The power of massage

Research report

Massage has been used in every culture throughout history. Not only because it feels so good, but because of its profound effects on health and well-being. The healing powers of this ancient healing art are slowly being revealed to modern researchers as they uncover its effects on a wide range of conditions ranging from eczema and bulimia to HIV and diabetes.

Until about ten years ago, the benefits and effects of massage were not well understood. Massage therapists knew that it could increase blood and lymph circulation, decrease heart rate and blood pressure, improve mobility and reduce people’s pain. However, the impact of massage on the wide range of conditions that a massage therapist treats had never been scientifically examined.

Massage under the microscope

That situation changed when the first institute devoted exclusively to the study of touch was created in 1992 – the Touch Research Institute.

The driving force behind the Touch Research Institute is its director Tiffany Field. Motivated by the death of her own child, she obtained a research grant in 1975 to study child development.

Ten years later, as an assistant professor of pediatrics and psychology at the University of Miami, she was looking for ways to help premature infants develop faster. She noted that they respond with increased weight gains, improved developmental scores, and earlier discharge from the hospital.

The power of massage

Studies from the Touch Research Institute have looked at people of all ages with a variety of health conditions and complaints. The range of benefits is remarkable. Here are some highlights from a few of the many published studies.

Labor pain: Massage during the first 15 minutes of each hour of labor decreased the mother’s anxiety and pain. There was less need for medication and the length of labor was shortened.

Migraine headaches: Massage therapy decreased the occurrence of headaches along with sleep disturbances and distress symptoms.

Asthma: Children with mild to severe asthma who received regular massage were better able to exhale (a problem with asthma because the air passages constrict). In addition, the children suffered less stress and anxiety.

Premenstrual symptoms: After massage therapy there was improved mood and a decrease in anxiety. Pain and symptoms of water retention were also reduced.

Juvenile diabetes: After a month of regular massage, average blood sugar levels dropped into a normal range. The massaged children were also more likely to stick with their treatment regime.

Sexual abuse: Following massage, abuse survivors showed a reduced aversion to touch. They were less depressed, less anxious and had lower levels of stress hormones.

Bulimia: Bulimic teenagers received massage twice weekly for five weeks. The girls had an improved body image and felt less anxious and depressed. Results were similar for those with anorexia.

Pregnancy: Women who had massage through pregnancy showed decreased levels of stress hormones and experienced less anxiety. There were fewer complications before and after birth including fewer premature births.

by John Slattery