In an attempt to understand how and why massage therapy is as effective as it seems to be, scientists and medical researchers from around the world have been studying it for decades.
Some characteristics of massage therapy have been conclusively resolved with apparent consensus among the learned scholars, while other characteristics remain as inexplicably mysterious as ever.
For instance, they all agree that when a certain amount of pressure is applied to a soft tissue such as a muscle, some changes occur within the affected muscles. They also all tend to agree that massage therapy promotes relaxation and reduces the stress which often leads to deterioration or worsening of certain physiological conditions.
Those characteristics of massage therapy which have not yet been explained by conventional science, gave rise to a number of theories and postulates.
You will note that they are all prefaced with the word “might” to indicate uncertainty as they described possible health benefits of massage therapy:
- Might provide stimulation that may help block pain signals transmitted to the brain and this is called the “gate control theory” of decreasing or alleviating pain.
- Might promote better health by stimulating the lymphatic system to increase the flow of lymph, which is the secretion that carries disease fighting cells through the body.
- Might re-route the client’s nervous system away from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic. In doing so, the fight-or-flight reaction of the sympathetic nervous system with its increased heart and breathing rates along with tightened muscles of distress are shunned in favor of the rest-and-digest reaction of the parasympathetic nervous system with its lowered heart rate, slowed breathing and relaxed muscles.
- Might be instrumental in effecting beneficial changes in the body by preventing fibrosis through the process of breaking up scar-like tissue
- Might arouse the body to discharge chemicals such as serotonin or endorphins which area known to give people the feelings of wellbeing.
- Might improve sleep patterns which is essential to pain control and healing processes.
- Might contribute to the overall mental and physiological health by the intimate interaction between the client and the therapist.
- The following are specific cases and their reported benefits whether they are understood or merely observed with bewilderment:
- Students at a New Jersey Medical School who were given massage therapy before an exam displayed less anxiety, lower respiratory rates, a substantial increase in white blood cells and an enhanced immune system.
- Cancer patients at the James Cancer Hospital and Research Institute in Columbus, Ohio experienced less pain and decreased anxiety after receiving massage therapies than those who did not get such treatments.
- Studies at the University of South Carolina show that women who recently lost a child were less depressed after massage therapy.
- The National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that massage therapy improved weight gain in infants who were premature or those who were exposed to HIV. They also determined that massage therapy expedites recovery in patients who had abdominal surgery.
- Researchers at the University of the Miami School of Medicine’s Touch Research Institute discovered that massage therapy decreases high blood pressure, relieves migraine headaches, and generally increases alertness and performance in the workforce.
- Many additional studies confirm that massage therapy reduces heart rates, lowers blood pressure; increases blood circulation and lymph flow; relaxes stiffened and tense muscles while stimulating weak and inactive muscles to compensate for lack of movement due to an illness or an injury; speeds up the healing process after surgeries, disease and injuries; improves the range of vision; increases endorphins; reduces anxiety, tension, depression, pain and itching in burn patients; and Autistic children exhibit calmer and more predictable behavior.
So, is massage therapy beneficial? Yes! Massage therapy is beneficial on, oh, so many levels. The mechanics of the process may not be clear just yet, but the outcomes are undeniable by anyone’s standards.