By Karrie Osborn
Originally published in Body Sense, Autumn/Winter 2009.
What kind of massage client are you? Do you make an appointment after someone has given you a massage gift certificate? Do you try to get in every now and then for a stress-relieving tune-up? Or do you see your therapist religiously—once a week, every three weeks, once a month?
While getting a massage—regardless of how often—is incredibly beneficial to your mind and body, getting frequent massage treatments is even more powerful as a healthcare ally.
“Practicing 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 Spa Bodywork: A Guide for Massage Therapists (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2006) and education program director at Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals.
“People regularly make a commitment to fitness. 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,” Williams says.
One way in which frequent massage can improve our quality of life is by alleviating stress. Experts say more than 90 percent of disease is stress- related, and nothing ages us faster—inside or out—than the effects of stress. As stress-related diseases continue to claim more lives every year, the increasingly deadly role stress plays in modern-day life is painfully clear.
Massage is a great way to take charge and reverse the situation. Mary Beth Braun and Stephanie Simonson, authors of Introduction to Massage Therapy(Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2007), explain the benefits of massage therapy in the simplest of terms: “Healing input influences healing output.” They note that frequent massage can reduce the accumulation of stress and improve overall health. “The benefits of massage are cumulative,” they write.
This being the case, it only makes sense that those aches and pains you see your massage therapist for might disappear faster, stay away longer, or even go away altogether with more frequent visits. Stress might never reach those physiologically detrimental levels where the immune system is suppressed or the nervous system is sent into an alarm state if you are able to receive stress-relieving bodywork with some consistency. Not only would your body benefit by regularly unleashing its aches and pains instead of adapting to them, but your mind would have time to wash away the stresses of a life lived in overdrive. Both are critical pieces for living well.
Experts say the body and mind can learn to live more calmly, more efficiently, and more healthfully, when frequent massage shows the way. That makes for a healthier whole, allowing us to continue to live life at its fullest, even as we deal with each new stress or challenge.
In so many ways, massage is preventive healthcare. Yes, it can address injuries, scar tissue, and chronic pain, as well as provide relief for cancer patients and reduce hospitalization time for babies born prematurely, among so many other valuable benefits (go to MassageTherapy.com for more information on the myriad benefits of massage). But when the healthy, and trying-to-be-healthy, among us seek out massage on a regular basis, it helps us live a proactively healthier life.
Since bodywork influences every system in the body, there are enormous possibilities created by increasing the frequency in which you address those systems. It’s best to discuss your session goals with your massage therapist and together devise a plan of frequency that meets your needs, while taking into account your therapist’s best advice.
According to Benny Vaughn, sports massage expert and owner of Athletic Therapy Center 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 their body’s movement in space and becomes more aware of tightness or pain long before it reaches a critical point of mechanical dysfunction.”
Quite simply, 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 their body long before it can create stress-driven damage.”
He says the consistency of receiving regular massage therapy has the potential to create the cumulative effect of feeling well and feeling better. “Ultimately when one feels good, our whole being follows suit on all other levels—i.e., decision-making is better, processing life events is better, and being happy is easier when you are not in pain or feeling ‘heavy’ or ‘tight.’”
Williams says she’s certain people’s lives would be changed if they could schedule massage and bodywork more frequently. “I encourage clients to commit to getting massage once a week for a month and then evaluate the results they get,” she says. “I guarantee they will become massage enthusiasts for life.”