Massage therapy is one of the oldest forms of treatments in the world. This form of treatment was first reported in China during the second century B.C. Defined by Hippocrates in 400 B.C as “the art of rubbing”, massage therapy is older than recorded time when rubbing was considered as the primary form of medicine. Until the pharmaceutical revolution of the 1940’s, this form of treatment has been widely used for treating a wide range of ailments by therapists.
This popularity of massage therapy decreased substantially during the pharmaceutical revolution of the 1940’s. Nevertheless, with the growing popularity of alternative forms of medicine, massage therapy is regaining popularity an in recent times, it has been regarded as an important part of the alternative medicine movement.
Therapeutic Massage -How does it Work? : The Underlying Principle
The practice of massage therapy is based on the assessment of the soft tissue and joints of the body and the treatment and prevention of physical dysfunction and pain of the joints and soft tissue by manipulation in order to develop, maintain, rehabilitate or augment physical function or relieve pain.
Massage can formally be defined as the mechanical stimulation of tissues by the application of rhythmic pressure and stretching. Massage manipulates the soft tissues of the body including connective tissues, muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints in order to have a therapeutic effect and health improvement by acting directly on the muscular, nervous and circulatory systems.
The origin of modern techniques of massage can be traced back to the 1700’s when Swedish massage was developed by Per Henrik Ling. This was the first systematic method of therapeutic massage that was based on human physiology. Massage therapists today, combine the techniques of traditional Swedish massage and modern techniques of massage therapy with hydrotherapy and remedial exercises while making use of their knowledge of the musculo-skeletal system.
The Benefits of Massage-The Power of Healing Touch!
Massage therapy has been used effectively for the treatment of a number of conditions such as pain reduction and stress, decreasing depression, enhancing growth and development, enhancing attentiveness, increasing neuromuscular function, preventing premature birth and enhancing the human immune system.
Massage therapy and the response it creates within the body can affect the cardiovascular system, lymphatic system and the immune system, skin related structures, nervous and endocrine systems, connective tissues, respiratory system, digestive system and urinary system.
Massage therapy is recognized as an effective treatment in clinical practice. Some of the most common benefits of massage therapy include;
- Improved Circulation- The first and foremost benefit of massage is improved circulation. The individual cells of the body depend on an abundant supply of blood and lymph. These fluids supply nutrients and oxygen to the body in addition to carrying away wastes and toxins.
- Smooth Flow of Energy and Improved Communication between Organs-Additionally, massage facilitates the smooth flow of energy and improve communication between the digestive, respiratory, cardiovascular, respiratory, nervous system and lymphatic systems of the body thus creating homeostasis (balance and constancy) in the body.
- Recovery from Soft Tissue Injuries-Massage also aids recovery from soft tissue injuries such as strains and sprains. The repair and growth of tissues are accelerated by efficient circulation in the injured areas and appropriate stimulation of the healing tissues, thereby accelerating and improving recovery as well as reduce discomfort from such injuries.
- Soothing and Relaxation-Massage also has a calming and soothing effect on people who have become dependent on alcohol or drugs for relaxation. Massage balances the nervous system of the body by soothing or stimulating neural pathways depending on which effect is needed by the individual at the time of the massage.
- Additionally, other problems such as muscle tension, tightness, headache caused by stress, spasms and cramps resulting from sports activities and our hectic life routine, arthritis, asthma, sinusitis and joint function caused by certain pathologies and other conditions like pregnancy and genetic conditions such as scoliosis- all warrant massage.
People in general use massage for a variety of health related purposes such as pain relief, rehabilitation from sports injuries, reducing stress, increase relaxation, address anxiety and depression and aid general wellness.
Most patients feel more relaxed, especially if they have massage therapy sessions regularly. Research suggests that massage therapy can help reduce pain, decrease autoimmune illnesses and enhance immune function. More specifically, massage therapy can;
- Increase the range of motion and improve flexibility
- Improve the lymphatic flow and blood circulation
- Reduce illness related pain, depression and anxiety.
- Reduce muscle soreness and muscle tension and helps restore muscle tone that is lost through prolonged bed rest or stress.
Effects on the Nervous System
- Reduces stress and anxiety. By activating the relaxation response, massage helps in reducing stress.
