If you have ever had a massage, you will agree that massaging sore muscles helps relieve the pain. A good massage just makes you “feel good”.
But massage, especially by a skilled therapist, can provide more than just a temporary relief for sore muscles. It can actually be used as a form of therapy for a variety of chronic conditions.
Benefits of therapeutic massage
Massage can complement- or at times substitute- potentially harmful medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or opioid drugs. As a relatively inexpensive and widely available alternative therapy, massage can be an effective way to improve one’s quality of life.
Treatment of chronic pain
Massage is an effective modality in improving pain in several chronic conditions, including neck and low back pain, arthritis pain, fibromyalgia and even pain from cancer.
In one study, people with knee osteoarthritis showed a decrease in pain and improvement in functioning after 10 weeks of massage. In another study of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, those treated with light pressure massage therapy had less pain and greater grip strength following massage sessions, which still lasted at one month followup.
People with knee osteoarthritis have also been found to have decreased pain and increased mobility with massage therapy. Massage has also shown benefit in treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic syndrome characterized by generalized pain, joint stiffness, fatigue, sleep alterations, anxiety, and depression. Massage therapy as well as myofascial release have been shown in multiple studies to be helpful in some patients with fibromyalgia. Muscle relaxation, improved sleep, decreased anxiety and depression, and a decrease in production of pain chemicals in the body all help reduce pain in people with fibromyalgia.
Poor sleep quality not only causes you to be fatigued, it also exacerbates pain. Massage therapy is shown to be an effective technique for increasing deep sleep and improving sleep quality.
There is a reduction in anxiety and depression with massage therapy. One study found the benefits of massage therapy lasted longer than standard medical care in these conditions.
A decrease in production of inflammatory chemicals has been observed after massaging an acutely injured muscle. Decreased inflammation will lead to a decrease in tissue injury and pain.
Massage Therapy Techniques- Examples
In Swedish massage, the therapist uses kneading, rolling, friction, tapping, and long strokes to warm up the muscles and improve blood flow. Deep tissue massage and trigger point massage treat and reduce myofascial pain, decrease swelling, stiffness, and tension. Sports massage is geared to the needs of athletes.
How does massage work?
The beneficial effects of therapeutic massage are thought to be due to a variety of factors:
Relaxing the tissues
Applying appropriate pressure relaxed muscles, tendons and ligaments. This can lead to a reduction in contraction of both superficial and deep tissues.
Massage is believed to improve blood and lymph circulation. This is partly due to physical manipulation of soft tissue, and partly due to the chemicals released when the tissues relax. Improved circulation can enhance the delivery of oxygen to muscle cells, allowing them to function more efficiently.
Regulation of natural chemicals
Massage has been associated with an increase in the body’s secretion of serotonin and dopamine, which alleviate stress, and a decrease in production of cortisol, which is a stress hormone.
Slowing of the heart rate and breathing, and a decrease in blood pressure, all of which can reduce stress, are also resulted from therapeutic massage.
Where should I get a Therapeutic Massage?
While any massage may help you “feel good”, appropriate and deliberate technique applied by a skilled and experienced therapist can be used to treat specific conditions and areas of interest. Combined with specific instructions from a physician trained in musculoskeletal conditions (such as a rheumatologist), your massage can prove to have long lasting therapeutic effects.
*Some insurances may cover therapeutic massage ordered by a physician. Coverage is highly variable.
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