Massage is a smooth, gentle, and flowing style of manual therapy that relieves muscular tension, improves circulation, and restores joint health. The goal of the massage treatment is to relax, realign, and revive your soft tissues for optimal functionality while using an appropriate depth of pressure.
The History of Massage
The meaning of the word “massage” stems from the Greek origin of the word “massein” which translated to knead in English. For centuries, different cultures from all around the world have written about the health benefits associated with therapeutic touch. One such description can be found in a textbook entitled The Yellow Emperor’s Classics of Internal Medicine which dates back to roughly 1000 years before Christ. According to modern sources, this may be one of the oldest medical-based books which reference the treatment of soft tissue and circulatory impairments using massage.
Since then the term massage has become synonymous with the practice of holistic healing with numerous clinical and objective testimonials rationalizing various theories behind the anatomical and physiological impact of manual therapy. Modern-day empirical research that is often based on controlled scientific observation has also contributed significantly to the credibility of massage data by conducting interviews with patients and documenting cases where specific massage therapy techniques were found to generally assist with rehabilitation of various musculoskeletal associated injuries or dysfunctions. Yates’s medical textbook A Physician’s Guide to Therapeutic Massage is one such resource that examines the efficacy of treatment in over 200 medical-based articles that were published between 1885 and 1987.
Today there is much more emphasis placed on research and the scientific method when it comes to determining the successful impact of any specific manual therapy technique. Students who study massage full-time in post-secondary institutions are encouraged to develop their own theories about how massage can affect the human body and carry out controlled research trials in an attempt to validate or disprove certain hypotheses. Regardless of the data collected or hypotheses that are disproven, one thing is certain, everyone loves getting a massage.
The Science of Massage
The actual scientific evidence associated with the benefits of therapeutic massage seems to change frequently. For example, some data suggest that massage does not affect the circulatory system directly, while other sources disagree. Others say that there is a profound correlation between the use of massage and its ability to reduce stress and anxiety. In general, however, massage seems to be well recognized in most sources as a method of reducing or managing symptoms of pain which is a common concern among most patients.
Pain is affected by massage in several ways. It can address the origin of an injury by disrupting the nociceptive neuronal signals which are sent to the brain via afferent A-delta and C-type fibers. In essence therapeutic massage is able to disrupt these signals due to the fact that the sensory neurons in the skin that account for touch are more heavily myelinated than those associated with painful stimuli which allow the signals for pressure and touch to move up the spinal cord at a higher velocity which functions to disrupt the pain signals. This concept is known as the Gate Control Theory of Pain.
Other theories surrounding the effects of massage examine the therapist’s ability to affect the body’s circulation in ischemic tissues. It has been hypothesized that the mechanical compression of capillary beds by the therapist’s hand functions to push static circulation from the capillaries back into the venous return system and allows for new blood to enter the space. This mechanical compression is thought to assist with healing by delivering proteins, nutrients, and oxygen to the area while also removing carbon dioxide and metabolites, and improving general immune system functions.
Massage has also been considered to be effective in managing blood pressure. According to sources, both systolic and diastolic pressures tended to decrease after only 20 minutes of massage by functionally decreasing the patient’s heart rate. Patients with hypertension are often able to decrease their overall systemic circulatory pressure due to the relaxing effects of massage which serves to quiet the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and promote parasympathetic activities (rest and digest) instead.
Although it can be difficult to determine the exact scientific impacts therapeutic massage can have on the human body it goes without saying that massage can be a generally enjoyable experience for most individuals. Regardless of the science behind the treatment, history has shown us that massage has definitely earned its place within the allied healthcare field, and undoubtedly the use of healing touch with continue to be employed as a useful and holistic method of promoting individual health and wellbeing for many years to come. For more information on the benefits of therapeutic massage read this short article posted by the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
Content created by Ryan Walsworth RMT
Information source: Rattray’s Clinical Massage Therapy