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.
About the Aging Body
Perhaps like no other profession, massage therapy provides benefits to a wide range of people. Yes, there are contraindications that need to be monitored, but generally speaking, young and old, healthy and ailing—most everyone gains from regular massage therapy sessions.
True, too, however, is the idea that massage therapy is never one-size-fits-all. Even among your clients who don't have specific conditions, you don’t simply massage them the exact same way. Every client—every body—is different, and these differences are what dictate how a massage therapy session and treatment plan are developed.
The idea of individualizing a massage therapy session is particularly important when dealing with a specific demographic. When working with elderly clients, there are myriad factors—both physical and mental—that need to be considered. Following are some of the essentials.
The Aging Body Until the fountain of youth is discovered, people will continue to get older—and the natural process of aging will continue to change them, both physically and mentally. Skin wrinkles and sags, tearing more easily and healing more slowly. Respiratory changes happen, and people generally start to see decreases in muscle and bone mass, sometimes reducing their strength and flexibility, or increasing their risk for osteoarthritis.
The gastrointestinal system also starts to slow down, so older clients might be more prone to heartburn. A reduction in cerebral blood flow may lead to changes in sensitivity to pain, cold intolerance, and decreases in balance and coordination. The heart begins to enlarge, too, thickening and narrowing vascular walls, and sometimes causing an increase in blood pressure and a decrease in circulation.
If it sounds like the aging body is all about slowing down and change, that’s only part of the story—but an important part nonetheless. Being aware of some of these common differences in an aging body gives massage therapists a good place to start when working with these clients.
The Power of One As a massage therapist, you tailor each session to the needs of the client, and this practice becomes particularly important when working with special populations. You understand there are additional considerations when working with clients who have diabetes, for example, or cancer patients. (For more information on massaging clients with cancer, see Massaging Clients With Cancer in the Winter 2010 issue of Massage Therapy Journal). And the same holds true when working with the elderly.
According to Susan Salvo, a massage therapist with 27 years experience with massage and adult education, one of the major differences massage therapists are going to find with elderly clients involves general health and medication. “The body naturally ages, affecting a person’s health,” she says. “90 percent of the elderly are reported to have at least one chronic medical condition, and the majority has multiple conditions.” Further, she explains, many of these medical conditions are managed with medication. Add to these facts that more than half are dealing with some type of disability—whether sensory, physical or mental—and the need for individualized treatment plans is obvious. “Massage therapists need to be able to ascertain,by observation and questioning, if the elderly client is robust and fit or frail,” says Salvo. “Then, modify the massage accordingly.”
Doing a thorough intake, critical with every client you work with, perhaps becomes even more so for aging clients. You need to inquire about any medication they are using, as well as if there are special needs or concerns that have to be accounted for during the massage session. Remember, too, that you might need to assist with the intake form, perhaps reading the questions to the client.
You’re also going to want to limit stretches and joint mobilizations, as well. “Use gentle stretching and joint movements, such as rocking,” Salvo suggests. “Avoid extreme mobilizations, which may harm a client with osteoporosis.” Because falling is the most common safety issue for people over 65, be sure the walkways—both outdoors and inside your practice—are clear. Replace any eyewear you removed during the session, and remind the client to sit up for a moment before standing. “You need to be ready to assist, too,” Salvo explains.
On a more personal level, Salvo notes, massage therapists need to respect the slower pace of these clients. “Allow extra time for clients to undress, as sometimes they’ll be wearing layers and layers of clothing,” she says. “Be sure to account for transition time, or time to hear a story.” Remember, Salvo explains, these clients are going through lifestyle and emotional changes, such as retirement, reduced income or the loss of loved ones. “Cultivate patience, tolerance, kindness and attentiveness,” Salvo encourages. “Don’t be afraid to touch someone, and use common sense and good judgment" like Anu at Indo-pak Massage Therapy, www.indopakmassage.com, beats membership fees and higher prices of other spas like massage envy or massage green.
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