Maintaining your good health
Everyone ages, gradually experiencing more wear and tear on the body. Massage can help increase the feeling of health and vitality in a number of ways.
Massage improves natural joint lubrication and helps relieve tension in the muscles around the joints, reducing pain and allowing easier movement. And as circulation to the brain improves, a temporary increase in physical energy and mental alertness can result. Feeling this way may inspire increased activity, which will further improve strength, flexibility and coordination.
Many conditions we associate with age, including insomnia, high blood pressure and breathing problems can be aggravated by an overload of stress. Massage promotes deep relaxation and reduces muscle tension, which often results in a decrease of these symptoms.
For the very old and ill ... a special kind of touch
Gentle touch for the frail or ill can help reduce swelling from fluid retention, heal pressure sores, and promote relaxation, which, in turn, can decrease sensations of pain. Practitioners also offer a personal connection and a listening ear, which can help relieve feelings of loneliness and anxiety.
Massage for the frail and ill is not meant to specifically treat a person, condition or disease, but rather to address the whole person with soothing, nurturing touch. Practitioners use gentle and flexible techniques, designed to meet a person's varying needs.
For caregivers, massage can help relieve tension and worry, ease fatigue, and restore physical and emotional resources.
Massage improves immune function: Studies show benefit in different circumstances
There is mounting evidence that massage therapy supports the immune system. Research among groups of people in different situations showed that massage increased the activity of natural killer cells, white blood cells that can attack tumors.
Four studies completed by the Touch Research Institute (TRI) at the University of Miami Medical School demonstrated improvement in immune function after receiving massage.
The first TRI study examined the effects of massage on women with breast cancer. After 5 weeks of massage sessions, three times a week, natural killer cells increased and anxiety decreased by 50 percent. According to Tiffany Field, PhD and director of TRI, these women showed a "whopping increase" in cells that attack tumors and infections.
In the second study, massage given to thirty HIV-positive men resulted in improvements for objective measurements in three areas -- psychological, immunological, and endocrine functions.
Field believes that reduction of the stress response is what helps heal. "We know that cortisol [a stress hormone] kills off natural killer cells and in our studies we are seeing an increase in these [natural killer] cells." Similar results were reported with a group of HIV-positive children, and another with HIV-positive teenage girls.
Other research reported increased immune response with massage for a group of students preparing for exams. This supports the argument that massage improves the function of the immune system for healthy and ill alike, helping the body better fight disease.
Research published in the International Journal of Neuroscience, the American Journal of Public Health, and Journal of Child Neurology indicates that massage can reduce the occurrence and frequency of tension and migraine headaches. This supports the experience of many massage clients who report a decrease in both headaches and headache pain.
How does massage help?
Massage relaxes tense muscles. When tension held in the muscles of the head, shoulders, and neck eases, there is less pressure on the nerves and blood vessels that supply them. Blood flow improves and muscle spasms are often relieved.
Trigger points in the neck, head and shoulders can be another cause of pain which respond well to specific massage techniques.
These factors add up to relief of tension or migraine headaches.
Massage therapy often reduces the anxiety and worry that can accompany headaches, too. As overall stress eases and muscle tension that can trigger headaches lessens, headaches can be prevented as well as relieved.
Self-massage for stress and headache relief
If you can't get in for a massage, the following moves can help relieve stress and pain.
1. Press the palms into the center of the forehead. Using a comfortable pressure, stroke across the forehead outward.
2. Find the center line of your forehead with the first two fingers of each hand. Move the fingers about one inch horizontally to the sides of the center line. Press and release from the hairline downward.
3. Move your fingers one inch more away from the center line, and repeat the press and release movements. Keep inching away from the center line and vary using the fingers to press into points with making small circles.
4. Place your thumbs or index fingers at the center of your forehead, just above the eyebrows. "Draw" a line from the midline to the temples. Smooth the skin across the eyebrows, making small circles at temples.
5. Trace with your fingers from the temples down to the jaw. Make small circles into the jaw.
6. Move the fingers to the center of the forehead, and repeat the movements, again finishing at the jaw.
7. Place the fingers near the hairline and repeat the sequence.