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Massage Benefits

August 16, 2010 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

If you had millions of dollars at your disposal, what luxuries would be on the top of your list? A mansion surrounded by a large plot of land? A fleet of sports cars? Perhaps a wardrobe filled with the most “fashion forward” accessories, clothes and shoes? None of those options have ever been all that appealing to me. But I’ll admit to one extravagance that would be most welcome – having a weekly massage. When Mrs. Healthy Fellow and I go on vacation we often fit in at least one afternoon at full service spa. There we indulge in some type of bodywork, be it an aromatherapy or hot stone massage, a facial or a session of reflexology. Sure it’s pricey but you leave feeling great and with the knowledge that you’ve invested in something health promoting for the body and mind. That’s why my Healthy Monday tip of the week is to give others and yourself the gift of massage.

The August edition of the Journal of Holistic Nursing provides a historical perspective of massage therapy in nursing care. In the 1800′s, massage instruction and training was a standard part of nursing curricula. But with the advent and adoption of more specialized physiotherapy and pharmacological options, massage rapidly lost ground in the field of the healing arts. The closing line of the review article states, “Historical research in the use of massage in nursing may help refocus attention on the healing of the mind/body and reinforce the value of compassionate touch and balance in nursing practice today”. Here are 10 reasons why I think modern medicine would benefit if this came to pass: (1)

  • A newly published study in the Journal of Anesthesia found that a simple back massage is capable of reducing heart rate and State-Trait Anxiety Inventory scores in healthy women. In addition, the massage increased salivary levels of chromogranin A – a protein secreted by the parathyroid gland with antibacterial and antifungal activity. (2)
  • Massaging the feet and hands of pregnant women can reduce the intensity of post-cesarean pain. A group of Turkish researchers recently concluded that, “Foot and hand massage proved useful as an effective nursing intervention in controlling postoperative pain”. The study appears in the August 2010 issue of the journal Applied Nursing Research. (3)
  • A randomized controlled trial involving 60 patients with constipation reports that abdominal massage not only helps manage regularity, but can also reduce health care costs. After 8 weeks of abdominal massage, health related quality of life was statistically improved in the study participants. It’s gratifying to know that benefits were noted for patients receiving either “professional massage” or “self-massage”. (4)
  • Two 30 minute sessions of classical massage per week can improve anxiety, depression and immune balance (Th1/Th2 ratio) in breast cancer patients. So says a new publication in the journal Supportive Care in Cancer. The investigation in question enrolled 34 women with breast cancer. Over the course of 5 weeks half received massage therapy while the remainder was monitored as a comparison group. (5)
  • Even short massage sessions can bring about profound physiological changes. A recent experiment recruited 22 healthy, young men and women. Just 5 minutes of “touch massage” was capable of reducing: a) heart rate and heart rate variability – indicating a reduced stress response; b) cortisol (a stress hormone) and insulin levels; c) extracellular blood sugar. (6)
  • A trial appearing in the July 2010 issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine points to the utility of massage in improving circulation throughout the body. What’s most compelling about this research is the finding that massage improved “peripheral blood flow in the treated areas as well as in adjacent non-massaged areas”. Of note, the increase in body temperature and circulation continued for at least 60 minutes post-massage. (7)
  • A meta-analysis from the July 2010 issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry evaluated 17 studies which focused on the effects of massage in depressed patients. In all, data from 786 study volunteers were analyzed. The authors commented that, “All trials showed positive effect of massage therapy in depressed people”. They also recommended additional research based on this promising, albeit, preliminary evidence. (8)

Massage Practitioners May Also Perceive Mental Health Benefits

Source: eCAM 2009 6(4):473-482 (link)

