The Value of Massage
In recent months, I have heard a few opinions expressed asserting that manual therapies including massage should be relegated to the world of inessential, frivolous luxuries; that it should be largely considered medically
low-value if it is considered at all because its pain relief effects are minimal and short-term at best. Some have even said it is harmful to promote massage as a medical treatment because it takes time and resources away from “real” therapies.
Clearly, I disagree with this stance. I’ve built my professional life around the knowledge that massage helps people heal! So as Massage Therapy Week kicks off, I feel it is important to throw my response to these claims into the internet archives.
Everyone who goes into healthcare fields is drawn to helping people (or at least that is the hope). Professionals who assert that manual therapies are unhelpful in the long term are therefore honestly trying to give the best advice they can offer their patients and clients. This misguided stance probably stems from the difficulty of studying modalities like massage since much of the numbers generated from experiments are subjective reports on pain, mood, and wellbeing. Thankfully, more and more research is coming out all of the time demonstrating significant, lasting effects from massage. Climbing along with the research are the number of people receiving massage specifically for a medical reason. According to surveys conducted by the American Massage Therapy Association, 50% of massage customers received massage for medical purposes including pain relief which is a 6% increase since 2011. Likewise, 71% of clients believe massage absolutely should be considered healthcare.
Perhaps another reason clinicians and others who are not familiar with massage dismiss this therapy is because of its packaging. Often massage treatments are wrapped in dreamy music, soft lighting, and flowing movements; in other words, it is presented as an opulent event, heavy emphasis on the relaxation. It can be difficult to imagine clinical results coinciding with something that goes in a spa. But here are there massage benefits that really stand out to my mind.
1) Massage Is an Educational Tool
For some introception - the ability to experience the internal conditions of their body - comes naturally, allowing them to detect and therefore adjust to the smallest changes in their posture or movement. But others need sensations just short of being run over by a bus to realize something is amiss in their bodies. Receiving massage regularly can cultivate body awareness in these individuals, fostering a heightened ability to self correct, avoiding pain and injury occurrence.
Massage therapists will also teach you about your pain when you are seeking relief. At this point most therapists (or at least the ones with whom I speak) know that understanding the why and how of your own pain can greatly contribute to its resolution.
2) Communicate with the Nervous System
Central and peripheral sensitization ensure that your body guards against any and every potential injury recurrence. This unfortunately means doing those strengthening exercises and stretches that are designed to fix the issue are probably going to hurt. As we all know, at best the pain will most likely make you want to do those exercises incorrectly to avoid the pain, and at worst you’ll stop doing them completely. Massage can interrupt this feedback loop, signalling to the nervous system the threat is past, the movement is safe. Because it is now significantly easier to commit to strengthening with proper form, you’ll recover faster.
3) Reduce Urgency of Pain Related Diseases
When we’re in chronic pain, agonizing pain, or agonizing chronic pain, we want to find a way to relieve it as soon as possible. Sometimes this means that people choose a drastic course of action such as surgery only to regret it later. The pain reduction and functional improvement massage provides gives your time to make more informed decisions about other options instead of rushing into one because you feel the dire need to find a fix.
4) Address the Root Cause
Massage is not a panacea. But muscle tension and imbalance is the primary cause of m any maladies not normally associated with soft tissue dysfunction. For instance, hypertension in the longus colli (a muscle that stabilizes the neck and flexes the head forward located on the anterior/front of the cervical vertebrae) can cause vertigo. Trigger points in the scalenes (front of the neck) or in the superficial spinal muscles (back along the spine) can cause chest pain. Restricted hamstring fascia can contribute to low back pain. Imaging and blood work do not detect these problems, meaning bodywork and palpation are the best determining tools.
Massage, as with all medical modalities, works with your body’s functions and innate healing systems to guide you toward recovery. And as with any other medical modality, there are always substitutes. Find one that works better for you? Absolutely go with that! Keeping an open mind and discovering the method that earns you the results you want are the important things here.
Questions, comments, concerns? Tell me about them below! You can also call/text (856) 857-7535