The art of massage has been practiced for thousands of years to relieve stress, promote overall well-being, and address a wide array of health concerns. While modern medicine was at first reluctant to acknowledge massage as an effective therapy, many health care practitioners now recognize that beyond relaxation, there are some real health benefits to massage. Here are just a few:
Massage Helps Ease Pain. Numerous studies have shown that massage can help reduce pain and discomfort. In one study, patients who had been suffering with back pain for 3 months or more were divided into 3 treatment groups for 10 weeks.
One group received “usual care” which included acetaminophen or an NSAID, plus physical therapy once a week for 1 hour. Another group received a relaxing Swedish-style massage once a week for an hour. And, the third group received a structural (deep tissue) massage targeting their specific areas of pain once a week for 1 hour.
The results showed that all three groups reported similar decreases in pain. In addition, at 10 weeks and 6 months, those in the massage groups reported less pain than those in the usual care group. No difference was observed between the Swedish-style massage and the deep tissue massage in terms of relieving disability or symptoms.
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Massage Can Lower Your Blood Pressure. High blood pressure has been linked to and increased risk of heart attack, congestive heart failure, and stroke. Massage has been shown to help lower blood pressure naturally.
One study looked at the effects of massage on pre-hypertensive women (meaning their blood pressure level was less than 140/90 and more than 120/80). Researchers divided the women into two groups. The test group received a Swedish massage for 10-15 minutes a day, 3 times a week, for a total of 10 sessions each. Participants in the control group were placed in a relaxing environment, but received no massage. Blood pressure was measured before and after each session, as well as 72 hours after finishing the massage therapy.
The results indicated that the mean systolic and diastolic blood pressure in the massage group was significantly lower in comparison with the control group. In addition, those benefits remained 72 hours after completing the massage therapy.
Massage Boosts Your Brainpower. Want a mental boost? Try a quick massage. In one study, 50 adult volunteers were divided into two groups. One group enjoyed a short 15-minute chair massage two times a week for five weeks, while the control group relaxed in the massage chair for 15 minutes over the same period of time, but did not receive a massage. Both groups were given a series of math questions to complete both before and after their sessions. The researchers found that the massage group was more alert and showed increased speed and accuracy on their math computations. No improvement was found in the other group.
Massage Relieves Stress. Studies have found that massage lowers levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. In one study, researchers divided adult volunteers into two groups. One group had a 45-minute Swedish massage once or twice a week for 5 weeks. The other group had a light-touch massage once or twice a week over the same period.
The results showed that those adults in the Swedish massage group experienced decreases in their cortisol levels, increased levels of the “peace and trust” hormone oxytocin, and decreased levels of arginine vasopressin, the “anti-diuretic hormone” that’s released from the posterior pituitary gland which is active during the stress response.
With the holidays approaching, keep massage in mind. Massage can not only help you relax during the busy and stressful season, but it also makes a great gift. (I ask for a gift certificate for a massage every Christmas.) And, massage isn’t just for adults. Children can also reap the benefits of massage. In fact, I’m planning on treating my 9-year-old to her first massage during her winter break this year.
Lauren Kent is a writer, guest blogger, and consultant for Nutri-Health Supplements, a leading formulator and marketer of nutritional health supplements.
 Cherkin, DC, et al. A comparison of the effects of 2 types of massage and usual care on chronic low back pain: a randomized, controlled trial. Ann Intern Med. 2011 Jul 5;155(1):1-9.
 Mahshid, Givi. Durability of Effect of Massage Therapy on Blood Pressure. Int J Prev Med. 2013 May; 4(5): 511–516.
 Field, T, et al. Massage therapy reduces anxiety and enhances EEG pattern of alertness and math computations. Int J Neurosci. 1996 Sep;86(3-4):197-205.
 Rapaport, MH, Schettler P, Bresee C. A preliminary study of the effects of repeated massage on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal and immune function in healthy individuals: a study of mechanisms of action and dosage. J Altern Complement Med. 2012 Aug;18(8):789-97.