(by Kirstin Fawcett)
Once viewed as a luxury, massage is increasingly recognized as an alternative medical treatment. According to a recent consumer survey sponsored by the American Massage Therapy Association, 77 percent of respondents said their primary reason for receiving a massage in the past year was medical or stress-related. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that medical centers nationwide now offer massage as a form of patient treatment. The American Hospital Association recently surveyed 1,007 hospitals about their use of complementary and alternative medicine therapies, and more than 80 percent said they offered massage therapy. Upwards of 70 percent said they used massage for pain management and relief.
“The medical community is more accepting of massage therapy than ever before,” says Jerrilyn Cambron, board president of the Massage Therapy Foundation. “Many massage therapists now have active, fruitful relationships with conventional care providers.”
How Massage Works
All massages boil down to the same thing: the therapeutic manipulation of the body’s soft tissues using a series of pressured movements. A massage therapist uses his or her hands, elbows, fingers, knees or forearms to administer touch ranging from light strokes to deep kneading motions. Occasionally, therapists will also use a massage device.
Most people agree massage feels good. But does science support the notion that it’s good for you?
“We do not yet have a complete understanding of what happens physiologically during massage or why it works,” Cambron says. But a recent study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine suggests massage reduces the body’s production of cytokines—proteins that contribute to inflammation. Massage therapy was also shown to stimulate mitochondria, the energy-producing units in cells that aid in cell function and repair.
Plus, massage is thought to reduce cortisol levels and regulate the body’s sympathetic nervous system—both of which go haywire when you’re stressed, says Lisa Corbin, an associate professor at University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Division of General Internal Medicine.