Touch is important for human health and well-being. A specialized form of touch, massage, can benefit people from birth to old age.
How is massage so helpful, healthy and beneficial? In the May 1999 issue of Health Wisdom for Women, Dr. Christiane Northrop wrote a page-long article entitled “Why Massage is an Essential Part of Creating Health.” She said, “I advocate massage as a powerful way to create health. Touch has been shown to be important for growth, learning, immune system functioning, mental health, pain control, and stress reduction in dozens of medical studies. But, while much research shows that babies must be touched to survive and thrive, we often don’t realize that older children and adults need regular touch too. Massage is a very well-studied and healthful way to get the touch we need.” Let us take a look at how massage can help people of different ages.
Infants benefit greatly from receiving massage on a regular basis. Massage provides a means of communication with parents or caretakers, soothes and relaxes the little ones, and enhances the bonding process. Parents can learn to massage their own babies beginning right after birth. Gentle strokes are always used.
Growing children benefit from nurturing touch provided by parents along with the relaxing and soothing effects of massage. In addition, children may have specific muscular problems caused by sports or physical activity, or due to stress. Many injuries or occurrences of back and neck pain that appear in adulthood are actually the result of falls or injuries sustained in childhood. So listen to your children when they tell you of their aches and pains. Massage can relax and soften children’s tight, knotted, or sore areas.
For adults, massage is most well known for alleviating stress and promoting relaxation of body, mind, and spirit. But not only does massage help an individual thrive psychologically, it can also help certain medical conditions. People with the following conditions have reported that therapeutic massage has lessened or relieved many of their symptoms: arthritis, asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic and acute pain, circulatory problems, gastrointestinal disorders (including spastic colon, colic and constipation), headache, immune function disorders, insomnia, myofascial pain, reduced range of motion, sports injuries (including pulled or strained muscles and ligaments), stress, and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction).1 Therapeutic massage is often an effective alternative to drugs and surgery.
Working adults can also benefit from receiving regular massage. The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami has documented the positive effects of massage therapy on job performance and stress reduction. The research indicates that a basic 15-minute chair massage, provided twice weekly, results in decreased job stress and significant increase in productivity.2
Elders also benefit from the touch of massage. Massage reduces heart rate, lowers blood pressure, increases blood circulation and lymph flow, relaxes muscles, improves range of motion, and increases endorphins (enhancing medical treatment). Although therapeutic massage does not increase muscle strength, it can stimulate weak, inactive muscles and thus, partially compensate for lack of exercise and inactivity resulting from illness or injury. It also can hasten and lead to a more complete recovery from injury.
Those facing their last days also benefit from touch therapy. For example, in Boulder County, hospice workers promote the use of Comfort Touch (a gentle form of massage) to provide nurturing and support for those going through the end of life transition
Thus, massage can play an important role at all stages of a healthy life, whether provided by a professional therapist or given informally among family members. In addition to resolving aches and pains, massage can greatly increase your quality of life through decreasing stress and tension and providing a feeling of greater well-being.
1Massage Therapy Facts for Physicians, AMTA, 1999.
2Field, et.al., “Massage Therapy Reduces Anxiety and Enhances EEG Pattern of Alertness and Math Computations,” International Journal Neuroscience 86 (1996): 197-205.