What comes to mind when you hear the term “massage therapy”? Candles? Relaxation? Aromatherapy? Spa days? Luxury? Medicine?
If you’re like many Americans, the word “medicine” may not even be on the list. However, research by the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) shows that 50 percent of Americans sought a massage for health-related reasons in the last year.
Unfortunately, the misconception that massage therapy is only a luxurious part of a spa day is still common, but the tide is changing. More physicians are recognizing the documented health benefits of massage therapy and sending their patients to licensed massage therapists for treatment. Therefore, the demand for massage therapists is skyrocketing and the career outlook for massage therapists is one of the strongest in the health care industry.
Massage therapy, broadly defined, is the manual manipulation of muscles and other soft tissues in the body, including connective tissue, ligaments, and tendons, with the purpose of improving a person’s health and well-being. Competent, licensed massage therapists are highly-trained and well-versed in anatomy and physiology. Part of becoming a massage therapist is being able to work with other health care practitioners to improve their client’s’ level of wellness.
Massage therapy effectively treats a variety of medical conditions, sports injuries, and can help prevent health problems associated with stress. Research shows that conditions such as (but not limited to) the following, can be significantly improved or even healed by massage therapy:
Elite and recreational athletes alike can benefit from massage therapy. Massage has been shown to help reduce muscle tension, improve exercise performance, and even prevent injuries.
Low back pain
The American College of Physicians recently updated its guidelines for treating patients with chronic back pain, suggesting that alternative treatments such as massage therapy be implemented before prescribing opiates to suffering patients. Unlike many pharmeceuticals that can lead to addiction, massage therapy is not only effective but comes with minimal side effects.
Research shows that head and neck massage can significantly reduce chronic tension headaches, as well as emotional distress associated with the headaches.
Poor immune system functioning
Specific types of massage have been shown to improve autonomic nervous system activity which is a crucial component to healthy immune system function. Massage also helps increase the activity of “killer T cells,” which recognizes and kills cells that are infected with viruses. Reduction in stress, a universally acknowledged benefit of massage therapy, can contribute to better immune system functioning, as well.
High blood pressure
By lowering stress and improving blood flow, massage therapy can also reduce blood pressure immediately (albeit temporarily) and contribute to better overall heart health.
While there is currently no cure for the chronic pain condition known as fibromyalgia, studies indicate a strong connection between improved quality of life for fibromyalgia sufferers who receive myofascial massage therapy. Reduced pain and anxiety, as well as better sleep and overall quality of life were all experienced by the participants in the study who received massage.
Not surprisingly, the most common and debilitating symptom for cancer patients is pain, to varying degrees. Massage has been shown to significantly reduce pain (and the anxiety that often accompanies it) for cancer patients who seek it out in conjunction with other pain management techniques recommended by their physicians.
Those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder can benefit greatly from massage therapy for many of the reasons listed above: massage can help reduce anxiety, stress, depression and pain associated with traumatic memories and is an excellent companion to psychotherapeutic techniques sought out by those who suffer from PTSD.
It’s no wonder that more people in our fast-paced, stress-inducing culture are seeking out massage therapy to complement the other forms of treatment they may be receiving from traditional medicine. Massage therapists are already working at many medical offices and hospitals. With today’s ongoing opioid epidemic, the need for safe and effective health solutions massage therapists provide only continues to grow.