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Massage Therapy is More Than Just For Relaxing

Updated on June 19, 2014

Benefits of Massage

Massage Therapy has exploded over the past decade but there are still a lot of people out there who have never had a massage and don't believe it will benefit them. There is research that suggests massage therapy can benefit the body in many ways from boosting the immune system to an effective anti-depressant treatment, as discussed by Mark Rapaport, MD, from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles in Benefits of Massage. The benefits don't stop there and when regular massage is incorporated into a wellness plan the benefits are enhanced. Instead of turning to medication for a quick fix, massage therapy can can actually help get to the root of the problem.

Some of the many benefits of Massage Therapy:

  • Reduces muscle tension and pain
  • Relieves tension headaches
  • Reduce inflammation associated with carpel tunnel and plantar fasciitis
  • Reduce and relieve low back tension and pain
  • Reduce and relieve neck and shoulder tension and pain
  • Relieve symptoms of sciatica
  • Reduce inflammation and pain associated with tendonitis
  • Boost the immune system
  • Triggers the release of "feel-good" hormones like serotonin, may be effective in treating depression
  • Increase blood circulation
  • Decrease hyper-tension
  • Decrease anxiety and stress
  • Promotes nervous system function
  • Increase range of motion- important after injuries or surgeries
  • Increased body awareness

For more on the benefits of massage.

Feel Human Again with Massage

Scar-Tissue, Pain, and Massage

Before going to school for Massage Therapy, my first experience with massage came after a car accident where I was rear-ended by a car driven by someone driving 50 mph who simply did not see me sitting there at the red light. I felt fine immediately after the accident but was awoken in the middle of the night that same day in extreme pain along the left side of my upper back and neck. The next day I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with whip-lash and was sent home with muscle relaxers and Vicodin. I felt better after taking them but there was no way I could go to work on such heavy pain medication. And this wasn't a solution, it masked the symptoms but my pain and discomfort continued.

I started seeing a chiropractor, who helped me immensely. I was there 2-3 times per week but after the first week I woke up to my legs being numb. This was extremely scary and I immediately went in to my chiropractor's office. I received a TENS treatment to calm the nerves in my low back. He said this was no doubt related to the whip-lash (the body works as a whole, not in separate parts) and suggested I add massage therapy as part of my treatment. The trauma my body experienced not only was causing muscle pain but my nerves were over-firing as well. He explained that massage reduces pain, tension, inflammation as well as optimizing the nervous system and calming it down.

After my first massage session I was a believer. I felt a million times better- the pain subsided, no more numb legs, I slept better than I had since the accident and I didn't have to take any medication. In time, with more therapy and chiropractic care I was able to get back to work (I was dancing with a ballet company at the time).

Massage therapy is not a "quick fix". It took time for my injuries to heal and massage helped facilitate that healing in a natural way, and in a way that prevented me from having problems with this injury in the future.

When an injury occurs the body works very quickly to heal itself. Thick layers of tissue are laid down to repair the site of injury in order to get your body working again, as fast as possible. This tissue is laid down so quickly that it does not get laid down in the same fashion as the original (now injured and torn) tissue was. This is what is known as scar-tissue. Since it's laid down in all these different directions a very dense, fibrous, and inflexible tissue is created. It would seem that this tissue would be very strong but in fact it creates a weak spot and is now prone to re-injury. Healthy tissue needs to be pliable, to be able to move with the way you move, which can sometimes be sudden and quick movements or anytime the tissue is exposed to strain. Scar-tissue is not flexible so when it encounters these sudden movements or strain on the muscle it tears more easily. The process repeats itself and you end up with repeated injuries to the same site.

Injuries don't just occur from car accidents. Most of us also think of sports injuries when we think of muscle tears, but even simple, everyday tense muscles can end up with tears and the same scar-tissue is laid down to repair the muscle and the same cycle of a now weakened muscle prone to re-injury occurs.

Massage can help eliminate this vicious cycle of scar-tissue and re-injury by smoothing out the scar-tissue while it's in the process of being laid down on the injury site. Once it is safe to begin massage on an injury (72 hours), a massage therapist will use certain techniques that help keep the scar-tissue from becoming such a dense, fibrous mass.

The everyday tense muscles need massage just as much as a sports injury or whip-lash. When not addressed, muscle tension can lead to headaches, muscle tears and injuries, restriction on blood flow, compressed nerves, and many other health problems. It sometimes takes time for these problems to present themselves and often times they are treated with medication and simply masked.

Those who seek out massage therapy regularly know how different their body feels and that massage is doing a lot more than just helping them to relax. Without massage, they know their bodies will be in pain.

As a massage therapist for the past 10 years I have seen many of my clients become believers as I became. It's an amazing thing to watch, to see them realize that they don't have to live with this pain. They don't have to take pain medication just to get through the day. There is something that works. I don't know a single person who can say they never feel muscle tension. I know that most people can benefit from getting a massage.


