The power of touch is not completely understood, even by massage therapists and researchers. Massage can affect the musculoskeletal, nervous, and circulatory-lymphatic systems, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). Tiffany Field, a psychologist and researcher at the University of Miami School of Medicine, says that many of its positive effects seem to be mediated by increasing relaxation and decreasing stress hormones such as cortisol. Massage also fulfills our need to be touched—a dying art in fast-paced American culture.
What to Expect From the Different Types
Here are the most common types of massage, according to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA):
Swedish—Considered the most common type, this involves long strokes, kneading, and other techniques on the more superficial muscle layers, along with active and passive joint movement. It aims to improve blood circulation and range of motion and to relieve muscle tension.
Deep tissue—Designed to release tension by administering slow strokes and deep finger pressure, deep tissue is so named because it focuses on the deeper layers of muscle tissue. The strokes and pressure either follow or go across the grain of muscles and tendons.
Shiatsu and acupressure—These are both finger pressure massage systems based on Oriental healing concepts. The idea is to treat special points along meridians, invisible channels said to carry energy flow within the body. The pressure is intended to unblock the energy and thereby enhance body health.
Sport therapy—Sports massage focuses on warming up an athlete to reach optimal performance, reducing soreness after a workout, or helping to rehabilitate injured muscles.
What the Studies Found
Medical journals include dozens of reports on massage therapy and its benefits. In a review article published in the
American Psychologist, Field discusses some of the most promising studies.
In one study of 40 full-term infants, ages 1-3 months born to teen mothers, some infants were massaged for 15 minutes, while others were rocked. The massaged infants cried less, had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva, and were more likely to go to sleep after massage than after being rocked. In another study, burn victims who had massage before debridement, a process used to treat severe burns, had lower anxiety levels and lower stress hormone levels than those who weren't massaged.
Other studies have suggested that massage helps relieve
low back pain,
fibromyalagia, among other conditions.
Of course, massage isn't a total panacea. It can be inappropriate in some cases, warns the AMTA, such as in those with the vein inflammation known as
phlebitis, some skin and cardiac conditions, and some cancers. Anyone with these health problems should consult their physician before undergoing massage therapy.
How to Find a Massage Therapist
Massage therapists are licensed in over 30 states and in some local jurisdictions, according to the NCCAM.
Asking a therapist about licensure is a good first step to finding a competent practitioner. Here are additional questions worth asking:
Where did you receive your training?
Are you a member of the American Massage Therapy Association?
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a