Have you ever googled or binged (I don't think I'm making up those verbs) the benefits of massage?
I'm sure there are thousands of pages out there about the benefits of massage and why you should have one. They are mostly the stuff of myth and legend!
I know that many of the people that know me are shaking their heads right now and many will not agree with what I am about to expound on, however what I am about to tell you is true. Even if when you were in my classes I told you some of these things. Believe me, I'm sorry. These were things that I was taught in massage school also and therefore was passing on to you as fact. It is time to change our beliefs about what massage is (and isn't)!
There are currently 5 generic claims about massage that you will find everywhere on the internet and quite possibly in your massage textbooks. They are as follows:
These claims start in massage school and are perpetuated by our instructors. I have already admitted to spreading them myself in my classes. Before I really start to sort of debunk these claims, I need to give you a little background on my information. I have been reading about these things not being totally true for quite some time now and recently as I have been cleaning and unpacking some things in my office at the new house I came across an article in Massage Today by Tracy Walton. She is a leader in the massage world when it comes to Oncology Massage and I have attended one of her classes on massage for cancer and the research on it. When I was in school cancer was a total contraindication for massage. The myth at that time was that massage spreads cancer cells. Research tells us that is not true. Therefore massage for cancer patients helps them fight pain, nausea, fatigue, anxiety and depression. Easing pain and improving mood for them is due to growing research support for these options.
In the article and in her e-book "5 Myths and Truths About Massage Therapy", Tracy Walton looks at the 5 generic claims mentioned above and also talks about the difference between the clinical vs. mechanistic outcomes in any type of therapy, treatment or drug program. Clinical outcomes are those things that create a change in the signs and symptoms of the client or patients problem. Did massage help or work? Examples are a change in their stress level, or pain level or with their range of motion. Mechanistic outcomes create a change in a biological substance. The examples here are changes in hormone levels, blood sugar, endorphins, cortisol, etc. These changes must be measured in saliva, blood, urine or tissues.
As you have probably figured out by now the 5 claims above are more mechanistic outcomes that none of us as therapists are trained to report. Also, clients are coming to us as massage therapists for clinical outcomes; they want to reduce stress, decrease pain and soreness or just be relaxed. The fact that massage may reduce stress DOES NOT equate to massage lowers cortisol. To paraphrase Tracy, "massage works, just not the way we were taught". Clients DO NOT come to us for mechanistic outcomes.
So what is the research and what about those 5 generic claims? I will summarize Tracy's book.
Massage increases endorphins - studies are inconclusive. Massage does reduce pain and makes the client feel better and relaxed but is not proven to increase endorphin levels.
Massage boosts immunity - this is hard to prove. The immune system is very complex and massage could influence immunity over time but mainly massage promotes relaxation and reduces stress.
Massage decreases cortisol (just one of the stress hormones, but the one with the most press) - again, this has not been proven and in fact was disproved in one study! Decreasing stress and increasing well being is still what we do as massage therapists.
Massage increases blood circulation - the questions here are where, how deep, arterial or venous, for how long and does it matter? Results in studies are inconclusive as to this issue. We do know that hyperemia is present locally with certain strokes thus promoting tissue health in that area. But the lowering of blood pressure or increasing the actual circulation systemically is that proven.
Massage releases toxins - just what are these toxins of which we speak? I have always hated the word toxins - there are by-products of the metabolic process, but sometimes these are good by-products that go out in the blood stream to affect another part of the body. Even lactic acid has it's uses. Lactic acid becomes a fuel when oxygen levels are low in athletes and dissipates in the body with normal breathing. We could just as easily say that breathing releases toxins in the body. Either way there is absolutely NO RESEARCH to suggest that this happens more during a massage. And blood or urine would have to be measured to test this. (Oh, and water after a massage DOES NOT flush out these "toxins" either!)
Not enough overall studies have been done to prove many of the claims that massage therapists and educators have made over the years. The thing that I think would also be hard to do with any massage study would be measuring the effects of the massage because every massage measured must be exactly the same. And we all know how hard that is to do!
So please don't start a rant on me here ( or go ahead - it will increase my blog traffic - LOL) but these are the actual facts based on research or lack thereof. For more information go to www.tracywalton.com or Google (or Bing) 5 Myths and Truths About Massage Therapy. It is a pdf download so you can read it at your leisure. There are some other links within the ebook that you may find quite interesting also.
You read it here! Massage is good for you regardless of any research.
Paula J Kaprocki, LMT
I am a Licensed Massage Therapist with thoughts, aspirations and opinions - much like any other person on the planet!