As babies, touch is essential to our growth, both physically and mentally. In a recent experiment on premature babies, a US psychologist, nurse, and specialist in early childhood development, demonstrated that massage from the mothers increased nerve and brain cell development, accelerated weight gain, and generally increased hormonal functioning and cell activity.
The benefits of massage don’t end in infancy. Bulimia and other eating disorders suffered by adolescents and young people can be countered with massage, providing them with comfort, reassurance and a better self-image. Massage aids those suffering from depression; anxiety, hypertension and poor sleep patterns. In old age, massage counters the sense of loneliness and isolation, and can delay the onset of senility.
One of the prime benefits of massage is to the muscular system. Muscles may be loosened and relaxed, if they are tight are knotty. They can be toned if they are found to be too loose or lacking in tone. All these benefits are dependent totally on whether the strokes used are relaxing or stimulating. In restoring a balanced tone to the muscles, massage also aids the circulation of blood and lymph.
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 can also 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. In fact, a lot many leading companies in the US are resorting to the practise of providing massage therapies to their employees, during the coffee and lunch breaks. The performance of these employees was found to have increased significantly after they had undergone the therapy.
Massage therapy decreased the effects of anxiety; tension, depression, pain, and itching in burn patients. Abdominal surgery patients recovered more quickly after massage. A hospital study conducted on 52 children suffering from depression or adjustment problems in the USA revealed that those who were given a daily back massage for five days were less depressed and anxious than the control group who just watched relaxing videos. It was also found that the ones who had undergone massage therapy slept better after the treatment.
Premature infants who were massaged gained more weight and fared better than those who weren’t. Autistic children showed less erratic behaviour after massage.
Other studies demonstrated 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 in people who had undergone massage therapy.
Studies 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.
A study was done on 30 surgical patients at a hospital in London in connection with pain relief and insomnia. The patients were massaged on the back, face or feet and were then monitored for physical and psychological changes. Most of the patients receiving treatment reported relief from pain, anxiety and muscle spasm.
Scientific evidence both supports and explains the beneficial effects of massage that has developed into a sophisticated and specialised tool in today’s treatment of muscle, tendon, ligament and joint injuries. It is also very effective in cases of frequent complaints of some types of headaches as it improves the condition and texture by lubricating the skin and thus relaxes the fascia on the scalp.
A study conducted on some women who were undergoing radiotherapy for breast cancer revealed that the slow stroke back massage treatment given to them helped in relieving the distress and anxiety before the radiotherapy treatment. Factors like nausea and pain, physical appearance, breathing patterns, showed a remarkable improvement in the women who went through massage therapy. They were less tense, had more vitality and there was an upswing in the general mood.
Physical Benefits of Therapeutic Massage
• Helps relieve stress and aids relaxation.
• Helps relieve muscle tension and stiffness.
• Alleviates discomfort during pregnancy.
• Fosters faster healing of strained muscles and sprained ligaments.
• Reduces pain and swelling, reduces formation of excessive scar tissue.
• Reduces muscle spasms.
• Provides greater joint flexibility and range of motion.
• Enhances athletic performance; treats injuries caused during sport or work.
• Promotes deeper and easier breathing.
• Improves circulation of blood and movement of lymph fluids.
• Reduces blood pressure.
• Helps relieve tension-related headaches and effects of eye-strain.
• Enhances the health and nourishment of skin.
• Improves posture.
• Strengthens the immune system.
• Treats musculoskeletal problems.
• Rehabilitation post operative.
• Rehabilitation after injury.
Mental Benefits of Massage Therapy
• Fosters peace of mind.
• Promotes a relaxed state of mental alertness.
• Helps relieve mental stress.
• Improves ability to monitor stress signals and respond appropriately.
• Enhances capacity for calm thinking and creativity.
• Emotional Benefits.
• Satisfies needs for caring nurturing, touch.
• Fosters a feeling of well-being.
• Reduces levels of anxiety.
• Creates body awareness.
• Increases awareness of mind-body connection. (Source : AMTA)
The Mind-Massage Connection
To understand the benefits of massage fully, one must understand the connection between the body, mind and massage. The oriental philosophy and Indian systems of healing have always insisted on the mind-spirit and body connection. Whether it is the chi concept or the prana principle, or the yin-yang concept, the link between the three and the flow of energy has governed all healing methods in the East. It is only now that the western world is also acknowledging this fact.
In the East, the body’s organs and the systems are affected by treating points on the meridians with acupuncture or Shiatsu. This interaction between the inner and outer body has been researched in the West. too. It was found that stimulating specific areas of the body by touch could in time produce definite changes in certain organs and body systems.
Further research has revealed a possible cause of this “reflex effect”. Massaging the skin appears to stimulate receptor nerves that transmit a response via the spinal cord to the brain. The stimulation then returns to produce effects in zones of the body supplied by the nerves from the same part of spinal cord. These effects include the stimulation and relaxation of voluntary muscles, the opening and closing of blood capillaries and possibly, the sedation of nerve sensors, resulting in pain relief.
Massage not only affects a person physically, however; it can also produce profound emotional and mental changes. It will relieve stress and anxiety and is therefore, of great benefit to people suffering from any stress related disorders. The masseur allows people to become aware of tensions they are holding through his or her touch and, in releasing the physical tensions. This awareness can dispel the worry, anxiety, sadness or irritability that goes with unreleased tensions.