Massage Therapy

Massage Therapy and Mental Health

Massage Therapy (MT) was a part of many ancient cultures including that of the Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, Hindus, Japanese, and Romans, and was often considered to be a medicinal practice. The Greek physician Hippocrates (460–377 B.C.) advocated rubbing as a treatment for stiffness; later, the physicians Celsus (25 B.C.–A.D. 50) and Galen (A.D. 129–199) wrote extensively on the medicinal and therapeutic value of massage and related techniques such as anointing, bathing, and exercise. However, in Western cultures, the association between massage and medicine eventually diminished as Greco-Roman traditions were abandoned. Although the practice of massage continued as a folk medicine treatment during the Middle Ages, its adoption by the common people served to separate it from the scientific and medical milieu, and in this way, massage fell out of favor with the medical establishment (Fritz, 2000; Salvo, 1999).

Two studies have linked MT with increased levels of serotonin (Field, Grizzle, Scafidi, & Schanberg, 1996; Ironson et al., 1996), which “may inhibit the transmission of noxious nerve signals to the brain” (Field, 1998, p. 1274). Others have suggested that manipulations such as rubbing, or applying pressure, may stimulate a release of endorphins into the bloodstream (Andersson & Lundeberg, 1995; Oumeish, 1998). In these ways, MT may provide pain relief or feelings of well-being by influencing the body chemistry of the recipient.

Reductions of trait anxiety and depression following a course of treatment are MT’s largest effects. The average MT participant experiences a reduction of trait anxiety that is greater than 77% of comparison group participants, and a reduction of depression that was greater than 73% of comparison group participants. These effects are similar in magnitude to those found in meta-analyses examining the absolute efficacy of psychotherapy, a more traditional treatment for either condition, in which it is estimated that the average psychotherapy client fares better than 79% of untreated clients (Wampold, 2001, p. 70). Considered together, these results indicate that MT may have an effect similar to that of psychotherapy.

 Massage Therapy and Pain

Melzack and Wall (1965) theorized that the experience of pain can be reduced by competing stimuli such as pressure or cold, because of the fact that these stimuli travel along faster nervous system pathways than pain. In this way, MT performed with sufficient pressure would create a stimulus that interferes with the transmission of the pain stimuli to the brain, effectively “closing the gate” to the reception of pain before it can be processed (e.g., Barbour, McGuire, & Kirchhoff, 1986; Field, 1998; Malkin, 1994).

Articles concerned with sports performance, exercise recovery, and injury management highlight the possibility that MT may speed healing and reduce pain by mechanical means. The manipulations and pressure of MT may break down subcutaneous adhesions and prevent fibrosis (Donnelly & Wilton, 2002, p. 5) and promote circulation of blood and lymph (Fritz, 2000, pp. 475– 478), processes that may lead to reductions in pain associated with injury or strenuous exercise.

MT participants who received a course of treatment and were assessed several days or weeks after treatment ended exhibited levels of pain that were lower, on average, than 62% of comparison group participants. This finding is consistent with the theory that MT may promote pain reduction by facilitating restorative sleep.

Some MT studies have attempted to measure a change in participants’ cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone associated with the sympathetic response of the ANS (Field, 1998). MT, a therapy commonly thought of as relaxing, is expected to reduce cortisol levels, a finding that would be consistent with facilitating a parasympathetic response of the ANS.

It is clearly evident that MT has many psychological benefits and facilitate the treatment of mental health issues particularly anxiety, depression and pain. Our goal at LATI is to incorporate Massage into our clients treatment plan with the goal of boosting and expediting their treatment process.

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