Swedish, hot stone, aromatherapy, deep tissue, shiatsu— the list of massage types is more than 100 strong! And while most good rub downs feel delightful, is getting a massage really worth the cash? It may well be— studies suggest massage therapy can be beneficial not only in reducing physical pain, but also for improving mood and fighting stress Effects of massage on pain, mood status, relaxation, and sleep in Taiwanese patients with metastatic bone pain: A randomized clinical trial. Jane, S.W., Chen, S.L., Wilkie, D.J., et al. Department of Nursing, Chang Gung University of Science and Technology, Taiwan. Pain. E pub July 11. Effect of massage therapy on stress levels and quality of life in brain tumor patients- observations from a pilot study. Keir, S.T. Duke University Medical Center, The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke, Durham, NC. Support Care Cancer 2011 May; 19 (5): 711-715. E pub May 11. .
Massage Away the Pain — The Need-to-Know
Massage therapy is any treatment where a therapist (or masseuse) manipulates the body’s muscles and soft tissues to relieve pain or decrease stress. But all massage is not created equal! Strategies range from deep tissue (often called Swedish) massage to reflexology, where the therapist applies pressure to a specific point on the body in order to relieve pain.
And the list of ailments massage can be used to treat is just as long as the list of massage types. One recent study found that massage therapy can reduce pain, promote muscle relaxation, and improve both mood and sleep quality Effects of massage on pain, mood status, relaxation, and sleep in Taiwanese patients with metastatic bone pain: A randomized clinical trial. Jane, S.W., Chen, S.L., Wilkie, D.J., et al. Department of Nursing, Chang Gung University of Science and Technology, Taiwan. Pain. E pub July 11. . Another study found that after subjects were massaged, the levels of cortisol (a hormone contributing to stress) in their saliva decreased Psychological responses to touch massage in healthy volunteers. Lindgren, L., Rundgren, S., Winso, O., et al. Department of Nursing, Umea University, Sweeden. Autonomic Neuroscience: Basic and Clinical, 2010 Dec 8; 158(1-2): 105-10. . One study also found massage therapy’s pleasurable qualities can lead to recipients reporting a better body image, especially for women A preliminary examination of the effect of massage on state body image. Dunigan, B.J., King, T.K., Morse, B.J. Bridgewater State University, Bridgewater, MA, USA. Body Image. E pub July 11. .
Worth Its Weight — Your Action Plan
Although massage therapy may be more expensive than a walk in the park or a bar of dark chocolate (don’t worry, everyone eats the whole thing sometimes), it’s possible the psychological benefits of massage therapy may far outweigh its heftier price tag.
But while the majority of massage side effects are stress-relieving and positive, there are a few concerns to consider before diving into deep tissue. Not just anyone can give a true therapeutic massage, so make sure to seek the services of a trained massage therapist. And while it's normal to feel a little sore the day after many types of massage, it should never be painful or uncomfortable, so communication with the therapist is key.