There's no denying a massage is calming -- until you start feeling guilty for indulging in a little special treatment.
A small new study excuses us all from the guilt: Massage therapy isn't just a way to relax, it's also a way to alleviate muscle soreness after exercise and improve blood flow, according to the recent research.
Other benefits of massage have long been touted, but research is usually limited. Still, we think there are some pretty good reasons to book an appointment ASAP.
Massage can reduce pain.
A 2011 study found that massage helped people with low back pain to feel and function better, compared to people who didn't get a rubdown. That's good news for the eight in 10 Americans who will experience debilitating back pain at least once in their lives, Time.com reported.
"We found the benefits of massage are about as strong as those reported for other effective treatments: medications, acupuncture, exercise and yoga," Dan Cherkin, Ph.D., lead author of the study, said in a press release.
Massage also seems to lessen pain among people with osteoarthritis.
It can help you sleep.
The calming treatment can also help you spend more time asleep, according to research from Miami University's Touch Research Institute. "Massage helps people spend more time in deep sleep, the restorative stage in which your body barely moves," the Institute's founder Tiffany Field, Ph.D., told More magazine in 2012.
In one study of people with fibromyalgia, 30-minute massages three times a week for five weeks resulted in nearly an hour more of sleep, plus deeper sleep, she said.
Massage may ward off colds.
There's a small body of research that suggests massages boost immune function. A 2010 study, believed to be the largest study on massage's effects on the immune system, found that 45 minutes of Swedish massage resulted in significant changes in white blood cells and lymphocytes, which help protect the body from bugs and germs.
It could make you more alert.
At least one study has linked massage to better brainpower. In a 1996 study, a group of adults completed a series of math problems faster and with more accuracy after a 15-minute chair massage than a group of adults who were told to just sit in a chair and relax during those 15 minutes.
Massage may ease cancer treatment.
Among patients receiving care for cancer, studies have noted multiple benefits of massage, including improved relaxation, sleep and immune system function as well as decreased fatigue, pain, anxiety and nausea.
It may alleviate depression symptoms.
A 2010 review of the existing studies examining massage in people with depression found that all 17 pieces of research noted positive effects. However, the authors recommended additional research into standardizing massage as treatment and the populations who would most benefit from it.
Massage could help with headaches.
The power of touch seems to help limit headache pain. A 2002 study found that massage therapy reduced the frequency of chronic tension headaches. And in a very small 2012 study, 10 male patients with migraine headaches noted significant pain reduction after neck and upper back massage and manipulation. You may even be able to reap the benefits without seeing a professional: Start by applying gentle pressure with your fingertips to your temples, then move them in a circular motion along the hairline until they meet in the middle of your forehead, WebMD reported.
The stress reduction is scientific.
Between the dim lights, soothing music and healing touch, it certainly feels like stress melts away during a massage, but research suggests a very literal reduction of cortisol, a major stress hormone. Chronically high levels of cortisol can contribute to serious health issues, like high blood pressure and blood sugar, suppressed immune system function and obesity.
Back, neck and shoulder pain is the natural result of prolonged sitting at work behind a computer, as is bad posture. This can cause headaches and excessive tension in neck, shoulders, arms, forearms, wrists, back, hips, thighs and legs. The result is increased fatigue to the muscles and ligaments supporting the lower back and this can eventually lead to tissue injury and spinal joint dysfunction. Avoid these problems by posture correction, exercise and correct use of equipment.
Symptoms of back problems due to excessive computer use include:
* Back and neck muscle spasm and pain
* Back and neck soft tissue inflammation
* Back, neck and shoulder pain on movement and involvement of other muscles as a reaction
* Referred pain to buttocks and thighs or up the spine
Preventing back and neck pain while sitting is not an exact science as there are many differing opinions on the subject. However, there are some common denominators on which most chiropractors and other medical professionals agree:
Tips to Prevent Computer Related Neck and Shoulder Pain
Do not slouch in front of the computer or lie in bed and work on a laptop.
Do not work for hours in front of a computer without breaks.
Do not ignore back twinges and back pain, hoping that the problem will resolve itself.
Avoid taking pain or anti-inflammatory medication when in pain from using a computer. This will serve to mask the symptoms but can lead to serious injury or permanent nerve damage in the long term.
Do not sit on one leg or sit with legs crossed as this causes additional strain to the back.
Do not perch a laptop on the lap and stare down at the screen - this places extra strain on the neck, spine and arms.
Buy a chair that encourages you to use your back muscles, such as a stool chair with no back or arm rests. Lower back pain can be reduced or eliminated by strengthening the lower back muscles through active sitting exercises.
Buy an ergonomic keyboard and mouse and ensure that the height is adjusted appropriately.
Have a break every hour and do stretching exercises like neck rolls, chin tucks, cupping head in hands behind the head and extension exercises.
Visiting a Chiropractic Clinic
A chiropractor is a medical professional who treats spinal column dysfunction. Back and neck pain may be the result of the back being badly aligned and the chiropractor sets out to relieve the problem by manual manipulation, exercise, massage and the application of heat, cold and light.
Massage Therapy to Relieve Back and Neck Pain
If done correctly, massage therapy can help to relieve back pain and tension. It is best to find a therapist trained in techniques that address back pain issues and has a knowledge of muscle imbalances relating to back pain, such as sports injuries. Massage therapy should never be considered a substitute for proper medical attention where there are serious back problems.
