As I age, I’m finding that there are certain things that are no longer important. However, one item has moved up on my list – a regular appointment with Ruth, the massage therapist.
I’ve been keeping a fairly regular appointment with Ruth and other massage therapists for the past seven years. Initially, my appointments were focused on relieving the stress of a very demanding job and graduate school; that stress resulted in painful shoulders and a locked-up neck. Fast-forward a few years later when the massages helped me deal not only with my physical stress, but also the emotional toll of watching my mother succumb to Alzheimer’s disease and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. And finally, they’ve helped me take stock of the physical changes and mood swings of going through perimenopause.
And it turns out that researchers increasingly are finding that massage can be good for you! Oprah.com reported on a study of 53 healthy adults who received a touch treatment. One group of participants had a Swedish massage with moderate pressure. Afterwards, their stress hormones dropped while white blood cells increased. Other participants who had a lighter touch treatment experienced higher levels of the hormone oxytocin, which promotes bonding.
Massage also can help ease depression, which many women experience during the menopausal transition. In the 2003 issue of Massage Therapy Journal by the American Massage Therapy Association, Pamela Fitch noted that researchers have found that massage therapy effectively reduces the body’s stress hormones, thus allowing the person who is receiving the massage to a relaxed state. In addition, massage may reduce cortisol levels and promote a parasympathetic response (which is described by Wikipedia as the way for the body to “rest and digest”).
Massage therapy also helps a person feel emotions that may be overwhelming. “To be able to cry in the presence of someone who is comfortable with displays of emotion can be exceptionally healing,” Fitch noted. “The client learns that it is all right to feel such pain, and perhaps more importantly, that those overwhelming feelings do indeed pass.”
Clinical experience has identified “that short-term desired outcomes include a slowing and deepening of the breath, such as is found in sleep,” Fitch stated. “The client may unclench muscles that have been tense for a long time, giving the muscles a rest and reducing the body’s overall tension. In addition, there is at least a temporary or momentary letting go of the concerns and issues that trouble the client.” And the benefits can continue past the time you get off the massage table, including increased alertness and ability to concentrate, as well as less anxiety. Long-term outcomes can include a better quality of sleep, stronger immunity and health, a more positive body image, better concentration, less chronic muscle tension, and less chronic pain.