- Promotes relaxation. General relaxation is promoted through activation of the relaxation response. Relaxation has a diminishing effect on pain.
- Reduces cortisol levels. Massage reduces cortisol levels by activating the relaxation response. Elevated levels of cortisol not only represent heightened stress, but also inhibit immune functions.
- Reduces norepinephrine levels. Massage has been proven to reduce norepinephrine, a stress hormone.
- Reduces epinephrine levels. Epinephrine, another stress hormone, is reduced with massage.
- Decreases pain. Massage relieves local and referred pain, presumably by increasing circulation, thereby reducing ischemia. General relaxation brought on by massage therapy also has a diminishing effect on pain. The pressure of a massage interferes with pain information entering the spinal cord by stimulating pressure receptors, further reducing pain.
Effects on the Lymphatic System
- Promotes lymph circulation. Lymph circulation depends on pressure: from muscle contraction, pressure changes in the thorax and abdomen during breathing or applied pressure from a massage. Hence massage promotes this circulation.
- Reduces edema or swelling Massage reduces edema (swelling) by enhancing lymph circulation.
- Decreases the circumference of an area affected with edema. When an area swells, the diameter increases. When the swelling subsides, circumference decreases.
- Decreases weight in patients with edema. Fluid retention adds weight to an individual. When edema is addressed with massage, weight is consequently reduced.
- Increases lymphocyte count. Lymphocytes are types of White Blood Cells thus supporting the functions of immune system.
Effects on the Cardiovascular System
- Improved Blood Circulation- Deep stroking improves blood circulation by mechanically assisting venous blood flow back to the heart. The increase of blood flow is comparable to that of exercise. The notion that local circulation during a massage increases up to three times more than circulation at rest has been documented.
- Decreases Blood Pressure-Blood pressure is decreased by blood vessel dilation. Both diastolic and systolic readings decline and last approximately 40 minutes after the massage.
- Replenishes Nutritive Materials– Increased circulation of blood aids in the delivery of products such as nutrients and oxygen to tissues and cells.
- Promotes Removal of Waste Products– Increased circulation also aids in the removal of metabolic wastes.
- Reduces Heart and Pulse Rate- Massage decreases heart rate through activation of the relaxation response.
- Increases RBC count- Massage is also found effective in increasing the number of RBCs and their oxygen-carrying capacity.
- Increases oxygen saturation in blood-When RBC count rises, oxygen saturation of the blood increases.
- Increases white blood cell (WBC) count- The presence of WBCs increases after massage. The increase in WBC count enables the body to protect itself more effectively against disease.
What Ailments can be treated by Massage Therapy?
Massage therapists make use of different techniques to address a variety of ailments, injuries and diseases. Some techniques are intended at treating physical problems resulting from stress or other psychological/emotional problems. Specific techniques can help treating some diseases including;
- Respiratory disorders like Sinus pressure can be relieved through Trigger Point release massage
- The symptoms of congestive chest can be relieved through a technique called tapotement-which is a percussion type of massage.
- Neurological and muscular disorders like headaches, neck pain and migraines, tennis elbow, frozen shoulder, low back pain, pain associated with arthritis, tendonitis or other menstrual symptoms can be addressed through a variety of techniques such as Swedish massage, craniosacral release technique, myofascial release and other techniques.
- Digestive disorders like constipation and cramps can be relieved through abdominal techniques.
- Post operative pain and lynphedema (localized retention of lymphatic fluid and tissue swelling) can be addressed with lymphatic drainage.
Customized Massage Sessions
Massage therapists work in a variety of settings including hospitals, private offices and other sports and fitness facilities. In a number of cases, the treatment is provided at patient’s home or even at their workplace.
Typically therapists ask patients about symptoms, medical history and desired results. Additionally, it is also common for therapists to perform an evaluation of the patient through touch, to locate painful or tense areas and determine how much pressure to apply.
These sessions may sometimes be fairly brief, but depending on the patient’s condition-they may also last an hour or even longer.
To cut it short, with more than eighty different types of massage, the way you’ll feel during treatment can be hard to predict. Some techniques make use of less pressure than the weight of the hand, whereas others press intensely into certain points to release muscle tension. It is of paramount importance for you to discuss your symptoms and condition with your doctor so that you can benefit with the treatment.