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Does Massage Help Heal?

Updated: Jan 9, 2019

Massage is an age-old technique that athletes and others have used to heal sore muscles but does it really work? Massage has been touted to heal and repair sore muscles, to improve circulation, to reduce inflammation, restore energy, reduce stress, to improve depression and scarring among other magical things. Personally, I just like massage because it feels good and is relaxing to me. For me, if the benefit were only the 50 minutes on the table --thats worth it. But it turns out there is much more to it, and massage actually does heal --on a cellular level.

Any healing tradition that dates back thousands of years probably has some validity, as is the case with massage. The first records of massages date back over 3,000 years to Ancient China, and massage is considered to be one of the most ancient “healing arts.”

Many cultures have had their own specific therapies and techniques related to body massages that have been handed down over the generations.  This includes the Ancient Greeks, Hindus, Persians, Egyptians French, Swedish, Thai, Indian, Japanese and Chinese. Today their teachings continue to carry massage therapy forward into conventional medicine practices. As a result there are many different "types" of massage.

The most common types include:

Swedish Massage: This is the most popular form of massage worldwide. It involves five basic kneading strokes (which can be performed either soft/gently or firmer), all flowing toward the heart to manipulate soft tissue.

Deep Tissue Massage: These massages utilize deep-tissue/deep-muscle movements to affect the sub-layer of musculature and fascia.

Sports Massage: Sports massages are often performed on athletes to warm the body, improve blood flow to muscles/tissue, and help prevent or treat injuries. They are performed pre-event, post-event, and part of preventative injury treatment plans.

Prenatal Massage: Pregnancy massages have been found to be both effective and safe or both mother and fetus. They are usually performed with the woman on her side and can help reduce pregnancy discomforts like lower back or leg pains, along with emotional well-being.

Thai massage is generally done on the floor or a table and involves stretching

Thai MassageThai massages have been practiced in Thailand for over 2,500 years and are often included in sacred ceremonies. This is also called "lazy persons yoga". They are performed on a firm mat on the floor instead of on a table, and feature kneading and positioning that stimulates tissue and organs according to certain energy lines as well as whole body stretching.

Acupressure: Acupressure is an ancient Eastern healing art that uses the fingers to press key points on the surface of the skin. This stimulates energy channels (sometimes known as Qi), helps improve blood flow and lowers muscular tension.

Shiatsu: Shiatsu is an Ancient Japanese massage that is similar to acupressure in that it concentrates on unblocking the flow of life energy and restoring balance in the body’s channels/meridians.

While massage is the application of soft-tissue manipulation techniques to the body, “bodywork” therapies and “somatic” treatments are also similar in many ways. Bodywork encompasses various forms of touch therapies that use manipulation, movement and/or re-patterning, while somatic therapies focus on the meaning “of the body” and its energy channels along with the body/mind connection.

Many physicians and health practitioners recommend massage during the healing process post surgery and for scar management, but does it really work?

Massage DOES work, and works on a few levels.  First of all, human beings need to be touched.  We literally need to be touched.  Babies who are not held and touched can die from failure to thrive.  Physicians and healers from ancient traditions have believed that simple touch can heal many ailments from arthritis to infections.  "The laying on of hands" is an ancient and trusted practice, but what are the specific benefits?

Massage, especially deep tissue massage, has been touted to "increase circulation" which thereby could promote healing.  Recent studies that were well planned and executed have supported this idea and have proven this even at the cellular level.  Massage increases healing on a cellular level by increasing mitochondria which can promote cell growth and  reduce inflammatory cells which contribute to pain and swelling.

The following conditions have all been scientifically (through studies) shown to improve and/or be treated by massage:

1. Lower Back Pain

2. Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, Bursitis & Joint Pain

3. High Blood Pressure

4. Depression, Anxiety & Fatigue

5. Raises Immunity

6. Smoking Cessation

7. Improve Athletic Performance & Sports Prevent Injuries


once a wound has healed massage is an important part of scar management

Massage can greatly help scar management and healing in a few ways. The first way is to alert the nervous system and remind the skin how to respond to touch.  In many surgeries small sensory nerves can be cut (this is normal), but post-surgery the area that was operated on - especially along the incision can feel numb and "weird".  Touching and massaging can provide feedback to allow the body to redirect the nerves, so that sensation will return to normal.  Massaging healed scars also has been proven to both soften them, and make them soften.  Massage also increases the circulation to a given location in the body, which can bring in the cells you need to heal and reduce inflammation, which reduces pain and promotes healing.

In summary, massage is an ancient healing art that should be maintained as an important aspect in helping to heal and promoting wellness.

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