Body Sense

Winter 2011

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the immune system, and can result in dangerous imbalances in the metabolic and thyroid systems. By decreasing the levels of these hormones in the bloodstream, Swedish massage can help blunt the damaging effects of chronic stress on the body. Need another reason to add some pressure to your life? Your heart will thank you. In a 2005 study in the Journal of the Australian Traditional-Medicine Society, Swedish massage was linked to an 11-percent decrease in diastolic blood pressure readings over a four-week period. In the same study, just 30 minutes of Swedish massage administered twice weekly resulted in an overall 22-percent reduction in diastolic blood pressure readings taken directly after each session. With more research, Swedish massage has potential for use as an adjunct therapy for high-blood pressure and for those at an elevated risk of developing hypertension. If strengthening the immune system, stimulating the relaxation response, and reducing blood pressure aren't enough, Swedish massage is best known for its pain-banishing effects. In a 2005 study first published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, Swedish massage was linked to a 50-percent reduction in back pain after six, 30-minute sessions. A similar eight-week study focusing on the effects of massage for osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee determined that Swedish massage offered notable improvements in pain, stiffness, and physical function for OA sufferers. Likewise, while evaluating the effects of Swedish massage therapy on children with chronic pain conditions, researchers from the Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago noted their patients experienced significant reductions in pain, discomfort, emotional distress, and upset mood following treatments. These findings present Swedish massage as an effective adjunct therapy for pain management, and for those who prefer a natural alternative to pain medications. SHIATSU Another type of massage known for its beneficial use of moderate pressure is shiatsu. This holistic style originated in Japan, and the word shiatsu literally translates to "finger pressure" in Japanese. Using the fingers, palms, and thumbs, the therapist applies pressure to specific points along the nervous system. Similar to acupuncture, this carefully directed pressure is said to stimulate the release of toxins, improve blood and energy flow, and ultimately aid the body in its natural healing cycle. Currently, there is little research to prove shiatsu massage as a scientifically- viable treatment, but its moderate-pressure techniques traditionally inspire similar relaxation and immune strengthening results as those found in Swedish massage. ACHIEVE ACTIVE HEALING In this time-crunched culture, knowing how to benefit the most from every massage can help therapists and clients work together to achieve active healing, and can even assist in illness and injury prevention. Swedish massage, and other styles that incorporate moderate pressure, can help stimulate the production and activity of NK cells to strengthen the immune system, activate the relaxation response, lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and significantly decrease chronic muscle and joint pain. What does this research mean for the future? According to Field, moderate pressure massage could be beneficial for pain syndromes like low-back pain and carpal tunnel, autoimmune conditions like asthma and diabetes, and immune conditions like breast cancer and HIV. With this powerful cocktail of benefits available in the space of a lunch hour, isn't it time you treated your body to a little pressure? B S Rachel Walker is a freelance medical writer specializing in complementary and alternative treatments for chronic illness and pain management. She can be reached at Body Sense 7

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