Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Massage Therapy – So Much for So Little

Do you remember what it felt to be young? Muscles that weren't sore but that were strong and flexible, joints that didn't ache, headaches that never were and an energy supply that seemed endless. Sleep came easy. You were pain free and full with life. You were alive! Would you like to feel that way again?

Massage therapy can help you restore the youthful sense of vitality that you used to possess. Massage is a word that brings up a variety of feelings to different people. To some a smile comes across their face at the sound of the word as memories of ooh … and ahh… softly fall from their lips when their body begins to remember past experiences of total relaxation. To others it brings up uneasiness. They are uncomfortable with being touched by another in such a close and intimate space. And to others, well they are just neutral and have no opinion or experience one way or the other. All these feelings are right and true for the person who is feeling them. I believe, however, that these perceptions are changing.

In 2005, 47 million Americans received a massage. The primary reason was for relaxation, stress relief or medical reasons. And last year 2 million more Americans received a massage than the year before. According to a study at Stanford University, 70% of Americans use some type of alternative therapy. With more and more people using massage therapy there must be some reason. It is a well known fact that people are becoming dissatisfied with the biochemical based approach of western medicine, and they are seeking a more holistic and integrated approach to health and well-being. There must be another way.

Massage Therapy has been at the forefront of the alternative/complimentary medicine movement. Although the numbers vary depending on what is included in the definition, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) reports that between $36 and $47 billion was spent on Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) in 1997. And Massage Therapy was one of the top 10 alternative therapies used by consumers. Today there are literally hundreds of studies that confirm the benefits of massage therapy. Most studies encompass a relatively short period of time (months) and focus on stress reduction and pain management for a variety of ailments. To my knowledge the studies have always shown a statistically significant benefit to receiving massage therapy.

What are some of these proven benefits? Massage provides relief to people of all ages—from infants to seniors—and from all walks of life—the weekend warrior or tri athlete, the stay at home parent or the overstressed, overworked executive.

Massage is a drug-free, non-invasive way to facilitate the body's own natural healing process. Massage is effective for a variety of health conditions especially with those that have a stress-related origin. And this is so important to your well-being because the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that up to 90 percent of the doctor visits in the USA may be triggered by a stress-related illness.

Research indicates that massage can help with back pain, headaches, stress, anxiety, fatigue, high blood pressure, depression, treating cancer-related fatigue, sleep disorders, diabetes, immune system suppression, low energy, autism, muscle stiffness, scar tissue, limited joint movement, poor concentration, premature infant growth and awareness, surgical recovery times, arthritis pain, fibromyalgia, age-related disorders, infertility, eating disorders and smoking cessation to name just a few. How can something as simple as touch help so much? The reasons are because massage:
· Relaxes.
· Softens tense, injured and overused muscles.
· Increases circulation enhancing the flow of oxygen and nutrients throughout the body.
· Stimulates the immune system.
· Relieves muscle pain including headaches.
· Enhances the removal of waste products from the body.
· Reducing spasms and cramping.
· Increasing joint flexibility.
· Reduces workout recovery time.
· Releases endorphins, the body's natural painkiller.
· Reduces swelling.
· Exercises atrophied muscles.
· Restores postural distortions.

These are wonderful benefits. As you can see having a massage does more than just relax your body and mind - there are specific physiological and psychological changes which occur, even more so when massage is utilized as a preventative, frequent therapy and not simply as a mere luxury. Massage not only feels good, but it can cure what ails you. It is no wonder the numbers of people who receive massage is growing year after year.

But what makes massage so unique when compared to other healing modalities is something that is so lacking in today's world: touch. As mentioned above massage has been shown to help premature babies gain weight faster and shorten hospital stays than for babies who are not touched. So how do we explain this affect? Is it some new physiological benefit that we cannot as yet explain or is it evidence of what compassionate touch can do on a deeper emotional/spiritual level?

Many adults have reported deep healing experiences on the massage table. While the therapist unwinds stressed and tired muscles, pent-up emotions that don't always have time to be processed during the day can become unwound as well. And just being touched can be healing as it gives us a feeling of being connected to something larger than ourselves especially if the touch is safe, caring and compassionate. Studies continue to be done on the benefits of massage and the power of touch. So who knows what the research will show.

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