The most important benefit of massage therapy is that "it allows people, even if only for 15 minutes, to reconnect with and become aware of our bodies," says Nicole Langone, a licensed massage therapist in Salem, Massachusetts. "And in this economy, we are unconsciously neglecting and abusing ourselves," she adds.
Massage therapy, which can be performed by a physical therapist, occupational therapist, or massage therapist like Langone, is best known for its ability to relax muscles and relieve stress and pain. There are several forms of massage---including Swedish, deep tissue, and Shiatsu---that are performed in a variety of settings; but they all involve a therapist using his or her hands to manipulate the client's muscles, skin, and tendons.
Of particular benefit to athletes; surgical patients; and those who suffer from conditions such as fibromyalgia, headaches, cancer, and anxiety-related disorders such as anorexia, massage promotes better breathing, sleeping, and blood flow to muscles, Langone says.
In particular, headache sufferers find significant relief from neck, facial, and cranial massage therapy. Postoperative and rehab patients find relief with an increase in range of motion and decreased accumulation of scar tissue, Langone says.
In addition, massage can relieve symptoms related to labor pain, childhood diabetes, and alcohol withdrawal, according to an article published by the Mayo Clinic.
Risks and their prevention
Risks related to massage are minimal and are usually caused by too much pressure during a massage. Clients' speaking up when the pressure is too hard or uncomfortable is the best way to avoid injury, which may include internal bleeding, nerve damage, or temporary paralysis, according to the Mayo Clinic. Some people should check with their physician before undergoing massage therapy, including those who have the following conditions: • Burns or open wounds on the area to be massaged • Recent history of heart attack • Cancer (to avoid direct pressure on tumor area) • Deep vein thrombosis • Unhealed fractures • Rheumatoid arthritis in the area to be massaged • Severe osteoporosis • Pregnancy
Clients can achieve the maximum benefit of massage by visiting their therapist regularly. "Most people do not give themselves the chance to let [massage] do its work. People think that one massage is going to magically fix them rather than spend time on a treatment plan, which, in the long run, will save them money on doctor visits," Langone says. For some clients, it can take years to retrain muscles to relax, she adds. "It's not about making money for us---at least not all of us---it's about helping people."
The most frustrating misconception about massage therapy Langone would like to debunk is that massage is dirty or sexual. "We go through extensive training. ... It is disheartening when people refuse to see how far massage therapy has come. It is so unbelievably helpful and has been accepted by the medical community as an alternative way of healing," she says.
According to the Mayo Clinic, massage therapy is one of several useful tools people can use to manage their health, though it should not be used in place of standard medical treatment and exercise.
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