Massage As Medicine

For more than a decade, Bill Cook has gotten a weekly massage. He isn’t a professional athlete. He didn’t receive a lifetime gift certificate to a spa.

Nor is the procedure a mere indulgence, he says – it’s medicinal.

In 2002, Cook – a 58-year-old resident of Hudson, Wisconsin, who once worked in marketing – was diagnosed with a rare illness. He had cardiac sarcoidosis, a condition in which clusters of white blood cells coagulate together and react against a foreign substance in the body, scarring the heart in the process. The disease damaged his heart so badly it went into failure. The doctors said there was nothing they could do, and Cook’s name was put on an organ transplant waiting list.

The wait stretched on for more than a decade. “I probably had the heart capacity of an 80-year-old,” recalls Cook, who was given medication and a pacemaker yet still struggled daily with his sickness. “It wasn’t pushing the blood out to my extremities because it was so weak. It got worse and worse, and I started to look for anything I could find to help my circulation.”

Cook’s cardiologist suggested he try massage therapy. Though he was initially skeptical, Cook – whose son is a physician – says his doubts vanished after several appointments.

“It really helped the circulation to my fingers, toes and legs,” he says. “I kept with it because I saw some pretty significant benefits.” Today, Cook credits the massages – along with stress reduction and a healthy diet – with allowing him to stay healthy and physically active until he finally received his new heart in 2013.

Studies suggest Cook’s cardiologist was onto something – massage does indeed enhance blood flow and improve general circulation. And experts agree it yields additional benefits, too, ranging from the mental to the physical.

Once viewed as a luxury, massage is increasingly recognized as an alternative medical treatment. According to a recent consumer survey sponsored by the American Massage Therapy Association, 77 percent of respondents said their primary reason for receiving a massage in the past year was medical or stress-related. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that medical centers nationwide now offer massage as a form of patient treatment. The American Hospital Association recently surveyed 1,007 hospitals about their use of complementary and alternative medicine therapies, and more than 80 percent said they offered massage therapy. Upwards of 70 percent said they used massage for pain management and relief.

“The medical community is more accepting of massage therapy than ever before,” says Jerrilyn Cambron, board president of the Massage Therapy Foundation. “Many massage therapists now have active, fruitful relationships with conventional care providers.”

Should you integrate massage therapy into your wellness routine? Consider the practice’s advantages, along with advice on how to make the most out of your appointment:

How Massage Works

There are myriad massage techniques, as well as ways to receive it. Sometimes the massage therapist’s touch will be deep; other times, light. You may keep your clothes on and sit in a chair, or lay unclothed on a table underneath a sheet. The massage could last for a few minutes or an hour. Occasionally it’ll be a full body massage; other times the massage therapist will focus on an isolated muscle group.

However, all massages boil down to the same thing: the therapeutic manipulation of the body’s soft tissues using a series of pressured movements. A massage therapist uses his or her hands, elbows, fingers, knees or forearms to administer touches ranging from light strokes to deep kneading motions. Occasionally, therapists will also use a massage device.

Most people agree massage feels good. But does science support the notion that it’s good for you?

“We do not yet have a complete understanding of what happens physiologically during massage or why it works,” Cambron says. But a recent study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine suggests massage reduces the body’s production of cytokines – proteins that contribute to inflammation. Massage therapy was also shown to stimulate mitochondria, the energy-producing units in cells that aid in cell function and repair.

Plus, massage is thought to reduce cortisol levels and regulate the body’s sympathetic nervous system – both of which go haywire when you’re stressed, says Lisa Corbin, an associate professor at University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Division of General Internal Medicine.

Who Does It Help?

A 2011 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reports that massage therapy is a beneficial treatment for chronic back pain. Sure enough, Becky Phelan, a licensed massage therapist who lives in Taunton, Massachusetts, says most patients visit her for “some vague, chronic pain in the neck, shoulders and lower back.” The soreness is typically caused by various lifestyle factors – desk posture at work, sleeping positions and seemingly minor things, such as wearing heels or carrying a heavy pocketbook or wallet.

