Often times my patients complain of muscle aches and pains and ask me what kind of pain relievers they can take for them. Before I recommend drugs, I suggest something usually just as effective – massage. That’s right. In fact, massage is so effective in helping relieve chronic muscle aches and pains, headaches, pinched nerves, etc, that it’s now considered bona fide medical treatment offered by clinics and hospitals. Before you reach for those painkillers, read what I advise my own patients about the benefits of massage.
The Benefits of Massage
Massage has been used for centuries in many cultures around the world. In fact, the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, defined medicine as “the art of rubbing”. Even though in the past decade, massage has been considered more a “new age” alternative or complementary medicine technique, it has been, more and more, incorporated into traditional medical treatment for certain conditions.
In fact, recent research out of the Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle, Washington found in their studies that massage works just as well as chiropractic treatments and acupuncture. Here are some reasons why massage works so well:
- Reduces stress hormone cortisol – reduces anxiety and depression, boosts the immune system’s “natural killer” T-cells which fight viruses and bacteria.
- Reduces blood pressure and slows heart rate
- Boosts “feel good” hormones serotonin and dopamine in the brain
- Blocks nervous system pain receptors
- Increases blood flow to muscles which helps heal tiny tears that cause pain and stiffness
In fact, doctors have prescribed regular massage more often than painkillers in relieving chronic aches and pains of trigger points in fibromyalgia. Research has shown that 80% of muscle pain comes from soft tissue injuries and 74% from trigger points, like those in fibromyalgia, and massage greatly releases trigger point symptoms. Massage is also frequently used in the delivery room to help relieve the pain of muscular cramping during childbirth labor.
For my patients who have trouble falling asleep, I also recommend massage as it can have long lasting relaxation effects. The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine has also found that massage works to relieve insomnia by increasing delta waves that help you fall asleep. As well, their studies also revealed that a 15-minute massage boosts attention levels afterward by stimulating brain-wave activity.
Cancer patients also find relief with massage as it relieves stress, muscle cramps and pain that may occur with chemotherapy and radiation. It is even offered to patients prior to surgery to relieve anxiety. Studies have also proven it to relieve PMS symptoms, headaches, prevent colds, and aid in digestion.
If you’ve recently started exercising, your muscles may be crampy and sore. Instead of sitting out for several days until the soreness goes away, massage can keep you on your exercise track as it loosens up tight muscles and increases flexibility.
Types of Massage
There are many types of massage all the way from simple “relaxation” massage to deep tissue Rolfing-type therapy. Swedish massage and sports medicine massage are similar to each other in that they use long stroke, kneading type movements, tapping, vibration and deep circular movements.
Deep tissue massage can be a little less relaxing than Swedish or sports medicine type massage as it does what its name implies – goes deeper down into muscle tissue to pull out any knots or kinks in the muscles. These knots and kinks can also refer pain to other parts of the body as well, so releasing and smoothing them out via massage is important. Also, working on trigger points can be more sensitive at first, as massage involves pressing down on painful trigger points to release them.
Cautions to Massage
Although massage can help a number of illnesses and conditions, there are certain circumstances where it should not be done such as:
- People with blood clotting disorders. People taking blood thinning medications, or who have low platelet counts from conditions such as leukemia, AIDS, or other blood disorders – deep tissue, vigorous massage might cause bleeding deep within tissues.
- Blood clots, open wounds, fractures, skin infections. Massage could cause complications of healing with these conditions and/or infections. Wait until the conditions have been cleared by a doctor to have massage.
As I advise my patients, massage is not only a relaxing, enjoyable experience; it can also help heal a number of painful, distressing conditions. If you think you’d like to try massage, find a certified massage therapist who is skilled in working with a variety of conditions. Be sure to inform them of any and all illnesses you may have and whatever medications you take. Also, don’t be afraid to communicate to your massage therapist if something is too painful or you feel you need more work/pressure on certain areas. Overall, I think you’ll find regular massage can be very helpful in alleviating stress, muscle aches and pain, and just plain making you feel great!
Mark Bromson, M.D.
Massage is Real Medicine, http://www.cnn.com/2007/HEALTH/03/08/healthmag.massage/
Massage Therapy, http://www.medicinenet.com/massage_therapy/page2.htm
photo credit: relaxyoudeserveit.com