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What You Knead This Winter: Massage Therapy

By: Lara Endreszl
Published: Saturday, 29 November 2008

A few weeks ago I fell down the three wooden stairs that separate the kitchen from the family room. In the brief moments it took me to slip and brace myself for impact, my lower back locked up and I had pulled a muscle in my neck. Over the next few nights as I tossed and turned, any slight twist of my neck would wake me up in searing pain. While I should have gone to the chiropractor to crack me back into shape, I instead booked a massage in order to help relax my body in anticipation of the upcoming holiday stress. In addition to feeling limber and whole again after my hour-long massage, I found out there is more to massage than just pleasure.

Besides helping relieve tension and the effects of reflexology—the art of healing internal organs, calming the mind, and promoting general bodily health through pressure points all over your body especially the feet and hands—massage is a big part of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

Also known as bodywork, the art of massage therapy (massage for short) is helpful for a lot of what ails you from a migraine to back pain like mine, lessening anxiety and depression, improving blood circulation, and increased immunity by stimulating the body’s natural defenses among many others. Professional athletes use massage therapy to ease tired muscles and to help with joint flexibility. Many health clubs offer massage in order to help stretch sore and injured muscles post-workout while simultaneously putting the client in a relaxed environment in order for peace to be invited into the body.

Even though massage is usually associated with spa treatments like pedicures, facials and body waxing, bodywork is far from a completely frivolous expense. Although there are pricier massages that use anything from chocolate, mud, hot stones, all organic materials, and promise out-of-body experiences, you can usually find relief without spending your entire paycheck.

The main aggravator that leads to damaged skin, muscle spasms and cramps, depression, overused muscle groups, migraines, and lack of sleep just to name a few is stress. Stress is to blame for the growing numbers of patients seeking medical help for any number of conditions and is the number one reason people search out a professional massage to pamper their worries away. That is, if you can turn off your mind. For at least forty minutes of my fifty-minute massage, I couldn’t stop the wheels inside my brain and although I was relaxed and happy, my to-do list was piling up in my head while my body fell asleep on the heated table.

Research shows that massage is credited as an acceptable form of CAM and a few of the main insurance companies do offer massage services as part of their coverage plans. Children with asthma have been recorded to have increased circulation and better airflow due to massage work, arthritis sufferers had less complaints of stiff joints and overall pain after completing treatments, bodywork has been proven to lower blood pressure, reduce symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome), as well as promoting weight gain in premature babies through the often overlooked power of touch. Most recently the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has been researching the benefits of massage and how it affects chronic neck pain versus western procedures, quality of normal life with regular treatments, cancer patients nearing the end of their life to see if massage can ease the transition, and whether home massage is helpful in pain reduction for sickle cell anemia patients.

Whether treating neurological or sleep disorders, stress cases, or just plain used as “me time” to get away from rambunctious kids, holiday crowds, working overtime, or to get an energy boost, massage therapy has shown to be more than just an extra life expense. An added benefit is the pleasurable feeling of rest and rejuvenation you encounter upon leaving a session, which is why massage is recommended as often as you can afford it. Clients are often encouraged to drink lots of water following a treatment as your muscles will be tired and dehydrated, as it is also important for anyone scheduling a massage to fill out any medical history accurately (there are some conditions like pregnancy or deep vein thrombosis in which you should use caution and ask a doctor prior to treatment) so the technician can cater to your specific needs and make sure nothing they are planning to do on the table could hurt your health. So next time you book an appointment with a masseur or masseuse, try to shut your brain off, take some deep breaths, close your eyes to the dime lights, listen to the methodic drums beating out of the speakers, and tune into your body’s needs.

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