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The Healing Power of Touch

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For Easing Your Pain: Physical Therapy continued...

When all goes well, patients see improvements within several sessions. When treatment is completed, not only should you have decreased pain but you should also understand the conditions that contributed to your pain, as well as how to prevent it in the future — often by doing exercises on your own, prescribed by your physical therapist. Lee felt better by her fourth visit. “I always assumed physical therapy was just supervised stretching. I was skeptical about what it could do for me,” she says. “But I’ve gone from shuffling out of bed to walking like a normal person.” And she’s preparing for her next marathon.

To find a physical therapist, try the American Physical Therapy Association site at apta.org. The cost of treatment can range from $100 to $180 per appointment, and most PT sessions are covered by insurance.

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.

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