Beyond Pain Relief, Massage is Valuable for Preventive Care

Karrie Osborn
Massage helps you maintain a healthy body. This article first appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of Body Sense. Whether it is an aching back, recovery from an injury, a case of carpal tunnel syndrome, or a host of other debilitating physiological conditions, there’s no doubt massage and bodywork works to relieve pain. But once your therapist has helped you tackle your pain, do you quit calling? When the pain is gone, are you gone, too? Massage therapy is highly effective for pain relief, but it is an amazing preventive therapy as well. Massage helps build and maintain a healthy body (and mind), it combats stress, and it works to keep  the immune system strong. In short, massage can keep on working for you, even after the pain is gone.

MASSAGE FOR WELLNESS

If  it’s been a  while since  you booked your last massage–because your pain is no longer  an issue or your injury is fully rehabbed–you might want to consider massage for preventive care. Massage can play an important role in a good health-care  regimen.  Just as  you eat healthily,  exercise regularly,  and take your vitamins  to ward off  illness and maintain  a fit body, you should consider making frequent massage  a part of your wellness lifestyle. According to Benny Vaughn, a sports massage  expert in  Fort Worth, Texas, one of the benefits  of consistent  and regular massage therapy is  better flexibility.  “This happens because regular and structured  touch stimulus enhances  the nervous  system’s sensory and spatial processing capacity,” he says. “That  is, the person becomes   more aware of her body’s movement in pain long before it  reaches   a  critical point of mechanical dysfunction.”

 

As a preventive measure, frequent massage puts you more in tune with your body. “The consistency of massage therapy over time creates a cumulative stress-reduction effect,” Vaughn says.

“The person becomes acutely aware of stress within her body long before it can create stress-driven damage.”

And the more massage you receive, the more benefits you reap. “Massage therapists  know that people who get massage  regularly demonstrate  greater improvement  and notice  a reduction  in pain and muscular tension, as well  as an improvement  in  posture,” says   Anne Williams, author of Massage Mastery: From Student to Professional (Lippincott Williams Wilkins, 2012).

“People regularly   make a commitment to fitness,” Williams says.  “People regularly make   a commitment to changing their diet.  The difference they’d experience if they regularly made a       commitment to massage is mind-blowing.”

 

STRESS IS A KILLER

Stress is more than just a word we throw around to describe  the nature of our hectic day. Today, we understand   that stress kills.

Accordingto  the  Benson-Henry Institute  for   Mind  Body Medicine, 60-90 percent of all US medical visits are for stress-related disorders. Chronic pain,  headaches,  heart disease, hypertension, and ulcers can   all  be wrought from stress. Many would  argue that the best  benefit of massage is its ability to reduce  the stress in our lives.

From the perspective  of  daily living, think about the stress you felt at today’s meeting–now it’s hiding in your neck. Tomorrow that can  turn into stiffness and eventually begin to affect other parts of your body. If you see  your massage therapist  for  your regular session  this week,  the chances  are good you won’t reach the tipping  point.  Think  of massage   and bodywork as a way to re-balance your body.

Noted researcher Tiffany Field and her colleagues  from the Touch Research Institute at  the University of  Miami School of Medicine report that massage causes  positive  biological  changes when it comes to stress. Through  the course of more than 20 studies,  these scientists found that massage decreases  cortisol (a stress-derived  hormone that negatively affects  immune function and kills our immune cells) and increases dopamine and serotonin (the neurotransmitters  most associated with emotional well-being). Add to this the research that shows massage can lower your heart rate and decrease your blood pressure, and you have a mighty effective, nonpharmacological, stress-fighting tool that’s about as natural as natural can get.

A ONE-HOUR VACATION AND SO MUCH MORE

You may no longer need to rehab that knee or work the scar tissue from your surgery, but don’t forget about everything else massage can do for you. Massage is the entire package, helping to heal body, mind, and spirit. Think of it as a one-hour vacation with amazing return on investment.

Whether it be maintaining joint flexibility, managing blood pressure, or enhancing immunity, massage works. From repair to relief and from recovery to relaxation, massage is a magnificent piece of natural medicine you should always have as part of your health-care routine.

Karrie Osborn is senior editor for Body Sense. Contact her at karrie@abmp.com.