Massage therapy is the systematized manipulation of soft tissues for the purpose of normalizing them. Practitioners use a variety of physical methods including applying fixed or movable pressure, holding, or causing movement to the body. Therapists primarily use their hands, but may also use their forearms or elbows.
The basic goal of massage therapy is to help the body heal itself and to increase health and well-being.
Touch is the core ingredient of massage therapy and also combines science and art. Practitioners learn specific techniques for massage and use their sense of touch to determine the right amount of pressure to apply to each person and locate areas of tension and other soft-tissue problems. Touch also conveys a sense of caring, an important component in the healing relationship.
When muscles are overworked, waste products such as lactic acid can accumulate in the muscle, causing soreness, stiffness, and even muscle spasm.
Massage improves circulation, which increases blood flow, bringing fresh oxygen to body tissues. This can assist the elimination of waste products, speed healing after injury, and enhance recovery from disease.
Therapeutic massage can be used to promote general well-being and enhance self-esteem, while boosting the circulatory and immune systems to benefit blood pressure, circulation, muscle tone, digestion, and skin tone. It has been incorporated into many health systems, and different massage techniques have been developed and integrated into various complementary therapies.
Here are some reported benefits of massage:
- Medical school students at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School who were massaged before an exam showed a significant decrease in anxiety and respiratory rates, as well as a significant increase in white blood cells and natural killer cell activity, suggesting a benefit to the immune system.
- Preliminary results suggested cancer patients had less pain and anxiety after receiving therapeutic massage at the James Cancer Hospital and Research Institute in Columbus, Ohio.
- Women who had experienced the recent death of a child were less depressed after receiving therapeutic massage, according to preliminary results of a study at the University of South Carolina.
Studies funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have found massage beneficial in improving weight gain in HIV-exposed infants and facilitating recovery in patients who underwent abdominal surgery. At the University of Miami School of Medicine's Touch Research Institute, researchers have found that massage is helpful in decreasing blood pressure in people with hypertension, alleviating pain in migraine sufferers and improving alertness and performance in office workers.
An increasing number of research studies show massage reduces heart rate, lowers blood pressure, increases blood circulation and lymph flow, relaxes muscles, improves range of motion, and increases endorphins (enhancing medical treatment). Although therapeutic massage does not increase muscle strength, it can stimulate weak, inactive muscles and, thus, partially compensate for the lack of exercise and inactivity resulting from illness or injury. It also can hasten and lead to a more complete recovery from exercise or injury.
Research has verified that:
- Office workers massaged regularly were more alert, performed better and were less stressed than those who weren't massaged.
- Massage therapy decreased the effects of anxiety, tension, depression, pain, and itching in burn patients.
- Abdominal surgery patients recovered more quickly after massage.
- Premature infants who were massaged gained more weight and fared better than those who weren't.
- Autistic children showed less erratic behavior after massage therapy.