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Massage and Fight or Flight Response

The Fight or Flight Response- this is a mechanism that evolved in order for animals and humans to react quickly to danger and either "fight or flight". The sympathetic nervous system kicks in and releases neurotransmitters norepinephrine and adrenaline, which increases the production of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol increases blood pressure and blood sugar, (cortisol is well known to be a contributor to belly fat when levels are consistently raised). Your heart rate quickens, blood pressure rises, your blood vessels constrict in many parts of the body while they dilate in others like your muscles, you have increased muscle tension, and digestion slows or comes to a complete stop. The reproductive system also does not function (why would you need to make a baby when you're about to be eaten by a lion?). The Fight or Flight response gives your body and muscles the power and ability to fight the danger or to run away, fast. This is the mechanism that causes people to suddenly have super-human strength to lift a car off a child stuck underneath.

This is also what happens to you when you give a speak or presentation- you start to sweat, heart rate goes up, you might feel a little nauseous, and shaky. It happens when you're worried about something, constantly feeling under the gun or angry. The Fight or Flight response puts you survival mode- everything and everyone is perceived as a threat and you find yourself overreacting, ready to pounce over every little thing.

It is stress, in all shapes and forms and stress is very prevalent in our society today. Some stress is actually good for you- it keeps you on your toes, makes you feel alive, can be exhilarating. After you've given that speech or presentation you feel a sense of accomplishment, pride, and confidence. But too much stress, especially the wrong kind of stress, is not good for you and can wreak havoc in many sorts of ways.

Now imagine what this would do to your body if you're in a constant state of fight or flight, which many of are these days- the systems of the body do not function properly- your digestive system shuts down- think irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), even the onset of chron's disease has been linked to a stressful event as a trigger. The reproductive system is hugely effected- infertility, erectile dysfunction.

Headaches, muscle pain and tension, stomach aches, chest pain, fatigue, trouble sleeping, depression, lack of motivation, anxiety, irritability and anger, overeating or undereating, drug or alcohol abuse- just to name a few, are generally a result of too much stress. Your body is begging for relief- it's telling you to take a break. If you don't, more dangerously health problems can arise.

Now the parasympathetic system swoops in to calm you down. Once the danger is over, this system releases acetylcholine to bring the body back to homeostasis. It slows your breathing, heart rate, and regulates your digestive and reproductive systems.

We cannot run away from our stresses today. We learn to deal with them, to control ourselves, but the stress is still there and if it's not released it can cause the problems mentioned above. How to you do you release tension? Exercise, stretching, yoga, mediation, breathing exercises, and you guessed it- massage.

Massage is an extremely important component to stress release, it allows your parasympathetic nervous system to do its job. How do you feel after getting a massage? Tension headaches are relieved, muscle pain and tension subsides, you feel less anxious, more at peace, happy. It is vital to give yourself this break and help your body restore each systems' functions.

The more often you get a massage the easier it is to get into this relaxed state, even during times when your facing the stresses of your life. Consider it like training your body, in the same way an athlete trains their body to be a dancer, gymnast, swimmer, for a marathon, or any other sport. You create mind and muscle memory and with practice you can get there without even thinking about it. You retrain yourself to be calm, mindful, and at peace. With practice, a beautiful thing happens- you're no longer bothered by the rush hour traffic or your boss breathing down your neck. You take it stride, and your body will thank you for it.

Top Benefits of Massage

  • Reduce and relieve muscle tension and pain
  • Relieve headaches
  • Aid in the healing of injured muscles and tendons
  • Boost the immune system
  • Enhance a sense of well-being

Massage Is Too Expensive

Massage can be pricy but there are things you can do to get the benefits without spending more than you are able....

  • Become friends with a massage therapist. Work out trades with them- they give you a massage and you do something for them in return.
  • Get your spouse to massage you, and you massage them, too. A professional massage is best, especially if you have something specific that needs work, but the power of simple touch is amazing.
  • Ask for gift certificates to your favorite massage therapist for birthday and holiday gifts.
  • Ask about deals and discounts- many massage therapists offer discounts when you purchase multiple sessions at one time- buy 5 sessions get the 6th one free.
  • Help your body maintain the benefits of your massage between sessions with other body wellness techniques- yoga, meditation, exercise, and stretching. Take baths with Epsom Salts- the magnesium sulfates calm and relax muscle tissue.
  • Check with your health insurance to see if they cover massage, many companies do.
  • Combine Chiropractic work with massage. The two work very well together and will allow you to go longer between sessions.

Let Massage Help Break The Stress Cycle

Excessive stress goes hand in hand with muscle tension, pain, digestive issues, and other ailments. This only adds to the stress you are feeling and the cycle continues. With a better understanding of the effects of stress and tension on your body physiologically, incorporating relaxation techniques into your wellness plan is a no-brainer. The benefits of massage are far more than just helping you relax. In fact, simply relaxing does more for your body than most people give it credit for. Getting a regular massage is a wonderful way to help achieve a more peaceful, less painful and less stressful life and can help get your body back on track.

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