To complement the MASSAGE Magazine article, “Expert Advice: What massage therapy research resources are available to me?” answered by Ruth Werner, in the February 2013 issue. Article summary: When a research team conducts a project—determining whether massage has an impact on postsurgical scarring, for instance—the investigators write up their findings in a format all scientists follow. In the best of all possible worlds, this article is then subjected to rigorous peer review with readers who have some expertise to point out any weaknesses or inaccuracies in the article that need to be addressed. The article is then published in a scholarly journal, where readers can access it and apply the study both to clinical practice and as a foundation on which to build further research.

Most people would agree massage is relaxing, feels good, and can alleviate stress, a stiff neck or that nagging low-back pain. What most people don’t realize is how massage can be a crucial part of an overall health-and-wellness regimen to help treat everything from neuromuscular disease to chronic insomnia.

As massage therapists, you know massage has significant health benefits. Here’s how to convey to your clients, both current and potential, the very real benefits of massage.

Massage saves money

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a division of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) focused on evaluating complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), has been doing studies for years on the efficacy of massage and its value in treating chronic ailments and conditions. It has found massage is, in many cases, more cost-effective than traditional remedies like surgery and medication.

For example, low-back pain, a common ailment, is typically treated by surgery and medication. Aside from the necessary recovery and pain involved with surgery and the possible side effects of medication, traditional medical treatment for lower-back pain is expensive. On average, it costs about $10,000 to treat back pain with surgery and drugs.

And guess what? The NCCAM study found spinal manipulation and massage were more effective in treating low-back pain than surgery and drugs. An effective course of massage therapy for the relief of back pain of 20 to 30 sessions costs a maximum of $3,000, and is significantly less invasive than surgery or other medical intervention.

Ease stress, heal the body

Relaxation is more than just a day at the spa; it’s a serious component of preventive medicine. Americans are more stressed out than ever. This stress doesn’t just make you irritable; it can also foster more chronic diseases like depression, autoimmune disorders, heart disease and even cancer. Prolonged, harmful periods of stress can cause physical harm, including headaches, muscle pain, nausea, anxiety and a suppressed immune system.

Cortisol, a hormone produced when the body is stressed, can kill cells needed for proper immune function. For example, people under stress are more vulnerable to the virus that causes the common cold. Of course, there are many ways people handle stress, but some of the most common—drinking alcohol, smoking and overeating—cause their own health issues, including obesity, alcoholism and lung disease.

So what is a solution for stress that doesn’t cause problematic side effects? The answer: massage. Massage is not only effective at reducing stress, it’s also free of side effects when practiced by a licensed practitioner. Let your clients know massage can literally be a lifesaver, a fantastic preventive medicine. Massage, for example, induces a relaxation response, which combats the fight-or-flight response exacerbated by stress, thus reducing blood pressure and risk of heart disease, and bolstering the immune system.

Don’t get inflamed

Along with stress, tissue inflammation can contribute to or cause myriad conditions, from arthritis and Parkinson’s disease to asthma, heart disease and cancer. This is yet another reason why massage is crucial. Not only can massage reduce stress; it can reduce inflammation and, therefore, pain in the body.

A study published in Science Translational Medicine in February 2012 found massage reduced the production of cytokines, a compound that plays an important role in causing inflammation. Some doctors believe anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and other NSAIDs may actually slow healing, but massage, which works differently, actually increases the activity of mitochondria and, thus, speeds cell healing as well.

What conditions does massage address?

Aside from low-back pain and stress, here are a few of the conditions massage can help to alleviate, in conjunction with appropriate tradition medical care and in consultation with a physician if necessary:

  • Asthma. This is a serious, chronic condition that causes the airways of the lungs to constrict, hampering breathing. severe asthma attacks can cause death. The disorder often starts in childhood. Luckily, massage can help. A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics shows massage on children with asthma reduced levels of cortisol and improved respiratory control and blood oxygenation.
  • Fibromyalgia. This is one of the most baffling chronic ailments. It’s characterized by pain and sensitivity in the joints and muscles. Other common side effects of fibromyalgia include nausea, depression, fatigue and insomnia. Fibromyalgia patients typically experience flare-ups, periods during which symptoms increase in severity.

Fibromyalgia makes massage a bit complicated. People with fibromyalgia go through periods when their condition is especially active. When the condition is especially intense, it can be painful to have the muscles massaged. However, since every person is different, this state isn’t the case for every person afflicted by fibromyalgia, and some fibromyalgia patients are greatly helped by deep-tissue massage during flare-ups.

Because there are few conventional medical treatments for fibromyalgia, CAM treatments are commonly used to manage the condition. According to the NCCAM, about 90 percent of people with fibromyalgia use CAM, with massage being the most popular treatment.

  • Migraine. Migraines are caused by swollen blood vessels in the temples and base of the neck. These engorged blood vessels cause headaches, dizziness, sensitivity to light and sound, and nausea. This condition is distressingly common. According to a study by the American Massage Therapy Association in 2006, up to 45 million Americans suffer from migraines.

One of the best ways to increase blood circulation is, of course, massage.

Even better, there is a type of massage specifically designed to relieve headaches and migraines: craniosacral massage. Craniosacral massage is focused around the movement of the craniosacral fluid that cradles the brain and skull. A 2008 pilot study indicated massage was effective at relieving tension headaches, particularly craniosacral therapy.

  • Osteoarthritis. This is a fairly common joint condition caused by the breakdown of cartilage. It can be caused by aging or injury. Symptoms typically appear after the age of 50. Some symptoms of osteoarthritis include pain and stiffness in the joints.

While common remedies for osteoarthritis include steroid injections, surgery and medication, a NIH study showed treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee with acupuncture was effective at alleviating pain and improving joint function. A study by the Yale Prevention Research Center also showed Swedish massage eased pain and improved mobility in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee.

  • IBS and Crohn’s disease. IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and its more serious cousin, Crohn’s disease, are disorders characterized by inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, particularly the intestines. IBS and Crohn’s disease can lead to bloating, cramps and loss of appetite. Many people with Crohn’s disease have said massage is helpful with alleviating their condition. This claim is borne out by recent studies that emphasize how massage is able to reduce inflammation and stress in the body, both of which exacerbate conditions like IBS and Crohn’s disease.

Save time, pain and money

Let your clients know massage isn’t just for relaxation; it’s essential for good health—and can save them lots of time, pain and money spent on traditional medical solutions.

Marcy Lerner is a founding team member at Zeel Massage On Demand,? giving consumers the power to book same-day, in-home massage appointments via mobile app or website. With Zeel, customers pay a set price (including tax and tip), which is charged to their credit card. All of the company’s therapists are vetted, licensed, certified, own their own portable massage table and are dedicated to providing a superior massage experience. Interested licensed massage therapists should apply at www.zeel.com/experts.

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