The Benefits of Massage – Article by Andrew Tomkinson
We massage ourselves nearly every day. The natural reaction to reach out and touch a painful part of the body forms the basis of massage. As long ago as 3000 BC massage was used as a therapy in the Far East, making it one of the oldest treatments used by humans. In 5 BC in ancient Greece, Hippocrates recommended that to maintain health, a massage using oils should be taken daily after a perfumed bath. Greek physicians were well used to treating people who suffered from pain and stiffness in the joints. The relaxation and healing powers of massage have been well documented over the past 5000 years.The therapeutic value of applying oils and rubbing parts of the body to lessen pain and prevent illness was recognised amongst the ancient Mediterranean civilisations. In ancient times scented oils were almost always used when giving massages, creating an early form of aromatherapy massage.Massage increased in popularity when, in the 19th century, Per Henrik Ling, a Swedish fencing master and academic, created the basis for what is now known as Swedish massage. Swedish massage deals with the soft tissues of the body. It is a combination of relaxing effects and exercises that work on the joints and muscles but it is still based on the form that was practised in ancient times. More recently, a work was published in the 1970′s called The Massage Book by George Downing and this introduced a new concept in the overall technique of massage, that the whole person’s state should be assessed by the therapist and not solely the physical side. The emotional and mental states should be part of the overall picture. Also combined in his form of massage were the methods used in reflexology and shiatsu and this was known as therapeutic massage. The aim of this is to use relaxation, stimulation and invigoration to promote good health.Massage is commonly used to induce general relaxation, so that any tension or strain experienced in the rush of daily life can be eased and eliminated. It is found to be very effective, working on the mind as well as the body. It can be used to treat people with hypertension, sinusitis, headaches, insomnia and hyperactivity, including people who suffer from heart ailments or circulatory disorders. At the physical level, massage is intended to help the body make use of food and to eliminate the waste materials, as well as stimulating the nervous and muscular system and the circulation of blood. Neck and back pain are conditions from which many people suffer, particularly if they have not been sitting correctly, such as in a slightly stooped position with their shoulders rounded. People whose day to day work involves a great deal of physical activity, such as dancers and athletes, can also derive a great deal of benefit from the use of massage. Stiffness can be a problem that they have after training or working and this is relieved by encouraging the toxins that gather in the muscles to disappear. Massage promotes a feeling of calmness and serenity and this is particularly beneficial to people who frequently suffer from bouts of depression or anxiety. Once the worry and depression have been dispelled, people are able to deal with their problems much more effectively and being able to do so will boost their self confidence.In hospitals, massage has been used to ease pain and discomfort as well as being of benefit to people who are bedridden, since the flow of blood to the muscles is stimulated. It has also been used for those who have suffered from a heart attack and has assisted in their recovery. A more recent development has been the use of massage for cancer patients who are suffering from the after effects of treatment, such as chemotherapy, as well as the discomfort the disease itself causes. Indeed, there are few conditions when it is not recommended. It should not be used when people are suffering from inflammation of the veins, varicose veins, thrombosis or if they have a raised temperature such as occurs during a fever. It is then advisable to contact a doctor before using massage. Doctors may be able to recommend a qualified therapist, a health centre may be able to help or contact can be made with the relevant professional body.Along with the diagnosis elements of massage there are great psychological benefits. During a massage the patient is coaxed from emotional and occupational stresses into the intense arena of the here and now. The importance of this kind of one on one non verbal communication can never be underestimated in our increasingly impersonal and detached society.Massage has a wide range of uses for a variety of disorders. Its strengths lie in the easing of strain and tension and inducing relaxation and serenity, plus the physical contact of the therapist. Although doctors make use of this therapy in conjunction with orthodox medicine, it is not to be regarded as a cure for diseases in itself and serious problems could occur if this were the case.Massage affects the whole body through rhythmically applied pressure. Gentle pulling and stroking movements increase the circulation of the blood and cause the blood vessels to dilate. The stimulation of nerves and blood will also affect the internal organs. Lymph is a milky white liquid that carries waste substances and toxins away from the tissues via the lymphatic system. Inactivity can cause an unhealthy build up of this substance and as the circulation of the lymph is largely dependent on muscle contractions, so massage will help speed the lymph’s progress through the system. Active people can also benefit from massage as strenuous activity burns up the muscle, producing an increase of waste products in the muscle tissue. Massage will help to balance the system in both cases and can increase oxygen capacity by 10-15 per cent.By realigning our bodies, massage can go a long way to repairing our generally damaged postures. Inactive lifestyles and sedentary occupations have created a society of people with cramped, stooped and neglected postures. Not only does massage help to coax the spine and corresponding physiology back into position, it also makes us more aware of our bodies. Relieved of muscle tension, the body feels lighter and therefore can be borne more naturally and with more poise. Used in conjunction with postural therapies such as Pilates or the Alexander technique, massage can help achieve a relaxed yet controlled posture.Women in labour have found that the pain experienced during childbirth can be eased if massage is performed on the buttocks and back. The massage eases the build up of tension in the muscles, encouraging relaxation and easing of labour pains. It is said to be more effective on women who had previously experienced the benefits and reassurance of massage.Many of the benefits of massage come through the healer/patient contact. Our hands are one of the most sensitive parts of the body and we experience much of our sense and touch through our hands. An experienced masseur is able is able to use his or her hands to communicate feelings of harmony and relaxation. A practised masseur will also be able to diagnose the patient through touch. He or she can ‘listen’ to tension and stress through the texture of the skin, knotted muscle and stiff joints. Old and current sprains, congestion and swelling should all be obvious to a good masseur. The actions of massage – the stroking, kneading and pulling – detoxify the body, improving circulation and lymphatic drainage. After tension and weakness in the body have been pinpointed and relieved, the patient is feeling relaxed and energised.
The Benefits of Massage