THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF MASSAGE THERAPY
In an attempt to understand how and why massage therapy is as effective as it seems to be, scientists and medical researchers from around the world have been studying it for decades. Some characteristics of massage therapy have been conclusively resolved with apparent consensus among the learned scholars, while other characteristics remain as inexplicably mysterious as ever. For instance, they all agree that when a certain amount of pressure is applied to soft tissue such as a muscle, some changes occur within the affected muscles. They also all tend to agree that massage therapy promotes relaxation and reduces stress which often leads to deterioration or worsening of certain physiological conditions.
Those characteristics of massage therapy that have not yet been explained by conventional science gave rise to a number of theories and postulates. You will note that they are all prefaced with the word “might” to indicate uncertainty as they described possible health benefits of massage therapy:
* Might provide stimulation that may help block pain signals transmitted to the brain and this is called the “gate control theory” of decreasing or alleviating pain.
* Might promote better health by stimulating the lymphatic system to increase the flow of lymph, which is the secretion that carries disease-fighting cells through the body.
* Might re-route the client’s nervous system away from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic. In doing so, the fight-or-flight reaction of the sympathetic nervous system with its increased heart and breathing rates along with tightened muscles of distress are shunned in favor of the rest-and-digest reaction of the parasympathetic nervous system with its lowered heart rate, slowed breathing and relaxed muscles.
* Might be instrumental in effecting beneficial changes in the body by preventing fibrosis through the process of breaking up scar-like tissue
* Might arouse the body to discharge chemicals such as serotonin or endorphins which area known to give people the feelings of wellbeing.
* Might improve sleep patterns which are essential to pain control and healing processes.
* Might contribute to the overall mental and physiological health by the intimate interaction between the client and the therapist.
The following are specific cases and their reported benefits whether they are understood or merely observed with bewilderment:
* Students at a New Jersey Medical School who were given massage therapy before an exam displayed less anxiety, lower respiratory rates, a substantial increase in white blood cells and an enhanced immune system.
* Cancer patients at the James Cancer Hospital and Research Institute in Columbus, Ohio experienced less pain and decreased anxiety after receiving massage therapies than those who did not get such treatments.
* Studies at the University of South Carolina show that women who recently lost a child were less depressed after the massage therapy.
* The National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that massage therapy improved weight gain in infants who were premature or those who were exposed to HIV. They also determined that massage therapy expedites recovery in patients who had abdominal surgery.
* Researchers at the University of the Miami School of Medicine’s Touch Research Institute discovered that massage therapy decreases high blood pressure, relieves migraine headaches, and generally increases alertness and performance in the workforce.
* Many additional studies confirm that massage therapy reduces heart rates, lowers blood pressure; increases blood circulation and lymph flow; relaxes stiffened and tense muscles while stimulating weak and inactive muscles to compensate for lack of movement due to an illness or an injury; speeds up the healing process after surgeries, disease, and injuries; improves the range of vision; increases endorphins; reduces anxiety, tension, depression, pain and itching in burn patients; and Autistic children exhibit calmer and more predictable behavior.
So, is massage therapy beneficial? Yes! Massage therapy is beneficial on, oh, so many levels. The mechanics of the process may not be clear just yet, but the outcomes are undeniable by anyone’s standards.
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THE BALINESE MASSAGE THERAPY
Having originated on the exotic island of Bali, the Balinese massage therapy is one of a number of ancient traditional massage techniques of Indonesia which had been carried down from one generation to another as a method of curing a wide variety of complaints. The Balinese massage is extraordinarily unique in that it brings together several alternative medicine practices such as massage therapy, acupressure, reflexology and aromatherapy with the use of essential oils scented with striking aromas of jasmine, rose, sandalwood, coconut, Cempaka, sandat or frangipani into a single massage session. As it is true with most massage techniques, the Balinese massage strives to reach the ultimate state of relaxation of the body and the mind. What sets it apart is that the Balinese believe that, in order to attain that heightened state of relaxation, blood and oxygen must flow freely and only then will the gi or energy flow without restraints as well.
The Balinese massage therapy is performed on a conventional massage table or on a soft mat on the floor and a great deal of attention is paid to the scented oils which are generally applied at room temperature. For restorative purposes of an ailing or painful body part, warmed oil with an added mixture of lemongrass, cloves or ginger is applied. Overall, the bouquet of fragrances used in the Balinese massage therapy is intended to induce relaxation, promote indulgence of the body and to drive away nervousness and unhealthful tension.
To reach the deeper tissues of the muscles, the Balinese massage therapist alternately applies vigorous kneading, cross fiber mobilization as well as skin rolling with gentle motions to every muscle of the body. To enhance results with long-lasting effects, robust acupressure movements such as hardy press point and strong palm pressure are generously applies in addition to the prevailing massage techniques such as sliding, long and short exploration and manipulating.
