The stresses and strains of everyday life create a lot of tension, which can be relieved by massage.
Whether you’re sitting at a desk, doing manual work or driving in rush hour traffic, you’re likely to be tensing different parts of your body, often without even realizing it.
According to health and fitness magazine, Experience Life chronic muscle tension can restrict blood circulation. And it can also hamper the supply of vital nutrients to your body’s organs and tissues.
But the good news is that massage can ease the tension and help restore your body’s natural balance.
Intuitively, we all know that if you have a stiff neck or aching leg, rubbing it can help. So, it’s not such a big leap of faith to appreciate that massage can be helpful for relieving tension.
How Massage Has Helped Me
In early 2013, just three months after my Dad had passed away, my Mum had a massive stroke from which she sadly never recovered. She spent the last nine months of her life in hospitals and nursing homes before slipping away later that year.
It was heart-breaking to see her struggle with the after-effects of the stroke. I’d known people in the past who’d had strokes, but I’d never seen someone so badly affected before.
I stopped working to provide what support I could. This involved spending hours each day travelling to the hospital to be with her and help to sort out what she needed.
We’d always been a close family so it was a very distressing time.
A trusted homoeopath whom I’d known for years recommended that I have some massage to help relieve the stress. I had no experience of massage therapy, but discovered it provided some welcome relief at a difficult time.
There are many different types of massage. Sarah – the lady I see – has her own special blend of Swedish, Deep Tissue and Sports Massage. And this has worked well for me.
I came to realize that I was storing a huge amount of tension in my muscles. What seemed like a bit of an ache disguised muscles that were all knotted up. But as Sarah rubbed and kneaded them, they would slowly untangle leaving me feeling more relaxed.
The sessions helped offload tension that would otherwise have remained hidden inside. They also offered a moment of calm in an otherwise stressful week. And they helped me deal with the difficulties I was facing.
How Massage Can Help You
One of the immediate benefits of massage is that it can relieve muscle tension. What’s more, it can also promote a feeling of calm and deep relaxation. So, whether you’re dealing with relationship, money, work or personal problems, a massage can – at the very least – provide a moment of relief from your troubles and worries.
And what’s even more interesting is that research studies have shown that massage can provide much greater benefits.
Researchers report that massage therapy can help ease anxiety associated with a specific event or situation you find troubling.
Tiffany Field believes this is because massage slows the heart rate and reduces the release of stress hormones.
While Christopher Moyer considers the reduction in anxiety could have something to do with the social and psychological environment where the massage takes place. For example, the nurturing aspect of touch or the supportive role of the therapist.
Whatever the explanation, researchers agree that massage has a beneficial effect in alleviating anxiety triggered by a particular incident.
Interestingly, both Field and Moyer have also found that massage can alleviate symptoms of depression.
Soothe Headaches and Reduce Back Pain
The Touch Research Institute has conducted many studies into the effects of massage on pain. And they have found that it helps soothe headaches and alleviate back pain.
A research report published by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health in July 2011 also confirmed that massage helps to reduce low back pain.
And then in September 2015, Cochrane published a review of 25 trials that seemed to suggest massage is helpful for alleviating pain at least in the short term. Disappointingly, the reviewers expressed very little confidence in the results, because most of the trials included a small number of participants or had methodological flaws.
But Cochrane confirmed there were no reports of any ‘serious adverse events’ in any of the trials. So if you’re suffering from low back pain, and are interested in massage therapy, you might want to try it out for yourself to see if it has a beneficial effect for you.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Although many of the studies that explore the effects of massage on the quality of sleep tend to involve small numbers of participants, the American Massage Therapy Association firmly believe that massage can help improve sleep. This view is also held by Tiffany Field as a result of her work at the Touch Research Institute.
Because this type of therapy helps your mind and body relax, a welcome side effect is that it can also encourage deeper, more refreshing sleep at night. And with a good night’s sleep comes the chance to re-charge your mental and physical batteries so you can cope more effectively during the day.
Find a Massage Therapist
Don’t be afraid to ask a potential therapist a few questions:
- What type of massage do you offer?
The most common types are Swedish and Deep Tissue.
Swedish is a gentle type that involves long, smoothing strokes to help relax and energize you.
In contrast, Deep Tissue uses slower more forceful strokes to target deeper layers of muscle.
- Are you certified or registered?
Certification indicates that the therapist has at least undertaken a minimum level of training.
- What is your training and experience?
- How many sessions do you think I’ll need?
- How much is it likely to cost?
Ideally, if you have a friend or colleague who has massage, ask them for a recommendation. If you don’t know anyone, then ask at your local health center or health club, as they’re likely to know the therapists in your area.
Keep in mind that despite its benefits, massage is a complementary technique. And it isn’t meant as a replacement for regular medical care. Most people benefit from this type of therapy, but it’s not always suitable with some health conditions. So it’s a good idea to check with a qualified medical practitioner before making an appointment.
Tiffany Field is Director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami.
Christopher Moyer is Psychologist at the University of Wisconsin–Stout.
Cochrane is an independent network of researchers, professionals and people with an interest in health.