It’s time to stop thinking of massage as a luxurious indulgence, but rather a research-backed tool that can improve your health.
"The notion that massage is ‘just an indulgence’ is antiquated,” says Brent A. Bauer, M.D., director of the complementary and integrative medicine program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “There are over 1,000 studies and published reports that offer scientific evidence on the health effects of massage therapy. There are certainly direct effects like changes that happen at the muscle level and pain pathways and a reduction in stress hormones, such as cortisol. But there are also indirect effects like being in a comfortable setting and a compassionate human presence that can all lead to profound effects on our stress levels and emotional state.”
Don’t just take Dr. Bauer's word for it. Here, research reveals five health benefits to a good rub down.
1. Massage decreases stress, depression and anxiety.
When you’re anxious and feeling the pressure, your body pumps out the stress hormone cortisol. Unfortunately, this just makes you feel even more stressed and anxious. Here’s where a massage can help. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, studied patients who had undergone open-heart surgery. They compared the benefits of massage and quiet relaxation time and found that those in the massage group were significantly less anxious and tense. They also reported significantly less pain. Other studies confirm these results. “Similar efforts in thoracic, breast and colorectal surgery led to widespread implementation of massage therapy in our hospitals,” explains study author Bauer.
2. A rub down reduces lower back pain.
Oh, your aching back! If lower back pain is making life, well, really painful, a little rub down may be just what the doctor ordered. Researchers at the University of Miami School of Medicine conducted a five-week study on people who had been suffering from lower back pain for at least six months. They found that those who got 30 minutes of massage therapy twice a week had less pain and more mobility and range of motion in their lower backs than those who had relaxation therapy during that time. Added bonus? The massage group also felt less stressed!
3. You’ll sleep better.
Many of us have trouble falling asleep at night and nearly 10 percent of Americans suffer from chronic insomnia. In the same lower back pain study conducted at the University of Miami School of Medicine, study participants in the massage group also said they slept better than those in the relaxation group. Another study in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology compared the benefits of massage to those of relaxation therapy on people who have fibromyalgia. After five weeks of twice- weekly 30-minute massages, those in the massage therapy group slept longer and more soundly than those who had relaxation therapy. Plus, people in the rub-down group also found their pain level decreased and they had fewer tender spots on their bodies.
4. Massage may ease knee pain.
Osteoarthritis of the knee means there’s been a breakdown of cartilage, ligaments, joint lining or underlying bone, which can be a real pain in the knees. But massage may help. A study at both Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center in Connecticut and University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey found that weekly Swedish massages decreased knee pain in those suffering from osteoarthritis. In the eight-week study, some participants had 60-minute Swedish massages once or twice a week, while the others had shorter or less frequent treatments or no massage at all. Those in the 60-minute massage group had less pain and more function in their knees.
5. The therapy alleviates carpal tunnel syndrome.
With more of us logging longer hours in front of our computers, wrist pain is a problem many can relate to. In more serious situations, you may have carpal tunnel syndrome, which is when the median nerve that runs through the wrist becomes trapped, causing pain and tingling. A gentle massage may help. One study reported in Rheumatology International divided carpal tunnel sufferers into two groups. One group got hand massages in addition to wearing wrist splints, while the other group just wore the wrist splints. At the end of the study, those in the massage group had better grip strength and less pain. A second study in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies had carpal tunnel patients do self-massage daily and get a professional massage weekly for four weeks compared to a control group. The massage group had less pain and anxiety and better grip strength than the control group.