The Healing Powers of Massage Therapy
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Massage—the practice of rubbing or manipulating the body's soft tissue—has been in use for thousands of years.
The power of human touch to relax the body has never been in dispute, but Western medical science is only now starting to find many other health benefits of massage therapy. Here's a sample of recent discoveries that confirm the value of massage therapy in healing.
A review of scientific studies published in the June 2007 issue of Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine has found "fairly robust support for the analgesic effects of massage for non-specific low back pain," as well as some support for relief of shoulder pain, headache pain, fibromyalgia, mixed chronic pain conditions, neck pain and carpal tunnel syndrome.
The study "Acute Postoperative Pain Management Using Massage as an Adjuvant Therapy," published in the December 2007 issue of Archives of Surgery finds that patients receiving massage after a major operation experience short-term decreases in pain intensity and pain unpleasantness, as well as, faster recovery than a group of control patients.
A study published in the journal Evidenced-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that massage therapy promoted "greater daily functioning and communication" of HIV infected Dominican children who weren't receiving antiretroviral treatment. Massage therapy helped to reduce the subjects' anxiety, depressed moods, and negative thoughts. Moreover, a meta-analysis of massage therapy research published in the January 2004 journal Psychological Bulletin found that a course of massage therapy treatments reduced anxiety and depression, providing benefits "similar in magnitude to those of psychotherapy."
Research published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that mothers suffering from postpartum depression who attended a baby massage class were able to reduce their depression and communicate better with their babies at their one-year mark than a control group that attended a support class.
A 2006 review of trials where pregnant women stuck to a course of perineal massage once or twice a week for 35 weeks before giving birth reduced the likelihood of episiotomies and ongoing perineal pain for first time mothers.
Prenatal massage is also helpful to reduce swelling, back and neck pain in pregnant women.
A 1986 study showed that premature babies who received daily massage therapy gained 47 percent more weight and went home 6 days sooner than premature babies in the control group. Also, a year later, these infants weighed more and scored higher on cognitive and motor-development tests than the control group.
Massage Therapy: A Promising Profession
The scientific community is still puzzling about how massage works its wonders on the body. According the National Institutes of Health, science knows that massage promotes changes in muscle structure, but these changes are not yet understood. One theory suggests that massage helps the nervous system shift away from the "fight or flight" mode that the modern world seems to keep us in, into a "rest and digest" mode where the body's natural repair system can work more efficiently.
Regardless of how it works, patients are more and more seeking the work of qualified massage therapists. In a survey sponsored by the American Massage Therapy Association, 87 percent of respondents said that massage can be effective in relieving pain and 85 percent agree massage can be beneficial to health and wellness.
A survey by the Opinion Research Corporation found that massage therapists are treating more American adults. Just 8 percent visited a massage therapist in 1997. By 2005, that figure jumped to 22 percent.
That demand, of course, translates into a corresponding need for people to fill massage therapist jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts "very good opportunities" for those to get formal training and pass the national certification exam.
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