Is Massage Medicine?
As the Clinic Director of Moyer Total Wellness, I get asked the question, “Is Massage Medicine?” Also, I often hear clients state that only deep tissue massages are therapeutic.
“Is Massage Medicine”
The answer is yes! But, I guess it depends on how you define medicine. If your definition of medicine is like most people, you immediately think of a pill that comes in a bottle, prescribed by a medical doctor. However, the term medicine does not have to be limited to chemical compounds.
Medicine is generally defined in one of two ways:
- the science or practice of the diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of disease
- a compound or preparation used for the treatment or prevention of disease, especially a drug or drugs taken by mouth:
Research shows us that there are treatments that are more effective than taking pills. For example, there are countless research studies that show exercise is significantly more effective than taking anti-depressants. Additionally, exercise effects every system of the body, in a positive way, with little to no side effects. Ever hear of anyone committing suicide because they exercised too much? Of course not. But, we hear every day, all the time, across all media outlets, of people committing suicide, mass shootings, and other tragedies. In the aftermath of these terrible events, we often learn that there was an underlying chemical dependence to a legally prescribed medication.
Massage is Similar.
The list of benefits of receiving regular massage is endless. Really. I could write for days of how massage can positively affect every cell, tissue, and organ of your body. The American Medical Association, the Mayo Clinic, and WebMD all recommend massage for pain in the body. Massage can relieve soreness, remove knots, and improve circulation to muscles. But, can massage help your immune system fight off cancer? Could a massage help you with infertility?
It can and does. The simple fact that it is a proven stress reliever means it can help every part of your body. Massage therapy is shown by research to balance your Autonomic Nervous System. Your ANS controls most of your bodies’ processes, without you even knowing it. Ever hear of the term “fight or flight?” That is your sympathetic nervous system. Your stress reaction is a very powerful physiological process that is needed to save your life. We should only be “running on our sympathetics” when our life is in danger. The majority of the time we should be under the control of our other part of the Autonomic Nervous System, your parasympathetic nervous system, also referred to as your “feed and breed” or “rest and digest” system.
On one hand, its like these two systems are total opposite – one part activates physiological responses while the other one inhibits it. A better way to look at them together is that they are complementary to each other in the maintenance of homeostasis
Homeostasis is the internal state is which our body is functioning properly. Our immune system fights off disease, our stomach and intestines properly digest our food, our kidneys detoxify the body, and our heart rate and blood pressure are functioning at a level sustainable for day to day activities.
The SNS system goes into action when we are stressed. Consider being chased by a momma moose. You’re stressed! Your heart rate goes up, you breathe faster, your pupils dilate, your circulatory system stops delivering blood and energy to the organs that keep you healthy and increase blood flow to muscles by as much as 1200%! This is ok because momma moose can kill you.
Saving your life is priority #1. Priority #2 is taking care of your body long term. Therefore, the PNS system should be our default system. We should be relaxed. Hormones are produced during times of relaxation, fuel reserves are stored. Food is digested. Disease is fought off. But, life in the big city is not relaxing. In fact, most of us run off our sympathetics every day, all day long. We need something to help get us out of our sympathetics and back into rest and digest.
Yes, massage is shown by research to inhibit our sympathetic, thus putting us into our relaxation mode. Our bodies heal after a massage. Massage promotes digestion, detoxification, a stronger immune system. Our fertility goes up, the more we relax.
Stress kills. If massage can promote our bodies to heal themselves, thereby treating and preventing disease, shouldn’t massage be considered medicine?
Health Benefits of Massage Therapy
Additionally, a recent article published in the Wall Street Journal talks about the health benefits of massage therapy. You can read the highlights below, or click here to view the entire article.
- massage therapy boosts immune function in women with breast cancer
- improves symptoms in children with asthma
- increases grip strength in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome
- massages to the littlest patients, premature babies, helped in the crucial task of gaining weight
- The American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society now include massage as one of their recommendations for treating low back pain
- massage leads to a reduction in the level of cortisol, a stress hormone
- massage leads to a decrease in cytokine proteins related to inflammation and allergic reactions
- boosts white blood cells that fight infection
- The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, is currently spending $2.7 million on massage research, up from $1.5 million
- full-body Swedish massage greatly improved symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee. Patients who had massages twice weekly for four weeks and once a week for an additional four weeks had less pain and stiffness and better range of motion than those who didn’t get massages