But many people are seeking relief from a more serious condition, says Winona Bontrager, a licensed massage therapist who runs the Lancaster School of Massage in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Some have cancer; studies have shown massage helps lessen these patients’ pain and fatigue while elevating mood. Many of Bontrager’a clients struggle with anxiety and depression, which researchers have noted can be reduced through massage therapy. And she also sees clients with disorders and diseases as diverse as fibromyalgia, temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders (commonly called “TMJ”) and irritable bowel syndrome. They, too, find relief through massage.

Additional research indicates massage therapy helps individuals with migraines, insomnia or other tension-related issues. It also benefits post-operative patients; massage shows potential to help with wound healing by increasing blood flow.

Corbin says anyone can get a massage, regardless of age or physical health. Those with chronic medical conditions, however, need to avoid the corner spa and seek out someone who specializes in medical massage. They’ll also need to give the massage therapist a health history so he or she can adapt techniques and touch to their needs.

Finding a Massage Therapist

Cook has seen the same massage therapist for years. “Find somebody who has really good experience – they’re certified, they’re licensed, they’ve been in the business a long time and they get referrals,” he says. “Like anything else, there’s good massage therapists, and there’s bad ones.”

Most states have different regulations for massage therapists, which sometimes makes it tricky to decipher their credentials. Some offer licenses, while others require registration or a certification. Bontranger recommends prospective clients visit the American Massage Therapy Association’s website, where they can search for a qualified massage therapist based on training, expertise and location.

And Corbin suggests patients with cancer or other serious illnesses seek out a licensed massage therapist who focuses on medical massage and works in a hospital setting.

What Type of Massage Should I Request?

Thanks to the dizzying array of options offered at spas, many people go into their first appointments confused about which type of massage to get, Corbin says. “People are always asking, ‘Should I get a deep tissue massage? Should I get a Swedish? I think the important thing – especially when you’re talking about medical massage, or massage for health benefits – is to go to a massage therapist who can adjust the technique based on what you need.”

Bottom line? Don’t stress about whether you’re getting a Swedish or a shiatsu massage. Instead, focus on finding a good provider. He or she will be able to combine different types of pressure, ranging from light to hard, and focus on your problem areas.

Massage and Sleep

Massage Therapy Can Help Improve Sleep

Position Statement

It is the position of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) that massage therapy can help improve sleep.

Background Information

Quality sleep is vital to health and wellness.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
“Insufficient sleep is associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions—such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression—which threaten our nation’s health. Notably, insufficient sleep is associated with the onset of these diseases and also poses important implications for their management and outcome. Moreover, insufficient sleep is responsible for motor vehicle and machinery-related crashes, causing substantial injury and disability each year. In short, drowsy driving can be as dangerous—and preventable—as driving while intoxicated.”1

It is estimated that 50 to 70 million Americans experience sleep issues that affect their health.2

Research is indicating that massage can improve sleep in:

  • Children and adolescents
  • Those with psychiatric disorders
  • Those who are hospitalized or institutionalized
  • Those with lower back pain
  • Those with cerebral palsy
  • Those with fibromyalgia
  • Those with insominia
  • Those in pain
  • Those with hand pain
  • Those with cancer
  • Infants
  • Infants with dyssomnia
  • Those who have had heart surgery
  • Those with breast disease
  • Those with migraines
  • Caretakers of hospitalized individuals
  • The elderly

Living Your Best Life – Massage and Robin Roberts

Living Your Best Life


You know what it means to live your life with passion. You followed your passion to the massage therapy profession, where you spend your time helping others feel their best, maintaining their health and well-being or dealing with the sometimes overwhelming symptoms of chronic or acute health conditions.

You have the best of both worlds: By living your best life, you help others live their best lives, too.

That doesn’t mean the road is always smooth.

Everyone, no matter how successful, faces personal and professional challenges. Some are small, some big. Some you can overcome fairly easily. Others feel like they might break you, or derail your hard-won successes. How you choose to deal with these challenges— no matter how big or small—can make all the difference.

Robin Roberts, this year’s Keynote Speaker at AMTA’s 2016 National Convention, knows a thing or two about both successes and challenges:

Legendary Athlete. From 1990 to 2005, Roberts was a contributor to ESPN, where she was one of the network’s most versatile commentators. Her assignments there included hosting SportsCenter and contributing to NFL PrimeTime.

