A Healing Touch
How one alternative therapy could be the solution for
YOU'VE HEARD THE SAYING, "Take two aspirin and call
me in the morning." But wouldn't a more pleasant prescription be,
"Have a massage and call me in the morning"? While massage may
never replace traditional medicine, it has been found to be an
chronic pain management technique.
"Back when I was in massage school in the '80s, the role of
massage in public health practically didn't exist. It was for
people with a little money to burn," says Ruth Werner, a licensed
massage practitioner who is nationally certified in therapeutic
massage and bodywork and author of A Massage Therapist's
Guide to Pathology. "Within a very short period of time,
people were talking about massage for health reasons. In 2009, the
number of people using massage in healthcare has skyrocketed."
And it's not just stress and back pain being treated. Massage
has been linked to the reduction or management of symptoms
associated with many conditions. Here are just a few.
Scientists aren't sure what causes fibromyalgia, a syndrome
characterized by chronic pain, sleep disturbances, fatigue and
psychological distress, according to the National Fibromyalgia
Association. Another symptom associated with fibromyalgia is having
areas of the body that cause pain when touched even lightly. So,
it's a wonder that massage is even possible-let alone helpful. But
"No one has really answered how
massage helps fibromyalgia," Werner says. "But it's been found
to increase the amount of time a person has in stage 3 and stage 4
sleep, which is difficult to get to with fibromyalgia. It's also
possible that massage 'works out' some of the pain-processing
Nearly 27 million Americans have osteoarthritis, making it one
of the most common forms of arthritis. Also known as wear-and-tear
arthritis, it's caused by the breakdown of cartilage, the tissue
between bones that allows joints to move easily and painlessly.
When pain occurs inside the joints, it's natural for the body to
want to protect itself. "Muscles around the affected joints tend to
get tight in an effort to 'splint' the area, which actually only
adds to the pain and reduces range of motion," Werner says.
"Massage isn't going to fix arthritis, but it will help manage
arthritis muscle pain and stiffness."
A certain amount of stress is expected and even necessary,
according to the American Institute of Stress. It can cause you to
be alert, push you to do your best and even increase productivity.
But too much stress can do the opposite.
"There is quite a bit of research out there about massage and
the emotional component," says Diana Thompson, a licensed massage
practitioner and president of the Massage Therapy Foundation. "In
school, we separate the mind and body, but literature shows that massage
reduces stress and anxiety."
Temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ) causes pain and limited
mobility in the jaw, and affects more than 10 million people in the
United States, according to the National Institute of Dental and
Craniofacial Research. While not all causes are known, some include
injury to the jaw, arthritis, certain dental procedures, infection,
autoimmune disease, hormones and genetics.
A study published in the Journal of Bodywork and
Movement Therapies in 2007 found a link between massage and
the reduction of some TMJ-related symptoms, including pain,
decreased mobility and jaw clicking. Of course, not all treatment
works for everyone. The TMJ Association encourages patients to find
out what works best for them.
-By Shelley Flannery
-Photos by Jeff Newton