Many people love a good massage, but it is usually thought of passingly as a way to relax. A luxury at the end of a hard day.
Ask someone to define it, and they will probably say something like, “Applying pressure to targeted body areas to aid in relaxation.” Okay, so maybe they won’t sound so technical, but if they could tap into their inner clinician, that is probably how it would come out.
Massage therapy is a different animal. It is different because it is more deliberate in what it seeks to help. A number of patients have incorporated it into their lives the same they would a supplement or medication. That’s because it makes them feel good.
But massage therapy can take different forms and serve a variety of purposes. In the following article, we will touch on some of the most popular forms and delve into the 22 benefits that make it a must for millions of people across the US and abroad.
Lastly, we will be talking about some of the potential risk factors and dangers of massage therapy that can affect a small subset of the population.
Now, crack those knuckles, and let’s begin!
Popular Types of Massage
The following does not intend to be an exhaustive list of all the types of massage therapy out there. It’s just to give you a primer on the most likely forms if you hope to pursue it for physical or mental gain.
There are four we will be discussing. They are:
Deep Tissue Massage
Sonya S. Bykofsky, BCTMB, of Massachusetts-based A Touching Experience Integrative Bodywork Services tells Massage Magazine that deep tissue is “a specific type of massage that works on the deep layers of muscle and fascia,” explaining through fried chicken how the relationship between the two works. “the fried outer layer is the skin, the meat is the muscle, and the shiny stuff you see covering the meat is the fascia.”
Hopefully thinking about yourself like a piece of Colonel’s Crispy doesn’t make you lose your lunch. But we thought it a good illustration to share here.
This form of massage therapy is, by far, the most widely-mentioned. It consists of “rubbing the muscles with long gliding strokes in the direction of blood returning to the heart,” notes Massage Envy. Relaxation is one of this form’s main goals.
Trigger Point Massage
Pain throughout the body can usually be linked to a tightness in muscles linked to that particular area. Think back tightness and neck pain. Enter trigger point massage. This popular form of massage therapy would work to find that trigger point to relieve both the source and “referral pain.”
You don’t necessarily have to be competing in sports to enjoy the benefits of sports therapy. Unlike trigger point, it ” is a type of massage technique that focuses on treating soft tissue aches, pain, and injuries that are associated with recreational activities,” notes California-based Elements Massage.
Each of these forms of massage can be broken down further depending on tools used (or lack thereof) and improvisation by the practitioner. Professionals will have a firm understanding of the muscle groups and your overall anatomy.
They’ll also listen to you and your body for direction in the application of pressure and the time to spend on each target area.
Prices will vary depending on the practitioner’s experience, training, and what the market in your area will allow. With that established, we’ll now move onto the specific benefits that millions of Americans — and even more across the world — are reporting.
The 22 Benefits of Massage Therapy
We said millions of Americans. Let’s put that into a little bit more perspective. One statistic cites more than 15.4 million US adults or 6.9 percent of the population as using massage therapy. If you applied the ratio to the current population of 7.442 billion, that would work out to around 513 million.
A large number, but still room to grow — and when you look at how versatile it is in addressing physical and mental health, you’ll wonder why the number is so small. Here is a heavy-duty list.
You may be able to think of a few more on your own, but this hits a lot of the bases. Massage therapy…
1. Relaxes the Body and Muscle Groups
According to the Library of Congress, there are differing estimates about muscles in the body. Some peg the number at 650 while others go as high as 840. In any sense, there are more than 600.
While they can help us function better as people, they can also cause a great deal of trouble throughout the body (think trigger point massage for referral pain).
Most forms of massage therapy work to relax muscles and muscle groups. This, in turn, relieves pressure on bones and joints for a full-body relaxation experience.
Relaxation can help with a number of ailments, from minor to severe. We’ll be getting into several of these in the next sections.
2. Reduces Stress and Anxiety
According to the American Institute of Stress, physical symptoms of stress are present in 77 percent of the population while psychological symptoms regularly experience psychological symptoms.
About half the population feels like their stress is getting worse, and a third of the country feel they’re in the “extreme” category.
It’s easy to see how, with numbers like those, we make rather unhealthy decisions. It manifests in drug and alcohol abuse, overeating, lack of sleep, and a variety of other ways.
By relieving stress in the muscles, you can relieve psychological stress. This inevitably ends up producing physical benefits.
3. Helps to Lower Blood Pressure
One such physical benefit is the lowering of blood pressure. High blood pressure is a problem that affects around 103 million people or nearly one-third of the people in the US.
While massage therapy is not going to “cure” high blood pressure, it can relieve the symptoms that cause the condition to worsen and pose greater health risks.