She came to the position with a strong sports pedigree. In 1983, Roberts graduated cum laude from Southeastern Louisiana State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications. She was a standout performer on the women’s basketball team, and she ended her career as the school’s all-time leading scorer (1,446 points) and rebounder (1,034). Roberts is one of only three Lady Lions to score 1,000 career points and grab 1,000 career rebounds. During her senior season, she averaged a career-high 15.2 points per game.

Interviews With Passion. As the anchor of ABC’s Good Morning America, Roberts’ leadership has resulted in the broadcast winning three consecutive Emmy Awards for Outstanding Morning program. When not traveling around the country or the world covering breaking news events, Roberts is at GMA’s studio in Times Square conducting interviews with a diverse group of newsmakers. Her headline-making interviews include President Barack Obama and a groundbreaking, live broadcast from inside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In August 2005, Roberts found her personal and professional lives collide when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a part of the country Roberts called home for most of her life. In the days following, Roberts traveled to the hurricane zone and reported live amid the devastation of the storm.

Overcoming Cancer. In addition to covering world events, Robin has shared her personal experiences with GMA audiences around the country. In July 2007, she announced that she had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and was undergoing treatment. Then, five years after beating breast cancer, she announced she’d been diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a disease of the blood and bone marrow that medical experts previously described as preleukemia. Her courageous and public battles with two life-threatening diseases have been recognized with awards and honors from organizations around the country.

Since her diagnosis, Robin has become an outspoken advocate for breast cancer awareness and the importance of early detection. In March 2007, Hyperion Books published her first book, From the Heart: Seven Rules to Live By, which was a New York Times bestseller. An updated version, From The Heart: Eight Rules To Live By, was released in October 2008 with an additional chapter on her experience with breast cancer.

All of these experiences taught Roberts the value and necessity of maintaining her health and well-being, both physically and mentally—a message that she shares regularly with all who watch her. Having a positive attitude, finding ways to better handle stress and deal with the sometimes challenging symptoms of breast cancer, as well as the arduous treatment, are all a part of how Roberts continues to live her best life, chasing her dreams and going after her goals with passion.

And, like you, massage therapy has played an integral role in helping her do that.

Massage Therapy Journal staff had the opportunity to connect with Roberts and ask her how she stays healthy, her sources of motivation and the words of encouragement she’d share with those people facing their own personal and professional challenges.

MTJ: What are some ways you maintain your health and wellness with your hectic schedule?Do you continue to use massage therapy?

Robin Roberts: Making time for health and wellness is essential for me—not just physically, but mentally as well. I practice yoga and Pilates, and I also work with a trainer a couple of times a week on strength training. To me, a massage is the perfect end to a busy week and gets my body and mind back on track. There’s nothing more relaxing and healing than spending 60 to 90 minutes in the hands of a fantastic therapist.

What role does massage therapy play in your or your family’s health and wellness regimen?

My long-time partner, Amber, graduated from the Swedish Institute’s massage therapy program, earned her associate’s degree, and is now a licensed massage therapist. One could safely assume that massage therapy plays a pretty important role in our lives! Together, we are committed to a lifestyle of wellness, healing and positivity.

What is one wellness habit you have that you consider integral to your health and well-being?

Meditation has been an important practice in my life for just over a year now. I find that taking quiet time during my day makes those 3 a.m. wake-up calls much less stressful. Getting my mind right helps to relieve stress, releases tension in my body and makes me more productive during my days.

What is your biggest source of motivation/inspiration?

The three F’s: Faith, family and friends. My life has been filled with blessings—deep faith, strong family ties, a core group of loyal friends— and these are the foundations upon which everything in my life rests. Having a strong ground to stand on gives me the energy and courage to pursue my goals without hesitation.

What words of encouragement or advice would you give to people facing their own personal or professional challenges?

When I face a challenge or frustration, I say to myself, “God’s delays are not His denials.” Not landing the perfect job, not seeing immediate results or facing heartbreak—situations that are difficult, painful and frustrating—are best met with patience, persistence and self-love. Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, and more importantly, never tell yourself that.

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> Enhancing Your Life < Balance Blog

Massage As Medicine

For more than a decade, Bill Cook has gotten a weekly massage. He More

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