Massage is one of the oldest healing arts. Chinese records dating back 3,000 years document its use; the ancient Hindus, Persians and Egyptians applied forms of massage for many ailments; and Hippocrates wrote papers recommending the use of rubbing and friction for joint and circulatory problems.
Today, massage therapy is part of many physical rehabilitation programs. It has also proven beneficial for many chronic conditions, including low back pain, arthritis, bursitis, fatigue, high blood pressure, diabetes, immunity suppression, infertility, smoking cessation, depression, and more. And, as many millions will attest, massage helps relieve the stress and tension of everyday living.
So what is it exactly?
Massage, bodywork and somatic therapies are defined as the application of various techniques to the muscular structure and soft tissues of the human body.
- Massage: The application of soft-tissue manipulation techniques to the body, generally intended to reduce stress and fatigue while improving circulation. The many variations of massage account for several different techniques.
- Bodywork: Various forms of touch therapies that may use manipulation, movement, and/or repatterning to affect structural changes to the body.
- Somatic: Meaning “of the body.” This term is often used to denote a body/mind or whole-body approach, as distinguished from a physiology-only or environmental perspective.
There are more than 250 different types of massage, bodywork, and somatic therapies. Depending on the type of therapy, techniques may include stroking, kneading, tapping, compression, vibration, rocking, friction, pressure to the muscles and other soft tissues, passive or active movement, and/or techniques intended to affect the energetic systems of the body. Oils, lotions, or powders may be used to reduce friction on the skin. Learn what to expect during a session.
Massage, bodywork and somatic therapies specifically exclude diagnosis, prescription, manipulation or adjustments of the human skeletal structure, or any other service, procedure or therapy which requires a license to practice orthopedics, physical therapy, podiatry, chiropractic, osteopathy, psychotherapy, acupuncture, or any other profession or branch of medicine.
Benefits of massage
Regardless of the reasons we seek it out—a luxurious treat, stress relief, pain management, or injury rehabilitation—massage therapy can be a powerful addition to your healthcare regimen. Among other benefits, massage can:
- Alleviate low-back pain and improve range of motion.
- Assist with shorter, easier labor for expectant mothers and shorten maternity hospital stays.
- Ease medication dependence.
- Enhance immunity by stimulating lymph flow—the body's natural defense system.
- Exercise and stretch weak, tight, or atrophied muscles.
- Help athletes of any level prepare for, and recover from, strenuous workouts.
- Improve the condition of the body's largest organ—the skin.
- Increase joint flexibility.
- Lessen depression and anxiety.
- Promote tissue regeneration, reducing scar tissue and stretch marks.
- Pump oxygen and nutrients into tissues and vital organs, improving circulation.
- Reduce postsurgery adhesions and swelling.
- Reduce spasms and cramping.
- Relax and soften injured, tired, and overused muscles.
- Release endorphins—amino acids that work as the body's natural painkiller.
- Relieve migraine pain.
The medical community is actively embracing bodywork, and massage is becoming an integral part of hospice care and neonatal intensive care units. Many hospitals incorporate on-site massage practitioners to treat postsurgery or pain patients as part of the recovery process. Research has found that after a massage:
- Arthritis sufferers note fewer aches and less stiffness and pain.
- Asthmatic children show better pulmonary function and increased peak air flow.
- Burn injury patients report reduced pain, itching, and anxiety.
- High blood pressure patients demonstrate lower diastolic blood pressure, anxiety, and stress hormones.
- Premenstrual syndrome sufferers have decreased water retention and cramping.
- Preterm infants have improved weight gain.
A powerful ally against stress
The emotional benefits bodywork provides can often be just as valuable as the physical benefits. While eliminating anxiety and pressure altogether in this fast-paced world may be idealistic, massage can, without a doubt, help manage stress. This translates into:
- Decreased anxiety.
- Enhanced sleep quality.
- Greater energy.
- Improved concentration.
- Increased circulation.
- Reduced fatigue.
Increase the benefits with frequent visits
Getting a massage can do you a world of good. And getting massage frequently can do even more. Budgeting time and money for bodywork at consistent intervals is truly an investment in your health. Consider massage appointments a necessary piece of your health and wellness plan, and work with your practitioner to establish a treatment schedule that best meets your needs.
For more in-depth information and research, visit these websites:
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: Clinical research studies on massage
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a division of the National Institutes of Health