Ancient Healing Art Still Effective

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by Tina Shepherd, LMT, Special to the Roundup

Every year the American Massage Therapy Association sponsors National Massage Therapy Awareness Week. This year the week falls from Oct. 20 to the 26.

As a local therapist, I love to share the latest research findings regarding massage therapy that are released in the fall. I also like to take the time to educate people a little about massage therapy in general.

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Tina Sheppard

This year’s exciting research findings include how massage therapy can help osteoarthritis of the knee, decrease pain overall in people with rheumatoid arthritis, reduce pain, anxiety and muscular tension in cardiac surgery patients, improve pain and wellbeing in metastatic cancer patients, improve immune function and weight gain in preterm infants, to name just a few.

That’s right, more people are turning to massage therapy to assist with lots of medical conditions – so, if I have your attention... please read on.

The history of massage therapy can be traced back over 5,000 years when men and women in many ancient countries used oils and herbs to massage muscle pain away. It is considered one of the earliest forms of pain relief, as well as a way to produce a sense of peace and well being.

Massage has been highly regarded as a part of Chinese medicine in the Western medical community for at least 3,000 years.

In its earliest days, it was taught and practiced primarily by physicians. In fact, in some of the oldest Chinese medical books, it’s one of the topics covered most extensively.

As the use of massage therapy spread throughout Europe, the Greek culture adapted massage as a compliment treatment to their physical fitness and gymnastics rituals. It was widely believed that nutritious food, exercise and massage were the key elements to a healthy life.

Through the centuries, many changes in public opinion about massage therapy have taken place. Today, with the establishment of organizations and the creation of a national certification, as well as state boards that regulate the practice of massage, the profession has steadily grown to be a respected and trusted part of the health care community. And the history of massage therapy continues to be made.

So who can benefit from massage therapy?

Some of the many populations include: infants, athletes, well people, sick people, older people... and the list goes on.

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Contributed photo

Massage relieves a wide array of conditions, such as: stress, tight and painful muscles, post exercise soreness, pain and tingling in arms and legs, injuries, secondary pain, pain or restriction of joints, fluid retention, postural problems, the ill effects of restricted activity and it can prevent future injury from tight soft tissue in the body.

Massage therapists should have extensive training and certification and be able, through assessment skills, to customize a treatment for you. They can also be great resources for other forms of self-care that can be adopted into your lifestyle.

What can you expect from a therapy session?

Massage on normal tissue, done with expertise, feels pleasant. Most people feel cared for and/or pampered, during the treatment.

However, in an area of dysfunction, some discomfort may be experienced at first, but you should always be able to relax on the treatment table and “breathe” through the treatment of these tender areas. The good news is that soreness improves very quickly with the application of special techniques.

Some effects that a person may experience during a massage session are: digestive sounds (tummy growling, even if not hungry), temporary swelling of sinus membranes, emotional feelings, memories, calmness and relaxation. There are reasons why our autonomic nervous system consists of three parts. I will shortly explain two of those (sympathetic and parasympathetic) as they relate to the effects and benefits of massage.

The sympathetic nervous system is the body’s way of protection against danger or a sense of danger. It is also the body’s way of cooping with extreme stress or an emergency. This condition is referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response.

Activation of this system is the body’s way of dealing with stress, real or perceived, and will increase the heart rate, divert blood to the muscles, decrease peristalsis, and secrete adrenaline and epinephrine into the blood stream. The body activates the sweat glands and heightens its alert level.

Unfortunately, many people with busy lifestyles, find themselves in this state most of their waking hours.

The good new is, during massage, the parasympathetic part of the nervous system is tapped into and many people experience some physiological effects as well as emotional ones. The parasympathetic system is a place of rejuvenation and healing.

The parasympathetic system is the exact opposite of the sympathetic system and is used to achieve a balance in the body. When activated, peristalsis is increased, blood pressure is lowered, and pain receptors are ignored as bradykines are reduced in the blood stream. Blood circulation is increased to the internal organs, which speeds digestion. In effect, all of the parasympathetic systems are calming and soothing.

Along with massage strokes and soft tissue manipulation, many therapists use other treatments to increase well-being, including lymphatic brushing, hot or cool stone therapy, hot and cold packs, essential oils and passive stretching.

What will you feel like and what should you do after a massage therapy session?

Your therapist will instruct you to drink lots of water to hydrate the body and aid in the flushing of newly mobilized toxins in the hours following the massage.

You may feel calm, sleepy or even energized.

Some people prefer to nap after a session. Others like to gently exercise and stretch. If the treatment is in the evening, some folks love to go home and go to sleep for the night. Many people feel hungry and want to eat a light, healthy meal. Remember, digestion has been stimulated.

If you would like to try the gentle therapy of massage and its cascade of beneficial effects to improve your quality of life, ask your physician for a referral or look into other therapist-finding websites such as AMTA or findamassagetherapist.org.

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