While many consider massage therapy to be a luxury or simply for relaxation purposes, you might be surprised to know that massage has many more benefits beyond that. Massage therapy has been shown to improve a wide variety of medical conditions, and here’s 5 that you may be surprised by.
#1: Digestive Disorders
Most clients don’t think to tell their massage therapist about digestive problems, but you may very well want to at your next session. First, many digestive issues are related to stress. When we experience stress, whether minor or severe, our body goes into what is often referred to as the “fight or flight” response. This is the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system that gets us ready to handle whatever threat we face. Generally speaking, the sympathetic nervous system redirects resources away from body functions that aren’t of the utmost importance – digestion being one of them. If we’re confronted by an angry bear, whether that be an actual bear or a beast of a boss at work, our body needs every bit of energy and focus on our muscles, eyesight, hearing, heart rate, etc. We have to be ready for a battle, right? And digestion gets shut down because it’s not vital in that circumstance. So if you’re regularly experiencing stress, your digestion is constantly taking a hit.
Regular massage therapy sessions can calm that sympathetic nervous system, and stimulate the opposing force, the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls our “rest and digest” response. That’s actually what it’s often referred to as, because our body is no longer stressed and can now rest and digestion can pick back up. When we calm the nervous system and the entire body, we get a more efficient function of the digestive tract.
Along with a general massage, therapists are trained to perform massage of the abdomen, specifically along the path of the colon. This is meant to “wake up” the colon and get things moving as they should. Massage to this area promotes peristalsis, the squeezing action of the colon that moves things along.
So next time your tummy is filling a little sluggish, don’t hesitate to bring it up at your massage appointment. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about and massage can help!
Whether it’s just every once in a while or a chronic problem, many people suffer from insomnia, or the inability to sleep. It’s a frustrating condition and can affect every other part of your life, from mood to productivity and even your relationships. Many people turn to over-the-counter or prescription medications to fall asleep, but those can often have some pretty rough side effects and may leave you feeling groggy the next morning.
For some, insomnia is just part of how their brain is wired and for others it’s related to stress or pain. But no matter the cause, massage has been shown again and again to improve sleep; both the act of going to sleep as well as the quality of sleep. That “rest and digest” portion of the nervous system needs to be regularly stimulated in order for your body to shut down the way it’s intended so you can get a good night’s sleep. And the pain relief that can come from an experienced massage therapist is unlike any other and will only improve your sleep more.
So, if you’re finding that you’re struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep, try adding regular massage sessions into your routine and you’ll only reap the benefits.
#3: TMJ Disorder
If your jaw clicks, pops, locks, or hurts, you might have Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorder. For many, the cause can be related to clenching or grinding your teeth, even if you’re not aware you do it. But did you know that you don’t just have to live with it? Massage therapy can help to ease that pain.
Imagine you held a squat for an hour. Your hips and legs would be hurting for days, right? Well the same happens to your TM joint if you’re regularly clenching the muscles that control it. Those muscles need to rest and recover from that overwork, just like any other muscular injury. Massage specifically applied throughout the jaw, as well as to the neck and head, can greatly reduce the pain in the muscles along with the associated joint pain. When you come in for your next massage session, you can also be shown some self-care techniques to prevent it from recurring.
Fibromyalgia is an often-misunderstood condition, but generally speaking is a disorder causing widespread muscular pain. While many people who suffer from Fibromyalgia may avoid massage because of their fear of touch being painful, a gentle massage can actually be extremely beneficial. Your massage will always be tailored to your tolerance, so if that means the pressure needs to be very light, that’s what will happen. And if it’s a good day for you, and you want a little more pressure, that’s just fine too.
In addition to the widespread muscular pain, those with Fibromyalgia may also struggle with headaches, sleeplessness, and depression; all of which have been shown to improve with massage therapy. A 2014 study¹ concluded that “massage therapy, with a duration of more than 5 weeks, had beneficial immediate effects on improving pain, anxiety, and depression in patients with Fibromyalgia.”
#5: High Blood Pressure
While it’s often assumed that you have to take medications for high blood pressure, massage may be a better option for many people, especially those who are on the threshold (pre-hypertensive). A 2013 study² concluded that massage is a safe and effective treatment for high blood pressure, stating that those in the study who received regular massage showed a significantly lower blood pressure than those in the control group.
Again, massage stimulates that “rest and digest” portion of the nervous system, lowering blood pressure while you’re receiving the massage, and keeping it lower even after you return to your daily activities. Talk with your doctor to see if massage might be a positive addition to your current treatment plan.
¹ Massage therapy for fibromyalgia: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Li YH, Wang FY, Feng CQ, Yang XF, Sun YH https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24586677
² Durability of Effect of Massage Therapy on Blood Pressure. Mahshid Givi https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3733180/