Massage therapy promotes relaxation and can help ease aches and pains. It triggers the natural pain reducing mechanisms and gives a general sense of wellbeing.
Peer-reviewed medical research has shown that the benefits of massage include pain relief, reduced trait anxiety and depression, and temporarily reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and state of anxiety. Theories behind what massage might do include blocking nociception (gate control theory), activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which may stimulate the release of endorphins and serotonin, preventing fibrosis or scar tissue, increasing the flow of lymph, and improving sleep, but such effects are yet to be supported by well-designed clinical studies.
Massage is hindered from reaching the gold standard of scientific research, which includes placebo-controlled and double blind clinical trials. Developing a “sham” manual therapy for massage would be difficult since even light touch massage could not be assumed to be completely devoid of effects on the subject. It would also be difficult to find a subject that would not notice that they were getting less of a massage, and it would be impossible to blind the therapist. Massage can employ randomized controlled trials, which are published in peer reviewed medical journals. This type of study could increase the credibility of the profession because it displays that purported therapeutic effects are reproducible.
Single Dosage Effects
- Pain relief: Relief from pain due to musculoskeletal injuries and other causes is cited as a major benefit of massage. Acupressure or pressure point massage may be more beneficial than classic Swedish massage in relieving back pain. However, a meta-study conducted by scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign failed to find a statistically significant reduction in pain immediately following treatment.
- State anxiety: Massage has been shown to reduce state anxiety, a transient measure of anxiety in a given situation.
- Blood pressure and heart rate: Massage has been shown to reduce blood pressure and heart rate as temporary effects.
Multiple Dosage Effects
- Pain relief: When combined with education and exercises, massage might help sub-acute, chronic, non-specific low back pain. Furthermore, massage has been shown to reduce pain experienced in the days or weeks after treatment.
- Trait anxiety: Massage has been shown to reduce trait anxiety; a person’s general susceptibility to anxiety.
- Depression: Massage has been shown to reduce subclinical depression.
Massage has been shown to reduce neuromuscular excitability by measuring changes in the Hoffman’s reflex (H-reflex) amplitude. A decrease in peak-to-peak H-reflex amplitude suggests a decrease in motoneuron excitability. Others explain, “H-reflex is considered to be the electrical analogue of the stretch reflex…and the reduction” is due to a decrease in spinal reflex excitability. Field (2007) confirms that the inhibitory effects are due to deep tissue receptors and not superficial cutaneous receptors, as there was no decrease in H-reflex when looking at light fingertip pressure massage. It has been noted that “the receptors activated during massage are specific to the muscle being massaged”, as other muscles did not produce a decrease in H-reflex amplitude.
Massage and Proprioception
Proprioceptive studies are much more abundant than massage and proprioception combined, yet researchers are still trying to pinpoint the exact mechanisms and pathways involved to get a fuller understanding. Proprioception may be very helpful in rehabilitation, though this is a fairly unknown characteristic of proprioception, and “current exercises aimed at ‘improving proprioception’ have not been demonstrated to achieve that goal”. Up until this point, very little has been studied looking into the effects of massage on proprioception. Some researchers believe “documenting what happens under the skin, bioelectrically and biochemically, will be enabled by newer, non-invasive technology such as functional magnetic resonance imaging and continuous plasma sampling” .
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- Active Release Technique
- Sports Massage
- Deep Tissue Massage
- Remedial Massage
- Relaxing Massage
The type of massage you require depends on what goals you require. Your body largely responds to massage in two main ways. Physical effects, such as reducing muscle stiffness, improving circulation and increasing joint mobility. Secondly there are psychological benefits, such as improving self-esteem, reducing stress and producing a feeling of increased energy levels.
Deeper massage, such as Active Release Technique or the less specific and more generic Sports Massage can be used to break down scar tissues and release tensions created by activity or pathology and is often utilised by manual therapists such as Physiotherapists and Chiropractors. This will always be tailored to an individuals tolerance and aims of treatment.
To gain maximum benefit from your massage, it is advisable to rest afterwards, or avoid heavy workloads or sport. This allows your body’s natural healing process to work efficiently.
Everyone can benefit from massage therapy, whether aiming to unwind the stresses of daily life, or as part of your treatment for injury to supplement your Chiropractic or Physiotherapy sessions. Please ask your therapist if you are unsure.
To ensure the continued satisfaction of clients, all treatments will begin with a consultation which enables your therapist to make sure that the massage is right for you. Confidential records will be made to keep relevant notes for future treatments.