Is it conceivable that massage can provide more effective relief from low back pain than medication? A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests massage therapy might indeed alleviate back pain better in the short term than traditional interventions of medicine, bed rest or exercise: Healthday reports.
The investigation conducted by the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle involved 400 patients who had low back pain, the majority of which were middle aged, Caucasian and female. Researchers found those who were given a series of relaxation massage or structural massage were better able to work and be active than those who were given traditional medical care, such as pain pills, muscle relaxants or physical therapy.
According to The New York Times, the study's participants were randomly divided into three groups: structural massage, relaxation massage and traditional care. Patients in the massage groups received one hour of therapy weekly for 10 weeks.
At the conclusion of the 10 week period, over one-third of the patients who were given massage therapy reported their pain was much improved or eliminated completely, as opposed to only one in 25 patients who were given traditional care. Furthermore, patients in the massage groups were twice as likely to have spent fewer days in bed rest, used less pain pills and participated in more activity than the traditional care group.
Lead author Daniel Cherkin was surprised by the fact that structural massage did not prove superior to relaxation massage in relieving pain. Structural massage involves manipulating specific back pain related muscles and ligaments, while relaxation massage, otherwise known as Swedish massage, involves inducing body-wide relaxation.
The beneficial effects of the massage seemed not only to be experienced during the 10-week therapy period, but also to linger for a time following the cessation of therapy. Evidence of this lingering effect was manifested by the fact that the massage groups continued to display improved function six months after the study's onset. At the one year mark, however, no significant differences were found in the three groups.
Although the researchers were uncertain of massage therapy's exact mechanism of action for easing back pain, they voiced several theories. One suggestion was that it either stimulated tissue locally or produced a general central nervous system response. Another speculation was that merely spending time in a relaxing environment and feeling cared for might have been responsible for the improvement. An additional factor to consider is the subjectivity that is impossible to eliminate in such studies. Patients in the control group were aware that the other groups were receiving massage and this knowledge may have caused them to discount their own progress.
It should be reiterated that the study suggests rather than proves the benefit of massage for back pain. Also, some members of the American medical community not associated with the research have expressed reluctance to accept the suggested benefits as being valid.
Conversely, the study's authors offered their assessments of its import. Cherkin characterizes the results as being "pretty strong." He states the massage was tested on patients who did not improve using the standard medical approach to back pain treatment. He feels that massage therapy is a reasonable thing to try for anyone getting insufficient relief from this malady. The coauthor, Dr. Richard Deyo, feels that massage appears to provide clinicians with another choice for managing the challenging medical problem of chronic low back pain.
_There are many essential oils extracted from plants, trees and flowers that contain powerful anti-inflammatory, analgesic and detoxifying properties. These can bring pain relief to the muscle spasms and inflammation which result from sports injuries. Joint and muscle pain and menstrual pains can also be relieved with the healing properties of essential oils.
Generally, essential oils are too concentrated to use directly on the skin. Use 10 - 12 drops essential oil of choice blended with a carrier oil such as grapeseed, jojoba, sweet almond or coconut oil. These vegetable oils have the advantage of being excellent natural skin moisturizers when massaged into the skin. Add diluted blends to bath water or massage affected areas. A compress for pain relief may be used by soaking a piece of cloth in a basin of warm water along with essential oils of choice.
According to Shellie Enteen, Aromatherapist of 20 years standing, some of the best essential oils with analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties include chamomile, sweet marjoram, lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint, rosemary and thyme. Oils which have a therapeutic, warming effect for massage or in a bath include juniper, birch and black pepper.
Muscle ache relief blend: Combine 5 drops lavender, 4 drops marjoram and 3 drops rosemary with 30ml carrier oil and use for massage or in a bath.
Coriander muscle rub for pain relief: Blend 4 drops coriander, 4 drops juniper and 4 drops black pepper oil to 4 teaspoons grapeseed oil. Massage into tired, aching muscles.
PMS cramp rub: Blend 5 drops clary sage, 5 drops geranium and 5 drops chamomile oil - massage affected area, rubbing in a clockwise direction.
Jasmine massage for menstrual cramp: It takes large quantities of jasmine flowers to produce a small amount of expensive jasmine essential oil. However, only a few drops are needed to produce a pleasing, soothing effect. Blend 4 drops jasmine, 4 drops clary sage and 2 drops lavender with 5 teaspoons sweet almond oil. Massage in a stroking motion over the abdomen, up and around hips and around to the small of the back.
Cardamom massage oil for stomach cramps: Cardamom essential oil is distilled from the seeds and has a warm, spicy aroma and a warming quality. Add 2 drops cardamom, 2 drops basil and 3 drops marjoram to 2 teaspoons vegetable carrier oil of choice. Massage in a clockwise direction over the stomach and abdomen.
Rub for painful, tight chest: Add 3 drops niaouli, 2 drops hyssop and 2 drops myrrh to 3 teaspoons vegetable oil and rub into the chest.
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Healing Remedies, C. Norman Shealy, Published by Harper Collins, 2002 edition, pages 156 - 158
Dischem Magazine South Africa, Autumn 2011 edition, pages 76,77
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