VIDEO Massage: Research Now Shows the Benefits are Deeper, Wider Than We Knew
From anxiety and depression to pain, chronic illness and high blood pressure: Touch helps
Helen Silvis of The Skanner News
May 18, 2011Imagine a therapy that could reduce pain, lower blood pressure, boost immune function, dispel anxiety, reduce depression, and help us heal from accidents, injuries and even some long-term illnesses.
What if this miracle treatment was also inexpensive, widely available and left you feeling amazing?
Yes, this sounds too good to be true. But as it turns out this wonder therapy is not a myth: It’s the ancient, yet humble practice of massage.
“It’s almost like there’s a lack of awareness about the true therapeutic value of massage,” says Monique Harris, (pictured above) a licensed massage practitioner based in Vancouver, Wash. “People don’t see they could actually feel a whole lot better than they feel right now.
“It’s easy to take a pill, but it’s better to address the underlying reasons for pain.” The Skanner News Video
Research from the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami’s School of Medicine is confirming what people around the world have believed for years about massage; touch therapies can significantly decrease pain from surgery, injury, fibromyalgia, headaches and more.
Several studies of back pain, for example, showed relief from massage. One study, for example, that looked at 40 patients with herniated lumbar discs, found 63 percent reported reduction in pain after three treatments.
The research has found benefits from all kinds of massage. Trigger point, Swedish, deep tissue, shiatsu, Lomi Lomi -- it doesn’t seem to matter. It’s the healing touch that counts.
“It’s so simple, yet so powerful.” says Harris, who sees many people after accidents or sports injuries. “I really enjoy being able to give that direct care to my clients. And it is very satisfying to see them get results over time.”
Science catches up with tradition
The laying on of hands as a way to call forth healing has roots in various religious, spiritual and mystical traditions. Touch therapy also has less than spiritual associations with sex workers, who sometimes advertise their services as massage. This could explain why, until recently, science has largely ignored massage.
PHOTO: By Ryan Harvey of a frieze at Wat Pho temple in Thailand showing acupressure points. The temple was built in 1788 as a recreation of an earlier temple.
We tend to think of massage as something dancers and athletes use, or as something of an indulgence, Harris says. “It can be all those things, but it also has very practical uses for all of us. Massage is known to lower blood pressure and increase circulation. It can improve feelings of wellbeing, and it also can increase the range of motion in an injured area. “
The National Institutes of Health, on its complementary medicine website, says that while more scientific studies are needed, “Research supports the general conclusion that massage therapy is effective. The studies included in the analysis suggest that a single session of massage therapy can reduce ‘state anxiety’ (a reaction to a particular situation), blood pressure, and heart rate, and multiple sessions can reduce ‘trait anxiety’ (general anxiety-proneness), depression, and pain.”
Infant development specialist Tiffany Field, Ph.D., founded the Touch Research Institute in 1992 after finding massage seemed to help underweight, pre-term babies gain weight. Since then, studies on infants have found between 21 percent to 47 percent greater weight gain for babies who received massage.
One study found low-weight newborns who received massage were discharged six days earlier than a comparison group, saving medical costs of $6,000 per baby.
Emerging studies at the institute suggest massage may offer significant health benefits to many people including: kindergartners, children with sickle cell anemia, autistic children, depressed adults, pregnant women, people suffering from multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain or even terminal cancer.
Kendra Fink, a massage therapist practicing in Portland and Beaverton, says she sees massage as a way to minimize the impact of stress and strain on our bodies. Most of us abuse our bodies in some way, she says, whether it’s by overusing certain muscles or from poor posture.
“Massage supports the body’s own healing,” Fink says. “When I do a full treatment, I work on the underlying patterns that cause pain. I can help restore firmness and elasticity to overstretched tissues and help relax those rigid, tight areas. That alone can restore movement and flexibility. And a trained massage practitioner can show you exercises to help you change those bad habits and improve your posture.
“I see massage as a way to slow down aging a bit,” Fink says. “You can’t stop aging, but you can reverse some of the toll that living your life inflicts on your body.”
Harris agrees that small changes can make a big difference.
“A lot of times what we need to change is really simple,” she says. “We’re overusing our body in some way. People get used to working in the wrong position so they are constantly irritating themselves. So you might need to retrain your body or adjust your workspace to prevent problems.”
What to Expect when You Get a Massage
Before scheduling, make sure to find a properly trained and licensed massage therapist. In Oregon that will be a Licensed Massage Therapist. In Washington the title is Licensed Massage Practitioner.
-- Why do I have to complete a health questionnaire?
“I always take a health history,” Harris says. “Because I need to understand the health problems people are coming in with. And I ask people what they are looking for in a session. Do they have pain? Where do they want me to focus? Also there are a few conditions where massage is not a good idea – skin inflammations, for example.”
-- So how far down do I have to undress?
Some massage clients are comfortable stripping off completely; others may want to keep underwear on. Whatever your preference, your massage therapist will use draped sheets to protect your modesty –and theirs.
-- Do I have to make conversation?
No, but you can talk if you need to do that to feel comfortable. Your massage practitioner will explain what they plan to do and encourage you to breathe deeply and relax. Some practitioners use music as an aid to relaxation.
“The whole point of massage is just to get as comfortable as you can and relax,” Fink says. “That’s part of how massage helps us. Once we relax a little, we let go of the stress and tension that causes pain.”
-- How long will it last?
Sessions vary in length from about 30 minutes to above 2 hours. Your therapist should tell you what they recommend and take charge of timekeeping for you.
-- Will one visit help?
One visit can ease tense muscles, help you relax, and leave you feeling better. Your therapist may suggest a series of sessions to deal with long-term patterns of stress or pain.
-- What’s the biggest misconception about massage?
Probably the biggest mistake people make is thinking that massage is more of an optional extra than a frontline healing treatment. Of course, anyone with a serious illness or injury needs to seek medical advice from a doctor, but the new research is confirming that massage can help the body mend from a wide range of ailments.
Monique Harris LMP, licensed in Washington, works with two chiropractors: Dr. Robert Braswell of Fisher’s Landing Chiropractic Clinic (360-53-9482) and Dr. Michael Pettet of Back and Neck Chiropractic Care (360-253-6674).
Kendra Fink LMT, licensed in Oregon, runs her massage practice at 833 SE Main St. Portland. (503-388-8803) She’s also part of the team at Rebound Massage Therapy in Beaverton.