If you think massage therapy is just for sore muscles and
stress relief, you're in for a surprise
Chances are, you're already aware of some of the better-known
benefits of massage therapy. Stress relief? Check. Soothing sore
muscles or an aching back? Of course. Helping you feel more
But did you know that massage therapy can also relieve
respiratory issues, aid in post-surgery rehabilitation and ease the
discomforts of pregnancy? If this is news to you, you're not alone.
Plenty of people don't realize that massage therapy can help treat
a much wider range of conditions than you might expect.
Respiratory issues, such as allergies, sinus problems, asthma
and bronchitis, are one group of conditions that can benefit from
massage therapy. In fact, the positive impact massage can have on
respiratory function has been proven through research, says Anne
Williams, education program director at Associated Bodywork &
Many muscles in the front and back of the upper body are
accessory respiratory muscles, she explains. "When any of these
muscles are chronically tight and shortened, they can restrict
normal breathing and disrupt breathing patterns," she explains.
"Massage techniques to lengthen and relax these muscles improve
breathing capacity and function."
Massage therapy also improves posture, which can lead to an
opening of the chest area, as well as the structural alignment and
rib cage expansion needed for optimal lung function, she adds.
Plus, when the parasympathetic nervous system responds to massage
(see "Don't Let Stress Make You Sick"), your breathing rate slows
and becomes deep and regular.
A particularly beneficial way of relieving respiratory issues
through massage therapy is tapotement, a rhythmic, percussive
stroke used in Swedish
massage. When performed on the back, along with vibration and
shaking, tapotement can loosen mucus in the lungs and increase
airway clearance for better lung function, Williams says.
A Speedier Recovery
Massage therapy also can be helpful in
postsurgical rehabilitation. Of course, every type of surgery
is different, and it's best to check with your doctor and discuss
your individual situation with your massage therapist.
However, Williams says, various studies have demonstrated how
massage therapy can assist with postsurgical healing. "If the
surgery is soft-tissue related, such as a rotator cuff repair, then
the effects of massage on the muscular system are useful," she
explains. "For each stage in the healing process of soft tissue,
different massage techniques have been used successfully based on
the needs of the individual."
For example, one study demonstrated that a variety of
soft-tissue mobilization techniques successfully reduced scar
tissue, decreased pain and improved range of motion in a patient
with a severe ankle injury, Williams says.
Pregnancy can sometimes be uncomfortable and stressful for
women. Fortunately, massage therapy has many proven benefits for
reduces pain from muscles compensating for a woman's changing body,
improves mood and attitude, and can decrease anxiety about labor
and delivery," Williams explains.
In one study that compared pregnant women who had regular
massages with those who didn't, the women who had massages reported
better sleep and less back pain. Plus, they had fewer complications
during labor and delivery.
Williams emphasizes that every person is different, so whether
you're seeking relief from pregnancy-related discomfort or a bout
of sinusitis, the results of massage therapy may differ from person
to person. However, massage therapy is definitely worth
"Research has demonstrated how massage can be used successfully
for a variety of different conditions," she says. "There are so
many common ailments that can benefit from massage
therapy, so be sure to discuss your specific needs with your
-By Amy Lynn Smith
-Photos by Jeff Newton