At the end of a stressful week, a relaxing massage might be just what you need. For people coping with injuries or chronic pain, however, massage therapy can serve as a form of alternative medicine, not just a soothing treat. Nearly one in 10 people have used therapeutic massage for many conditions, including stress, anxiety, pain, and sports injuries.
One survey revealed that about 60 percent of those who used massage therapy felt that, in combination with standard medical care, it could improve their health.
In massage therapy, a trained therapist applies pressure to the muscles and other soft tissues to help heal underlying conditions. There are more than 80 different forms of massage therapy, including shiatsu, Swedish, pressure point, and deep-tissue massage. Massage usually is intended to decrease pain, relax muscles, and let blood and oxygen flow freely to that area of the body.
Healing techniques involving massage are thousands of years old and have been mentioned in ancient texts from Egypt, Rome, China, Greece, India, and Japan.
Massage Therapy: When Is It Used?
Massage therapy can be used to address a number of different health problems, including sports injuries and chronic pain. “Musculoskeletal problems, pre- or post-surgical treatment, lymphedema [excessive fluid buildup that often occurs in the arms or legs] — those all are probably most effectively treated by massage,” says Ron Schneeweiss, professor of family medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle. According to Schneeweiss, massage therapy is the type of alternative medicine most often acceptable to conventional doctors.
Massage Therapy: Is It Effective?
Massage therapy has been shown to be effective in varying degrees. Massage can help:
- Ease pain in cancer patients. A study of 380 adults with advanced cancer, some of whom were in hospice care, showed that massage therapy, provided by trained massage therapists, helped to reduce patients' pain and improve their mood.
- Relieve lower back pain. Therapeutic massage has been shown to be useful in alleviating lower back pain.
- Ease migraine headaches. Some research suggests that massage therapy, in combination with other treatments, can help offset pain associated with migraines and other chronic headaches.
- Reduce shoulder pain. Shoulder massage has been shown to help reduce pain and improve range of motion.
- Reduce pain and symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. One small study showed that a 15-minute professional massage once a week for four weeks, with additional self-massage therapy at home, improved pain and muscle weakness due to carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Ease fibromyalgia symptoms. Some studies support the use of massage therapy to reduce muscle stiffness and pain in women with fibromyalgia.
Although massage therapy has few side effects, people who have blood clots, tend to bleed or bruise easily, or are at risk of fractures should check with their doctor before scheduling a therapeutic massage. Pregnant women should also talk to their doctors before undergoing massage therapy.
Massage Therapy: What Should I Expect?
Massage therapy sessions typically last between 30 and 60 minutes but may be as lengthy as two hours. Some massage therapists can come to your home or job; others may require you to visit their office in a clinic, hospital, or fitness center.
A massage therapist usually creates a tranquil atmosphere, with calming music, relaxing scents, and soft lighting. Fully or partially clothed, you will lie on a specially designed massage table or sit in a specially designed chair.
Licensed massage therapists typically receive at least 500 hours of training and must pass nationalized exams. Don't hesitate to ask for details about a massage therapist's training or background in working with clients who have your same health condition. Keep in mind that some massage therapists are more experienced than others.
“Massage therapists do not necessarily receive the training needed for some of these advanced therapeutic massage techniques,” observes Schneeweiss. For example, massage therapists who work with cancer patients should undergo additional training in the techniques of oncology massage.
Source - EverydayHealth.com