Additionally, regular massage therapy can help you with relaxation techniques that you can perform on your own to reduce HBP and overall stress levels as they arise throughout the day or week.
4. Assists in Improving Circulation
Improved circulation normalizes the nervous system. This can aid diabetic patients as well as sufferers from other conditions in which poor circulation is key.
The importance of circulation cannot be overlooked. If your body can’t do it, it can put your life at risk or lead to a loss in your ability to use extremities, which can put you in danger of amputation.
5. Establishes Better Posturing
One of the most common praises that you will hear from people who regularly have massage therapy is that it helps relieve stress and pain, which, in turn, aids with flexibility and eases debilitating pains, particularly those caused or exacerbated by poor posturing.
We’re a country — no, a world — of people who stare down at our phones all day, slump in our chairs and forget to stay active amid our increasingly sedentary lifestyles.
Massage therapy serves as a reminder that, when threatened with these activities, it’s important to get back to a strong, upright posture.
6. Aids in Strengthening the Immune System
How can someone rubbing on your muscles and soft tissues do anything about a viral or bacterial infection? Quite simple. A massage therapy session from someone who knows what they’re doing will boost the activity level of your white blood cells.
White blood cells, you may remember from science class, are produced to help the body fight off infections. While one session may not prevent an unexpected illness from occurring, it can certainly put your body in the position to respond to the attack.
7. Provides Relief for Post-Operation Pains
Many people who have recently had surgery find a benefit to massage therapy as it can ease swelling and tension around affected areas. Given that parts of your body that went through surgery are still tender, trigger point massage can be particularly effective here.
8. Helps Manage Chronic Pains of the Lower Back and Neck
Another good one for trigger point to help address. For people who experience chronic lower back and neck pain, massage therapy is effective, largely because how closely the two are connected by muscle tissue.
The American Chiropractic Association estimates that over 30 million people in the US experience lower back pain alone, and this can lead to further pains throughout the skeletal system (and related muscles).
9. Assists with Easing Fibromyalgia Pain
Fibromyalgia affects millions of people as well and especially targets women with symptoms that include fatigue, chronic muscle pain, sleep disorders, and painful trigger points throughout the body.
Massage therapy helps with stress management, which plays out through an easing of fibromyalgia symptoms.
10. Enhances Exercise Performance
Thus far, we have spent a lot of time discussing ailments. But massage therapy has an ancillary effect on the quality of your exercise. It stands to reason. If you are freeing your muscles and joints from pains, then your body is going to feel up for increasing workout load.
Increased activity levels will condition you to do more and more, and that can have a beneficial effect on weight loss, heart health, and a variety of other factors.
11. Relieves Headaches and Migraine Frequency
Tension is tension, wherever it occurs. That’s why when applying gentle massage therapy techniques to the cheekbones, forehead, or back of the skull, it can help eliminate the effects of a headache.
While you’ll want to see a specialist for frequent headaches, especially where the very painful migraines are concerned, the chances are pretty high that massage therapy will be recommended in the treatment regimen.
12. Improves Length and Quality of Sleep and Could Help in the Fight Against Sleep Disorders
Sleep helps the body deal with stress, grow, and recharge at the end of a long day. When your sleep quality declines, your health declines. Many Americans deal with both diagnosed and undiagnosed sleep conditions. Others simply don’t go to bed early enough, and their patterns are all off.
In either case, the relaxation benefit of massage therapy can help one prepare for bed easier, thus speeding up the time it takes to fall asleep once the lights are out and your head hits the pillow.
13. Fights Symptoms of Depression
Stress and anxiety are temporary psychological conditions. They can come and go. Depression, on the other hand, is an ailment that’s hard to escape as it desensitizes and dulls one’s ability to process emotions.
While most people claim to have been depressed at some point in their lives, a smaller but still significant subset has clinically diagnosed conditions, which require one or more treatment options.
While drugs like citalopram are “go-tos” on the pharmaceutical side, massage therapy can help cope with symptoms that occur, particularly that “world’s closing in” feeling that follows a depressed person around like an albatross.
If you do suffer from depression, don’t dismiss it. It can bore into your psyche and lead to you doing things to yourself or to others that you would never think possible in your natural state.
14. Betters Your Cardiovascular Health
Blood pressure and circulation are two of the biggest factors for improving your heart health. Massage therapy cannot make you eat right, thus avoiding the LDL (bad cholesterol) buildup, but it can provide a healthy supply of blood and a strong flow, thus flushing that stuff out of your arteries as much as possible.
Add to that a “normal” BP, and there’s ample reason to do it if you’re one of the 735,000 people who suffer a heart attack each year.
