Oct. 17, 2003 -- For pain and stress relief, get a good massage -- that's the consensus of growing numbers of Americans.
A nationwide survey looking at trends in massage therapy was released this week by the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA).
More than 1,000 men and women were surveyed by their massage therapists. The results:
- The majority, 91%, agreed that massage can be effective in reducing pain.
- More than 20% received a massage in the past year -- a 13% jump since 1997.
- 29% said they seek massage for stress relief.
Among the 65-and-older crowd, 51% got massages to reduce pain, for injury or muscle soreness, or as part of a physical therapy regimen.
Older people are "really understanding and valuing benefits of massage therapy," says Brenda L. Griffith, a private-practice certified massage therapist in Richmond, Va., and AMTA president.
"As we get older, our muscle aches and pains and stiffness get more evident. We don't have the flexibility we used to have," Griffith explains. "Massage enhances blood flow, increase endorphins, and negates the effects of overexertion."
Another trend: Doctors and other health-care providers (such as physical therapists) are referring patients to massage therapists; 62% of respondents said their providers strongly encouraged them to get a massage.
"In my practice, I get referrals from podiatrists, chiropractors, osteopaths, even dentists," Griffith tells WebMD.
Massage can help relieve some neck and shoulder pain associated with jaw alignment problems, she explains.
Massage is not an "end-all for every situation," she says. "That's why people need to go to see a therapist who is qualified to know when you need to be referred out to a general practitioner or a chiropractor. That's one of the beauties of massage therapy: It does work well with other therapies."
Arthritis, Muscle Strains Benefit Most
Massage works especially well for relieving the pain of arthritis, fibromyalgia, and muscle strains, says Brenda Greene, PT, PhD, a professor of rehabilitation medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
"Massage is effective in increasing circulation and decreasing pain in the short term," she tells WebMD. For younger people, massage alone can work fine for a simple sports injury. But older people need exercise, too.
"When muscles hurt, it's because they have been overworked or are weak, so they are sending out the pain message," Greene explains. "You need to talk to a physical therapist about what else you can do. It's important to identify which muscles are weak and strengthen them, and which muscles are tight and stretch those."
To find a certified massage therapist, check out the AMTA locator service, advises Griffith.