muscle healing by activating compounds that calmed inflammation and promoted the growth of new mitochondria. In the study, 11 young men who pushed themselves to exhaustion on exercise bikes received 10-minute massages after exercising. Their leg muscles were biopsied prior to exercise, soon after the massage and 2.5 hours after the massage. The researchers found that just 10 minutes of massage had reduced signs of inflammation in a mechanism similar to pain medications. In addition, massaged muscles showed new mitochondrial growth. Mitochondria are often referred to as the powerhouses of our cells. They generate chemical energy in our cells and have them working in an optimal manner. More mitochondria translate to more energy. The new mitochondrial growth detected in the cells of the massaged muscles of the participants, further promoted quicker recovery from the exercise related muscle wear and tear.
Emerging evidence suggests that massage can make contributions to healing in avenues where conventional medicine doesn’t have all the answers. Dr. Claudio Milstein, a voice specialist at the Cleveland Clinic Head and Neck Institute treats functional dysphonia, a condition in which the muscles that control the vocal cord contract, tighten and lock and the patient loses his/her voice, with something as simple as a throat, neck and shoulder massage. A 2010 story in NPR reported the case of a mom, suffering from functional dysphonia, who got her voice back after Milstein did seven minutes of massage on her that carefully focused on loosening the muscles on her voice box! Earlier, CT Scans, an MRI and other conventional treatments had not resulted in any relief for the patient.
Other Studies point to a Wide Range of Benefits
Several studies have linked massage with various physical and mental benefits. There are too many to list, but here are a few significant ones. Massage therapy has been found to boost immune function in women with breast cancer, lower blood pressure in women with hypertension, reduce anxiety in patients who are about to have surgery, improve lung function in children with asthma and strengthen grip in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome. And on the tiniest of all patients, premature babies, massages have helped with the all- important task of gaining weight. The perfect double blind study in a population that is devoid of any sort of bias!
Yesterday, I had an extraordinary massage. After writing down standard and somewhat vague answers to standard and somewhat vague questions, on the intake form, in the waiting room, I entered the therapy room that felt tranquil and safe. I lay down on my (new)massage therapist’s table not knowing what to expect.
Five minutes into the session, I knew that I was in the hands of a savant. My massage therapist and I had entered into a somatic and emotional space where there was little room for words. The standard and somewhat vague words on that form did not matter. My body told her a story and she responded with a knead, a roll or a push. On one level, the massage was about tense knots and soft tissue, but on another, it was far deeper than the physical.
I learned that the muscles in my shoulders and upper back were tense, tight and contracted. I also learned that I hold sadness and grief in my shoulders. After sixty minutes of massage, where my therapist worked primarily on my shoulders, I felt such pure, deep, unbridled joy and gratitude that I could have cartwheeled my way home. The sixty minutes brought back intensity of emotions that were seemingly lost to me in the last few years.
My story is yet another instance of the therapeutic potential of massage. Whether it is Deep Tissue, Swedish, Ayurvedic, Chinese or just a quick 10 minute chair massage at your pharmacy, make time for this safe, non-pharmacological, relatively inexpensive self care practice. Your mind, body and soul will thank you for this health edit.
- Massage School Notes; Massage Quotes
- NPR; With a Quick Massage, a Voice Returns
- WSJ; Don’t Call it Pampering, Massage Wants to be Medicine
- National Institute of Health; Massage
- International Journal of Preventive Medicine; Durability of Effect of Massage Therapy on Blood Pressure
- Image Credit; freedigitalphotos.net