The Healing Power of Massage
By Rachel Hogancamp
There are many ways in which we can
take care of ourselves. Eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and
engaging in regular exercise are aspects of self-care that we all understand
and accept. However, many people raised in the culture of Western medicine
still consider massage therapy to be an indulgence and, in overlooking its
therapeutic benefits, deprive themselves of an extraordinarily effective avenue
When is massage especially helpful?
There are many circumstances in
which massage is beneficial. When we are under stress, either personal or
work-related, massage therapy can help clear those feelings of stress; it has a
very grounding effect. People who have been sick find massage helpful in
pushing through the last phase of their illness. During recovery from
orthopedic injuries such as sprains, strains, and healing bones, massage can
ease soreness and help restore range of motion.
People suffering with chronic
illnesses, from fibromyalgia to cancer, often turn to massage for comforting
touch and peace of mind. Victims of abuse or sexual assault seek out skilled
massage therapists to help overcome their lack of trust and fears around being
What if I’m under a doctor’s care?
Massage therapists often work in
consultation with physicians to ease retracted tissue in patients with back
injuries and herniated disks. As patients transition out of clinical physical
therapy, we collaborate with physical therapists to continue the healing
process through different types of bodywork. We also collaborate with area
orthopedists, sports medicine physicians, and athletic trainers to help
athletes become more flexible and improve their ability to ward off potential
injuries. Professional athletic teams all provide regular bodywork for their
athletes: this was not the case twenty years ago but today the value of massage
therapy for athletes is undisputed.
What happens to the body during a
Bodywork can trigger a number of
physiological responses that enhance healing. These responses vary depending on
the type of bodywork you’re having done. Generally speaking, massage enhances
blood circulation, increases the flow of oxygen to the tissues and organs,
releases toxins, loosens and elongates tight muscles, and slows the heart rate,
all of which serve to reduce stress and increase energy flow, or chi, in the
body. The overall effect for most people is a state of relaxation and an
enhanced sense of wellbeing.
How will I know which type of
bodywork is right for me?
When an experienced, licensed
therapist meets a client for the first time, they determine together which
modalities are best for that person based on the client’s needs and goals. For
example, if you are looking for a deeply relaxing experience to reduce stress
and release toxins from your body, you might opt for a Swedish massage or a hot
rock massage. If you suffer from myofascial pain, fibromyalgia, or limited
range of motion, you might benefit from neuromuscular work with trigger-point
massage. If you are an athlete seeking peak performance, sports massage can
help you recover from overexertion and avoid injury.
Shiatsu is a form of Eastern
acupressure that addresses the meridians in the body, relaxes muscles,
increases energy flow, and is helpful if you are suffering from stress and
fatigue. Thai bodywork concentrates on stretching tight muscles; reflexology
applies gentle pressure to the hands and feet to help balance internal body
systems; craniosacral and polarity therapy help to rebalance the body’s energy
fields. There are many approaches to healing bodywork that address a range of
both acute and chronic problems. Having so many modalities to choose from is
beneficial because different approaches work for different people.
Massage is not about indulgence; it
is about taking care of yourself. Relaxation enhances healing, both physically
and emotionally. Taking time to settle into your body, to breathe deeply, and
to lower your level of stress should be part of preventive health care for all
Hogancamp is a licensed massage therapist. She is the director of RasaSpa and
works in collaboration with Cayuga Medical Center at the Island Health Center,
where she can be reached at (607) 273-1740.
She also teaches at the Finger Lakes School of Massage.