The Healing Power of Touch
For Taming Stress: Massage Therapy
What it is: You already know that it’s the perfect way to pamper your
stressed-out self. But massage can be much more than an indulgence.
Neuromuscular massage, for instance — the most common type of therapeutic
deep-tissue massage — uses pressure on particular points in the fascia (the
fibrous connective tissue that surrounds the muscles) to treat specific
injuries or chronic pain. Ordinary massage therapy ultimately works by
stimulating pressure receptors under the skin, which increases the vagal nerve
activity in the brain, thereby boosting serotonin (the feel-good, anti-pain
neurotransmitter) and lowering cortisol, the stress hormone that takes a heavy
toll on your defenses against disease.
Why try it? In more than 100 studies over the last 15 years on the
effects of massage, the Touch Research Institute found that it can ease pain,
improve function of the immune system, decrease autoimmune problems such as
lupus and arthritis, enhance alertness, and possibly even lessen your risk for
heart disease. One study found that receiving regular massages can help lower
blood pressure, anxiety, and stress hormones in those with hypertension.
Massage therapy can even curb migraine headaches. Adults with migraines who
received twice-weekly, 30-minute massages for five consecutive weeks reported
more headache-free days and fewer problems sleeping than a control group that
didn’t receive massages, according to a study. Massage also reduced the number
of weekly headaches in chronic-headache sufferers, according to a study
published in the American Journal of Public Health.
For 27-year-old Gena Gilas of Denver, massage put an end to migraines. Her
job as a trainer for an insurance company requires hours at a computer or on
her feet, sometimes dealing with upset customers. She would get daily headaches
so piercing, “they made it hard to see,” Gilas says. Prescription medicines
didn’t help. Then one day her company brought in a massage therapist who
offered chair massages. The therapist “worked on relaxing the tense muscles in
my neck and shoulders, which relieved the pressure that caused the headaches,”
Gilas says. Her headache stopped that night, and she didn’t get another one for
many days. Now she gets a chair massage at work every two weeks and a full body
massage every month or so as a preventive measure.
To find a massage therapist, log on to the Websites of the American
Massage Therapy Association (amtamassage.org) or the Associated Bodywork &
Massage Professionals (massagetherapy.com). “More and more doctors are
prescribing therapeutic massage as part of their medical treatment, as research
shows it has positive health benefits,” says Marilyn Kier, a Northfield, IL,
specialist in orthopedic massage. The cost is anywhere from $60 to $150 or more
per session, and fortunately “some insurance companies are starting to cover it
if it’s prescribed by a doctor for a medical reason,” adds Kier. If it’s not
and you can’t afford the hefty price tag, massage-therapy schools may offer
discounted prices. Find one at naturalhealers.com.