  • Traditional Thai massage may be a useful therapy for those at risk for osteopenia and osteoporosis. This assertion is based on a recent trial conducted on 30 healthy females with ages ranging from 20 to 40 years. Various measures of bone formation and resorption improved post-massage. P1NP levels increased by 4.8% and CTx-I decreased. This suggests an improvement in bone formation and a reduction of bone break down. (9)
  • New data out of Canada explains that as little as 10 to 30 seconds of massage can improve range of motion in “recreationally active” adults. A 7.2% increase in hip flexion range of motion was documented in a current study presented in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. This revelation lead to the following conclusion, “Musculotendinous massage may be used as an alternative or a complement to static stretching for increasing ROM (range of motion)”. (10)
  • A summary article in the July 2010 issue of Rheumatology International investigated the potential of massage therapy for improving quality of life and symptom severity in fibromyalgia patients. Two “single-arm studies and six randomized controlled trials” formed the basis for the review. The primary points made in the paper are that: a) “All reviewed studies showed short-term benefits of massage, and only one single-arm study demonstrated long-term benefits”; b) massage treatment in those with fibromyalgia should be “performed at least 1-2 times a week” and the intensity of massage should be “increased gradually from session to session”. (11)

As much as I endorse and enjoy massage, I fully understand that it’s not appropriate in every circumstance. If you have or suspect that you have a serious health condition, please consult with a trusted health care provider prior to engaging in a course of massage therapy. Also, please keep in mind that there are literally hundreds of variations of massage. Consulting with a specialist can help you find the right application for your individual needs. I’d also urge you not to let financial obstacles rule out massage from your life. Basic massage techniques can be applied by lay people, provided they have a good guide to help along the way. There are often low cost classes available at community centers and hospitals. In addition, there are countless books by experts in the field waiting for attention at your local library. Learning how to use your hands as healing tools is a great gift you can give yourself and others.

Be well!


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5 Comments to “Massage Benefits”

  1. Joanna Says:

    This makes sense to me! Also, suggesting reading up on the subject to be able to massage your friends and family a little is a great tip. Massage can be out of budget for so many people (like me!), realizing you good pair of hands to offer is good alternative :)

  2. JP Says:

    Thank you, Joanna. :)

    I think there’s great value in human touch. Money sometimes changes the way we access massage but it shouldn’t exclude it from any of our lives. An end of the day mini-massage is a mainstay in our household. It works for us!

    Be well!


  3. Anonymous Says:

    Thank you for the information, I am going to tweet the article link!

  4. JP Says:

    Update: Traditional Thai massage benefits the body & mind of those living with chronic pain …


    The Efficacy of Traditional Thai Massage for the Treatment of Chronic Pain: A Systematic Review

    Rational and background

    Traditional Thai massage (TTM) is an alternative medicine treatment used for pain relief. The purpose of this paper is to provide a systematic review of the research about the effects of TTM on pain intensity and other important outcomes in individuals with chronic pain.


    We performed a systematic review of the controlled trials of the effects of TTM, using the keywords “Traditional Thai massage” or “Thai massage” with the keyword “Chronic pain.”


    Six research articles met the inclusion criteria. All of the studies found a pre-to post-treatment pain reductions, varying from 25% to 80% and was also associated with improvements in disability, perceived muscle tension, flexibility and anxiety.


    The TTM benefits of pain reduction appear to maintain for up to 15 weeks. Additional research is needed to identify the moderators, mediators and to determine the long-term benefits of TTM relative to control conditions.

    Be well!


  5. JP Says:

    Update: Lavender oil massage reduces menstrual pain …


    Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2015 Jan-Feb;20(1):156-60.

    The effect of aromatherapy massage with lavender oil on severity of primary dysmenorrhea in Arsanjan students.

    BACKGROUND: Presently, using complementary therapy such as lavender oil has specific application in medicine. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of aromatherapy massage on the severity of primary dysmenorrhea in nursing and midwifery students of Islamic Azad University of Arsanjan, Iran.

    MATERIALS AND METHODS: This study was performed using clinical trial method on 80 eligible students whose level of pain was measured by visual analogue scale (VAS) before the intervention. Each participant, in the first days of menstruation, randomly received two types of massage with lavender and placebo oil in two consecutive cycles of menstruation. Their level of pain was measured before and 30 min after the intervention. In this study, each group was considered as their self-control group in the next cycle. The data were analyzed by SPSS software.

    RESULTS: A significant decrease in VAS score after lavender massage was detected in comparison with placebo massage. There was a statistically significant difference between VAS scores after and before placebo massage. In addition, statistically the effect of lavender massage on the severity of primary dysmenorrhea was higher than that of placebo massage (P < 0.001).

    CONCLUSIONS: Findings of this study showed that lavender oil massage decreases primary dysmenorrhea and it can be used as an effective herbal drug.

    Be well!


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