Conditions Treated with Massage

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Massage has all sorts of medical benefits–so which patients stand to benefit?

The field of massage therapy has received considerable attention in recent years, as the healthcare community and society at large became increasingly aware that the benefits of massage go far beyond relaxation.

For the professionals within the field, however, the focus has always been less about whether massage had therapeutic benefits—they were quite confident in its abilities—and more concentrated on making their colleagues and the public aware of the conditions massage might be able to ease or alleviate.

With that in mind, we take a look at a few of the conditions treated by massage:

Anxiety and Depression. Massage is more than relaxation, but promoting a sense of wellbeing and ease remains one of its foremost attributes. In that regard, massage is beneficial to those who suffer from mental health issues. According to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), research at the University of Miami (FL)’s School of Medicine reviewed studies that measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol in participants before and after massage, and found levels lowered by 53 percent following a therapy session.

Massage also served to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, both neurotransmitters that help to reduce depression.

Migraines. Any numbers of conditions or environmental factors can be responsible for headaches, with stress and fatigue among the leaders. Fortunately, massage eases tension and pain, which again can reduce symptoms or remove migraines from an individual’s life altogether.

Migraine sufferers who received massage reported fewer episodes of headaches, lessening of symptoms, and both increased and a higher quality of sleep.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Alleviation of pain and decreased symptoms again present themselves as the leading benefits of massage with this condition. However, another study at the University of Miami School of Medicine studied patients with carpal tunnel syndrome and concluded that patients who received massage also enjoyed better grip strength than those who did not.

Cancer. Much of the research into benefits has focused on patients with breast cancer, specifically as it relates to lymph drainage. The results have been remarkably effective. According to the AMTA, research has shown therapeutic massage to be an effective complement to traditional care following lumpectomy, mastectomy or reconstruction surgery.

“Pre-surgery, massage relaxes muscle tissue and increases the flow of lymph,” according to the AMTA’s website. “Post surgery, women who apply specialized lymph drainage techniques from a well-trained massage therapist to their treatment may experience reduced pain and swelling.”

Other benefits included improved mental health in patients with cancer, along with a stronger immune system and what the AMTA referred to as ‘helping women reconnect with their bodies.’

Low Back Pain. One study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine supports the idea that massage produces stronger results in treatment of low back pain when compared to other therapies, including acupuncture.

New Study Shows Positive Effects in Patients with Arthritis

Lastly, a new study from Duke University indicates that massage can have strong benefits for patients suffering from arthritis.

Patients with arthritis in their knees experienced significant improvement in pain and mobility after undergoing a weekly, whole-body massage for two months, according to a study led by Adam Perlman, MD, and a team at Duke Health.

Findings were published in this month’s edition of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, and suggest that massage may offer a safe, effective complement to management of osteoarthritis.

Dr. Perlman’s colleagues spanned four other institutions and helped him to enroll approximately 200 patients who were divided into three groups:

  • One group received a one-hour, weekly Swedish massage for eight weeks;
  • One group received a light-touch control treatment;
  • and the final group received no extra care other than their usual regimen.

After eight weeks, each of the groups were divided yet again to continue with massage or light-touch every other week, or to stop receiving treatment for the remainder of the study, which spanned 52 weeks.

Throughout the process, participants were assessed every other month using a questionnaire called the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index.

The questionnaire assesses patients’ pain, stiffness and functional limitations, while asking how well they can perform everyday activities such as climbing stairs, stand up from sitting or lying down, bend, walk or get out of a car, among other activities.

At eight weeks, massage treatment led to significantly improved scores on the questionnaire compared to light touch and usual care. Massage improved pain, stiffness, and physical function.

By the 52-week mark, the twice-monthly massages maintained the improvements observed at eight weeks, but did not provide an additional benefit. There were no significant differences between the groups at 52 weeks.

“Osteoarthritis is a leading cause of disability and affects more than 30 million people in America,” said Dr. Perlman, “Medications are available, but many patients experience adverse side effects, raising the need for alternatives. This study demonstrates that massage has potential to be one such option.”

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Rob Senior
Rob Senior

Rob has 15 years of experience writing and editing for healthcare. He previously worked for ADVANCE from 2002 to 2012.

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