Massage Therapy

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Defining Massage Therapy

The term "massage therapy" encompasses many different techniques (see box for examples). In general, therapists press, rub, and otherwise manipulate the muscles and other soft tissues of the body. They most often use their hands and fingers, but may use their forearms, elbows, or feet.

Types of Massage Therapy: A Few Examples

In Swedish massage, the therapist uses long strokes, kneading, deep circular movements, vibration, and tapping. Sports massage is similar to Swedish massage, adapted specifically to the needs of athletes. Among the many other examples are deep tissue massage and trigger point massage, which focuses on myofascial trigger points -- muscle "knots" that are painful when pressed and can cause symptoms elsewhere in the body.

The Practice of Massage Therapy

Massage therapists work in a variety of settings, including private offices, hospitals, nursing homes, studios, and sport and fitness facilities. Some also travel to patients' homes or workplaces. They usually try to provide a calm, soothing environment.

Therapists usually ask new patients about symptoms, medical history, and desired results. They may also perform an evaluation through touch, to locate painful or tense areas and determine how much pressure to apply.

Typically, the patient lies on a table, either in loose-fitting clothing or undressed (covered with a sheet, except for the area being massaged). The therapist may use oil or lotion to reduce friction on the skin. Sometimes, people receive massage therapy while sitting in a chair. A massage session may be fairly brief, but may also last an hour or even longer.

Research Status

Although scientific research on massage therapy -- whether it works and, if so, how -- is limited, there is evidence that massage may benefit some patients. Conclusions generally cannot yet be drawn about its effectiveness for specific health conditions.

According to one analysis, however, 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. In addition, recent studies suggest that massage may benefit certain conditions, for example:

A 2008 review of 13 clinical trials found evidence that massage might be useful for chronic low-back pain. Clinical practice guidelines issued in 2007 by the American Pain Society and the American College of Physicians recommend that physicians consider using certain CAM therapies, including massage (as well as acupuncture, chiropractic, progressive relaxation, and yoga), when patients with chronic low-back pain do not respond to conventional treatment.

A multisite study of more than 300 hospice patients with advanced cancer concluded that massage may help to relieve pain and improve mood for these patients. A study of 64 patients with chronic neck pain found that therapeutic massage was more beneficial than a self-care book, in terms of improving function and relieving symptoms. There are numerous theories about how massage therapy may affect the body. For example, the "gate control theory" suggests that massage may provide stimulation that helps to block pain signals sent to the brain. Other theories suggest that massage might stimulate the release of certain chemicals in the body, such as serotonin or endorphins, or cause beneficial mechanical changes in the body. However, additional studies are needed to test the various theories.

THE BENEFITS OF MASSAGE THERAPY

There are tremendous benefits to be achieved through regular massage therapy treatments from a Registered Massage Therapist. Whether your need is to have a moment of relaxation, reduce muscle tension or attain relief from chronic pain, a therapeutic massage can enhance your overall sense of emotional and physical well-being as well as your quality of life. Massage therapy benefits people of all ages. While it benefits the injured, the ill and the stressed, the strength of massage therapy in preventing illness and conditions before they develop cannot be overlooked. Massage therapy can be used in the treatment of both acute and chronic stages of conditions.

The following is a list of conditions for which massage therapy, when provided by a Registered Massage Therapist, can prove beneficial:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Asthma and Emphysema
  • Back, leg, and neck pain
  • Cancer
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (repetitive strain)
  • Chronic Fatigue syndrome
  • Dislocations
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Fractures and edema
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Headaches
  • Inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and bursitis
  • Insomnia
  • Kyphosis and Scoliosis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Muscle tension and spasm
  • Palliative care
  • Post-surgical rehabilitation
  • Pregnancy and labour support
  • Sports injuries
  • Strains and sprains
  • Stress and stress related conditions
  • Stroke
  • Tendinitis
  • Whiplash

Massage Therapy as Part of your Health Maintenance Plan

Therapeutic massage is an important part of your health maintenance plan, by:

  • Reducing or eliminating pain
  • Improving joint mobility
  • Improving circulation
  • Improving immune system functioning
  • Increasing lymphatic drainage
  • Reducing depression and anxiety
  • Reducing tension within muscles
  • Increasing body awareness

Massage therapy benefits people of all ages. While it benefits the injured, the ill and the stressed, the real strength of massage therapy lies in prevention.