The Balinese massage therapy is far from being gentle or delicate and it is, therefore, time and time again compared to Ayurveda, an Indian holistic medicinal method which is considered by most as being extremely intense. And it is due to the inherent intensity of the Balinese massage, that this therapy is so successful in reaching deep into tense and strained muscles to soothe and calm their spasms. As a matter of fact, the Balinese massage therapy is quite frequently prescribed for sports injuries as well as for stiff and achy joints due to various injuries or ailments, for easing migraines and other kinds of headaches, for relieving sleep deprivation and insomnia, for mitigating chronic and acute breathing maladies due to allergies and asthma, for boosting blood circulation and the lymphatic system, as well as for alleviating stress and easing anxiety and depression. In essence, the Balinese massage is a rigorous yet lavish therapeutic system that aims to bring the body and mind in full synchronization of optimal health, well being, tranquility and spiritual renewal.
In preparation for a Balinese massage treatment, you should give yourself plenty of time to savor the entire experience and its afterglow. Under certain circumstances, your massage therapist may need to modify the treatment or the oils which are used and you should, for that reason, let him or her know if you:
* Know that you are pregnant or think you might be.
* Have any pains or stiffness in your joints or limbs.
* Have had a recent injury or underwent surgery.
* Are suffering from high or low blood pressure.
* Have any kind of heart problems or any other medical condition and are going through some form of treatment.
Bali is just one island out of the 17,508 islands which comprise the Republic of Indonesia, a nation located in Southeast Asia and the world’s largest archipelagic state. Many of the other Indonesian islands adopted their own massage techniques which are similar to the Balinese massage in their endeavor to heal the physical body and the spiritual mind, yet they are also distinct and bear their own unique characteristics. And they are:
* Sasak massage.
* Lombok massage.
* Urat massage.
* Balinese Boreh. A paste of ground spices is used to relieve pain and this massage technique was conceived by local rice farmers.
* Javenese Lulur Ritual. This is customarily executed on brides in preparation for their wedding day.
Have you decided to give the Balinese massage a try? Good choice! Relax, enjoy the process and come out smelling heavenly.
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RISKS OF MASSAGE THERAPY
By and large, massage therapy that is performed by a properly schooled and well-experienced massage therapist who practices his or her art prudently and with due caution, is risk-free to its recipient’s health and wellbeing. For that reason along, if for no other, massage therapists must be selected very carefully as credentials and licenses are scrutinized meticulously, references are checked with diligence and questions are asked relentlessly. Regardless of how it is phrased or worded, one question which must always be asked of a potential massage therapist is the following, “Which health conditions would you consider preclusive of massage therapy and why?” And the correct answer, whether stated in exactly those words or different ones, should be, “There are certain health conditions which must rule out massage therapy and those are …” And he or she must name the following:
* Cancer. Massage therapy comes in different forms which affect the body differently. There are also many different types of cancers and patients may be at different stages and receiving different treatments. In some cases and certain types of massage therapy may lead to life-threatening results while in other cases with another type of massage therapy the results may be extraordinarily beneficial. Because of such complexity, it is essential to consult with the medical provider who knows the particulars of the case in question before proceeding with a massage therapy of any kind.
The potential risks involved in performing massage therapy on cancer patients do not inevitably discard the entire concept of massage therapy but it does mean that extra caution must be practiced and, perhaps, moderate to extreme alteration of the treatment is in order. And the health risks are the following:
– Fractures of bones. Certain forms of cancer and their treatments weaken bones to the extent that they can easily break under pressure.
– Bleeding. Many cancer patients have a tendency to bleed easily. Deep tissue massage can cause dangerous internal bleeding.
– Spreading of cancerous tumors. There is an ongoing debate about the effects of massage therapy on tumors. Some claim that applying vigorous pressure to the area where the tumor is present will cause it to metastasis (break down and to spread or to increase its rate of growth). Others, however, deny that claim as unsubstantiated and untrue. It is best to play it safe and not massage the tumor region or its surrounding soft tissues.
– Lymphedema (the buildup of lymph in soft tissue which leads to swelling of the limbs). Certain types of massage therapy in patients who have had their lymph nodes removed due to cancer may lead to lymphedema.
– Flu-like symptoms. Patients who are going through chemotherapy can often develop symptoms that look and feel like the flu after having been treated to certain types of massage therapy.
– Pain. Cancer patients frequently suffer a great deal of pain and most massage therapy techniques can result in some temporary pain immediately after the treatment. That may translate to added pain when too much of it is already present and that can be quite literally unbearable.
* Post-surgery. Shortly after surgery, the wound is still in the process of healing visually on the surface of the skin as well as internally. Applying pressure to the site may cause a series of risky health problems such as reopening the incision, trigger internal and/or external bleeding or blood clotting, and so on.
* Skin conditions. Areas where the skin is infected, inflamed or covered with rashes or sores should not be massaged as it can lead to worsening of the condition.
Even when taking into account all the risks which have been mentioned above, massage therapy can still be very beneficial to most people in most situations. Rather than discounting it completely due to specific concerns, I would advise consulting a physician.
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