Massage is one of the oldest healing arts: Chinese records dating back 3,000 years document its use; the ancient Hindus, Persians and Egyptians applied forms of massage for many ailments; and Hippocrates wrote papers recommending the use of rubbing and friction for joint and circulatory problems. Today, the benefits of massage are varied and far-reaching. As an accepted part of many physical rehabilitation programs, massage therapy has also proven beneficial for many chronic conditions, including low back pain, arthritis, bursitis, fatigue, high blood pressure, diabetes, immunity suppression, infertility, smoking cessation, depression, and more. And, as many millions will attest, massage also helps relieve the stress and tension of everyday living that can lead to disease and illness.
What is Massage Exactly?
Massage, bodywork and somatic therapies are defined as the application of various techniques to the muscular structure and soft tissues of the human body. Specifically:
The application of soft-tissue manipulation techniques to the body, generally intended to reduce stress and fatigue while improving circulation. The many variations of massage account for several different techniques.
Various forms of touch therapies that may use manipulation, movement, and/or repatterning to affect structural changes to the body.
Meaning "of the body." Many times this term is used to denote a body/mind or whole-body approach as distinguished from a physiology-only or environmental perspective.
There are more than 250 variations of massage, bodywork, and somatic therapies and many practitioners utilize multiple techniques. The application of these techniques may include, but is not limited to, stroking, kneading, tapping, compression, vibration, rocking, friction, and pressure to the muscular structure or soft tissues of the human body. This may also include non-forceful passive or active movement and/or application of techniques intended to affect the energetic systems of the body. The use of oils, lotions, and powders may also be included to reduce friction on the skin.
Benefits of Massage Therapy
Scientists are studying massage to understand what effects massage therapy has on patients, how it has those effects, and why. Some aspects are better understood than others.
For example, massage therapy:
- Causes changes in the muscles that occur when certain forces are applied to the muscles.
- Enhances relaxation and reduces stress. Stress makes diseases and conditions worse.
- Provides stimulation that may help block pain signals sent to the brain (the "gate control theory" of pain reduction).
- Shifts the patient's nervous system away from the sympathetic and toward the parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system helps mobilize the body for action. When a person is under stress, it produces the fight-or-flight response (the heart rate and breathing rate go up, for example; the blood vessels narrow; and muscles tighten). The parasympathetic nervous system creates what some call the "rest and digest" response (the heart rate and breathing rate slow down, for example; the blood vessels dilate; and activity increases in many parts of the digestive tract).
- Stimulates the release of certain chemicals in the body, such as serotonin or endorphins.
- Causes beneficial mechanical changes in the body--for example, by preventing fibrosis (the formation of scar-like tissue) or increasing the flow of lymph (a fluid that travels through the body's lymphatic system and carries cells that help fight disease).
- Improves sleep, which has a role in pain and healing.
- Provides health benefit from the interaction between therapist and patient.