By Alex A. Kecskes
Regardless of age, massage therapy performed by a skilled and qualified therapist can reduce stress, cause relaxation and enhance feelings of well being. A good massage can stimulate the nerve endings in skin, release endorphins (the feel good hormones) and inhibit the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Blood will circulate more efficiently, blood pressure will drop and heart rates will slow down.
A regular massage regimen can reduce the risks associated with stress, such as cardiac arrhythmias (the heart pumps less effectively, so less blood reaches the brain and other vital organs). A number of long-term studies have shown that a consistent massage program can decrease diastolic and systolic blood pressure. And maintaining a healthy blood pressure can contribute to lowering the odds of one having a heart attack. Massage therapy releases contracted muscles and pushes venous blood towards the heart, easing the strain on the heart. In this way, massage offers a drug-free, non-invasive and humanistic approach for allowing the body to naturally heal itself.
Some suggest that massage therapy may move a patient’s nervous system from the sympathetic toward the parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system helps mobilize the body for action (the fight-or-flight response), which ups the heart and breathing rate and causes blood vessels to narrow. On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system creates a resting response characterized by a reduced heart and breathing rate and dilated blood vessels. An increasing number of research studies reveal that massage reduces heart rate, lowers blood pressure and increases blood circulation. A pilot study conducted at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles showed that in-patient massage treatments performed after heart bypass surgery reduced pain and muscle spasms.
Massage therapy is usually administered by a therapist using fingers and hands to manipulate the soft tissues of the body–muscles, skin and tendons. When administered by a trained professional, massage therapy is generally safe and has no adverse side effects. Since massage improves the circulation, it facilitates the flow of essential nutrients and oxygen to your body. The gliding action of the massage therapist’s hands over your skin (a technique called effleurage) can have a calming effect on nerves, which medical studies show can help reduce stress.
For those who do not get enough physical exercise, a monthly massage is highly recommended. Keep in mind that the effects of regular massage are cumulative. If the goal is one of health maintenance, a massage every week or two can help one feel better and reduce tension and stress levels.
Before attempting massage therapy, first consult a primary care physician. If the doctor advises that massage may help, find a licensed massage therapist who is nationally certified through the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (www.ncbtmb.org) or the American Massage Therapy Association (www.amtamassage.org). Note: Medicare and most private insurance do not cover massage.