“Rubbing” was considered as the primary form of healing therapy by our ancestors. Massage therapy holds a valuable place in history of many cultures throughout the world. Recently, massage therapy has gained tremendous attention as a Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) for treatment of various chronic illnesses. Massage therapy uses pressure, tension, motion or vibration movements to heal the painful joints, tissues, muscles, and ligaments. Massage can be performed at a clinic setting by a therapist, or at home (self-massage) using hands, fingers, elbows, or with mechanical aids.
History of Massage Therapy
Massage therapy was known, and practiced much before the pharmaceutical evolution took place in the 1940s. The technique of massage has been mentioned in some of the old literature from China, Japan, India, Arabic nations, Egypt, Greece and Rome. Asclepiades of Bithynia, was the first medical practitioner in Ancient Greece who relied exclusively on the massage therapy for healing illnesses. According to Asclepiades, massage therapy restores the free movements of nutritive fluids in the body and thus shows therapeutic benefits. Hippocrates of Kos, universally recognized as the “Father of Modern Medicine” followed the work of Asclepiades. The clinical and ethical basics of various medical therapies that are in practice today have their origins in Hippocrates. Hippocrates used natural ways of treatment and his hands-on method of healing was known as Ana trips (rubbing). Many Greek physicians, who practiced massage therapy, then started entering Rome, following which the massage therapy slowly gained importance across the empire of Europe.
Types of Massage Therapy
Swedish massage is the most common type of massage. In Swedish massage, the therapist uses long strokes, with deep circular movements, vibration, and tapping. This is mainly used to relieve aches and pain.
Sports massage is performed in similar manner as Swedish massage, but it is mainly used for athletes to treat the sports or athletic injuries.
Shiatsu means ‘finger pressure’ in Japanese. In this type of massage the practitioner uses touch and pressure to adjust the body’s physical structure and balance its energy flow. This type of massage is mainly used for reducing the stress and promoting general well-being.
This type of massage uses aromatic oils extracted from herbs of medicinal value. These fragrant oils are massaged through the skin by applying pressure. Aromatherapy is found beneficial in relieving certain painful conditions, and improving mental health.
Therapeutic Massage Bodywork (TMB)
TMB is a group of CAM services that encompasses more than 100 techniques. Most of the massage therapies involve common massage techniques including kneading, stroking, pressing, vibrating, holding, etc. TMB treatments are used for treatment of general conditions, such as stress, anxiety, and depression, and sometimes for localized pain or mobility.
Some other types of massage include deep tissue massage and trigger point massage, which focus on the muscle knots that are painful when pressed. Massage practitioners usually combine different massage techniques in single treatment depending upon the type of illness.
The basic mechanism by which most of the massage therapies exert their positive effect is by increasing the blood circulation, and flow of other important body fluids. The increased flow of these body fluids supplies necessary nutrients and oxygen to all the organs in the body as well as carry away the toxins and wastes.
Massage also increases the flow of energy, and improves the communication between different systems in the body, such as cardiovascular, lymphatic, respiratory, digestive, etc. This creates a state of balance in the body. Massage causes increase in circulation to the injured areas, and stimulates healing of tissues as a result of which, massage is found beneficial in management of soft tissue injuries, such as, sprains and strains.
Massage plays an important role in balancing the nervous system by soothing or stimulating nerves and neural pathways. Thus, massage has a role in treatment of numerous mental disorders.
As per the “gate control theory” massage provides stimulation that helps to block pain signals sent to the brain. Other theories suggest that massage stimulates the release of brain chemicals, such as serotonin or endorphins, which exert beneficial therapeutic effects.
A growing body of research supports positive role of massage therapy in treatment of various pain conditions, mental disorders such as depression, and for wellbeing of patients with terminal diseases such as cancer. Massage calms your mind, and increases the pain threshold. It stimulates certain receptors, which block the pain signal, and gives a pleasant feeling and a general relief. The therapeutic benefits of massage therapy in some important health conditions are discussed below.
Low Back Pain
Clinical evidence suggests that massage might be beneficial for patients with chronic Low Back Pain(LBP) especially when combined with exercises and education. One clinical trial revealed that the massage therapy produces beneficial effects in LBP lasting for at least six months.
Studies show that massage therapy can achieve a reduction of cancer pain lasting up to 18 hours. It helps to cope up with pain, muscle stiffness, breathlessness, anxiety and fatigue.
Massage therapy is gaining tremendous importance in the treatment of arthritis. According to one clinical study, a 60-minute massage session done once weekly is beneficial in improving pain, stiffness, and functionality in osteoarthritis. Another study from China reported that clinical effects of massage were better compared to meloxicam (painkiller drug).
Depression and Anxiety
Massage therapies are among the most frequently used complementary treatments for reducing depression and anxiety.
People suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) appear frustrated and anxious because they cannot communicate verbally. Since stress is the major reason for agitated behavior in people with AD, use of stress management interventions, massage, and therapeutic touch can help them relax.
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