Massage Research

Massage Multiplied

Benefits of Massage Improve with Frequency

By Karrie Osborn

Originally published in Body Sense, Autumn/Winter 2009. Copyright 2009. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.

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.

Stress Killer
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.

Preventive Measures
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.

Body Awareness
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." 


Karrie Osborn is contributing editor for Body Sense. Contact her at karrie@abmp.com.

 

Massage Therapy May Boost Immune System to Combat Cold, Flu 

*A growing body of research indicates massage therapy can benefit the immune system to help prevent cold and flu during winter months.

People looking to fend off cold and flu as the winter months arrive should speak to a massage therapist about prevention strategies. Regular massages have been shown to make the immune system stronger, according to studies.

“Researchers working with patients with compromised immune systems have found massage therapy can improve how the immune system functions,” said Jeff Smoot, President of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). “Those same benefits translate to people seeking to fight off the common cold, flu and other seasonal illnesses.”

Massage therapy increases the activity level of the body’s white blood cells that work to combat viruses. According to research from Cedars-Sinai, participants in a Swedish massage group experienced significant changes in lymphocytes, which play a large role in defending the body from disease. A lymphocyte is one of the three subtypes of white blood cells in the immune system.

What the Research Says

In a controlled study composed of HIV-positive adolescents, participants who received massage therapy showed enhanced immune function by the end of the 12-week study. The immune changes included increased white blood cells knowns as natural killer (NK) cells, which provide rapid responses to viral-infected cells.

An additional randomized study found women with stage 1 and 2 breast cancer may benefit from massage therapy for enhancing dopamine and serotonin while also increasing NK cell number and lymphocytes. Immediate massage benefits included reduced anxiety while the long-term impact increased serotonin values, natural killer cell numbers and lymphocytes, which work to strengthen the immune system and cognitive function during sickness. 

References

1. Mark Hyman Rapaport, Pamela Schettler, and Catherine Bresee. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. October 2010, 16(10): 1079-1088. doi:10.1089/acm.2009.0634.
2. Diego, M., Field, T., Hernandez-reif, M., Shaw, K., Friedman, L., & Ironson, G. (2001). Hiv Adolescents Show Improved Immune Function Following Massage Therapy. International Journal of Neuroscience, 35-45.
3. Hernandezreif, M. (2004). Breast Cancer Patients Have Improved Immune And Neuroendocrine Functions Following Massage Therapy. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 45-52. 

 

Massage Therapy Can Help Reduce Winter Blues 

*One in five Americans are impacted by seasonal change. 

*Massage therapy shown to improve mood and elevate energy levels.

People looking to fend off the winter blues may find relief by integrating massage therapy into their health maintenance routine. Shorter days and colder temperatures leave many Americans feeling depressed and lethargic, yet studies show that regular massages improve mood and reset circadian rhythms, leading to better sleep and more energy.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is recognized as a major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns. A less severe form of seasonal mood disorder, known as the winter blues, impacts an even larger portion of the population. Combined, the two disorders affect as many as one in five Americans, and may be aggravated by the change to Daylight Savings Time. Symptoms include reduced energy, difficulty rising in the morning and a tendency to eat more, especially sweets and starches.

“As we approach the colder, darker months, massage therapy may be an effective method of deflecting common seasonal challenges,” said Jeff Smoot, President of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). “Massage benefits the way our bodies react to negative influences, whether that’s weather, anxieties or disorders.”

A growing body of research is documenting the impact of massage therapy for relief of anxiety and depression for people in a wide range of health situations. For example, in a controlled study composed of HIV-positive adolescents, participants who received massage therapy reported feeling less anxious and less depressed by the end of the 12-week study.

A randomized study found women with stage 1 and 2 breast cancer benefited from regular massage therapy sessions. The immediate massage benefits included reduced anxiety, depressed mood and anger while the long-term impact reduced depression and increased serotonin values. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter with functions in various parts of the body, works to regulate mood, appetite, sleep, memory and learning. Massage therapy was also found to improve sleep, specifically by assisting with circadian rhythms, or the body clock. A study investigating the effects of massage therapy on the adjustment of rest to activity, as well as melatonin secretion rhythms in full-term infants, found massage therapy enhanced coordination of the circadian system.

References

Targum SD, Rosenthal N. Seasonal Affective Disorder. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2008;5(5):31-33.
Targum SD, Rosenthal N. Seasonal Affective Disorder. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2008;5(5):31-33.
Diego, M., Field, T., Hernandez-reif, M., Shaw, K., Friedman, L., & Ironson, G. (2001). Hiv Adolescents Show Improved Immune Function Following Massage Therapy. International Journal of Neuroscience, 35-45.
Hernandezreif, M. (2004). Breast Cancer Patients Have Improved Immune And Neuroendocrine Functions Following Massage Therapy. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 45-52.
Ferber, S., Laudon, M., Kuint, J., Weller, A., & Zisapel, N. (2002). Massage Therapy by Mothers Enhances the Adjustment of Circadian Rhythms to the Nocturnal Period in Full-Term Infants. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 410-415.