What is massage therapy?
Massage therapy is an alternative or complementary therapy which involves working on and applying pressure to the patient’s body using the hands, or sometimes the feet, elbows, forearms, or a device. People most commonly seek massage therapy to help alleviate pain or stress.
Massage as medical therapy is a somewhat controversial idea. It is unable to reach the gold standard of scientific research by being tested in placebo-controlled and double-blind clinical trials, because it is very difficult (perhaps impossible) to perform a “placebo” massage.
However, there is some evidence that massage carries certain benefits, including reducing stress, anxiety and depression, temporarily lowering the heart rate and blood pressure, and pain relief. Claims that it helps low back pain, on the other hand, are disputed.
Due the benefits that have been observed or claimed, massage may be a technique employed as part of physical therapy.
Why is massage done?
There is some evidence that massage has the following positive effects on the body:
- Pain relief – often in cases of musculoskeletal injuries
- Reduces anxiety
- Helps relieve depression
- Reduces stress
- Lowers the heart rate temporarily
- Lowers blood pressure temporarily
It has been claimed that massage can help treat the following, either alone or in conjunction with other treatments. These claims are generally disputed, and the consensus is that more research is needed.
What does massage therapy consist of?
Massage therapy consists of applying pressure to the patient’s body, usually with the hands, although the massage therapist may use their elbows, forearms, feet, or devices. Massages can be done to the whole body, or just to part, such as the back, or limbs. Physiotherapy for a joint injury may include massaging the injured muscles, tendons, or ligaments.
The mechanism behind massage (if there is one) is not understood, although theories propose that massages activate the parasympathetic nervous system, releasing endorphins and serotonin (substances produced naturally in our bodies that make us feel good), and improving blood circulation and/or the flow of the lymph, which helps to carry nutrients to the cells and remove impurities and toxic substances from the body.