Why Massage Therapy Matters by: Dr. Woodson Merrel, MD

Many people think of massage as a luxury, but it has powerful health benefits that put it closer to the necessity category. Massage therapists use hands, fingers, elbows, and forearms to manipulate soft tissues, targeting muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, connective tissue as well as lymphatic vessels. Studies show numerous positive effects of massage include relaxation, improved sleep and strengthened immune system along with relief of fatigue, pain anxiety, and nausea. Massage is terrific for the circulatory system: it's been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate. In one study at Massachusetts General Hospital, massage reduced diastolic blood pressure, calmed breathing, and reduced psychological distress and pain in patients undergoing cardiac catheterization. In another study a back massage for spouses of patients with cancer resulted in improved mood, reduced stress, and increased the activity of natural killer cells (powerful immune defenders).

Massage can also be energizing. For fatigue, the deeper the massage the better. Shiatsu (deep tissue massage based on acupressure points that releases muscle tension) has been shown to significantly reduce fatigue after chemotherapy. And people with advanced kidney disease experienced a dramatic improvement in fatigue and depression after receiving acupressure massage (using strong finger pressure to target and release acupuncture points). Athletes have known for centuries that sports massage (a general muscle rubdown) relieves soreness and fatigue. The type of massage you get is less important than the often nearly intuitive ability of the massage therapist to locate and effectively release tension points (also known as trigger points) in your body. If you've never had a body-work you will be amazed at how energizing it can be.

(Note: If you are being treated for a medical condition, especially if you're taking blood thinners, have significant musculoskeletal injuries, or vascular problems like tendency to clots, get permission from your doctor before having a massage).