15. Reduces Pains Associated with Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Massage therapy — even self-administered — can be useful in two ways to sufferers of arthritis. Daily or frequent administration can help relieve the pain and stiffness caused around joints by these two conditions. Additionally, the sleep factor — see no. 12 — can reduce inflammation and ease symptoms.
16. Provides Support for Cancer Patients
Cancer patients face the double-threat of a potentially life-threatening disease and a go-to treatment method that often leaves one feeling sicker than the disease itself. We’re talking, of course, about chemotherapy.
With chemo, you’re essentially shooting poison into your body in hopes of killing a disease whose ultimate effects are worse and more final. Massage therapy isn’t going to cure anyone of their cancer, but it can provide a better quality-of-life, which is a big part of getting through the treatments.
17. Improves Balance in the Elderly
Balance issues in the elderly are far deadlier than they may sound on the surface. That’s because bone breaks and joint replacements become more common as one gets older.
When movement is impaired in such a manner and the body is in a breaking-down mode, it’s easy for health to spiral out of control. This leads to more severe health conditions.
It’s not uncommon for families to say “the beginning of the end” for their elderly loved ones was due to a slip or fall. Massage therapy can help the elderly hold onto their balance for longer and avoid those potentially life-threatening spills.
18. Tempers the Effects of Dementia
Dementia can cause frustration and confusion in the patients that it affects. Anything to tamp down these feelings will ease the effects of dementia, putting the patient more at ease with his surroundings.
19. Eases Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Since even manufacturers today are using computers more and more, the Carpal Tunnel Syndrome epidemic is upon us. Luckily, there isn’t anything life-threatening about it, but it can get in the way of us feeling comfortable enough to do our jobs.
So what should happen when the tingling and numbness of CTS set in? A simple self-massage can help enormously. Just apply minimal pressure to the muscles in four key areas — wrist, shoulder, arm, and hand.
Start at the shoulder and move toward the hand. Ease up on the pressure. You don’t want to go at it with the same enthusiasm as deep tissue massage as the bones in your arm are more sensitive. This is especially true the closer you get to the carpal tunnel itself.
20. Addresses Joint Replacement Pain
Joint replacement pain should be done with light pressure, and you may want to wait about six months before doing your first session. That said, it can provide a great deal of comfort as you work to get used to your new hip or ankle replacement.
21. Enhances the Range of Motion
Another contributor to bone issues in the elderly and individuals with chronic conditions is the range of motion (i.e., your ability to rotate your limbs around joints). You lose the ability for basic movement, and you go downhill quickly.
The more you can use your body, the better the quality of life. Light massage therapy can help you work out any of the joint rust you’re feeling.
22. Improves the Quality of Life During Hospice Care
The final benefit is one of the most somber, but it’s no less important. When patients go into hospice care, they’ve got way more days behind them than ahead of them. Hospice is there to give the dying person a dignified and comforting environment in which to go.
Massage therapy services can ease any of the remaining symptoms until the body is ready to expire. This not only provides a great deal of comfort to the patient but also to their families.
Risk Groups and Side Effects
The medical and alternative health communities widely embrace the effectiveness of massage therapy, though there are differing views on the extent that it helps.
That said, even great treatment options like this have precautions and risks you need to be aware of. Here are a few.
- People who have suffered fractures: bone breaks are too tender to benefit from massage therapy, and in these cases, it can do a lot more harm than good. Allow the body to heal adequately before considering it.
- People on blood thinners and/or who suffer from bleeding disorders: massage therapy increases circulation — a good thing normally, but it can pose problems for anemics and other blood conditions.
- Burn patients or those in the stages of wound healing: again, the body needs a chance to heal itself. Once it has, massage therapy can help by improving circulation around the injury.
- People with deep vein thrombosis: this condition involves a blood clot tucked away in a deep vein. Breaking it loose through massage therapy could cause the clot to travel to the heart and disrupt circulation. This is a condition that often proves fatal.
- Those suffering from severe thrombocytopenia: low platelets; dangerous due to the excessive bleeding issue (see above).
- Others with severe osteoporosis: this condition is characterized by very weak bones that break easily. Once you have it, massage therapy should be avoided altogether.
Consider each of these conditions before pursuing massage therapy, and as per usual, consult your physician with any questions that you may have.
Massage Therapy Improves Your Quality of Life
If you are convinced that massage therapy may have a beneficial effect on your mood, body, muscles, or bone, then you should look up a professional in your area.
Look for adequate certification and training. Don’t trust your body to just anyone, and check with your insurance company to see if it might be covered.
Also, do your research and make sure that you have found a style that works for your condition and preferences. Now, what say you, readers?
Have you used massage therapy for any reason, condition, or ailment? What has your experience been like? Sound off in the comments section!