Low-back pain is one of the most common complaints of consumers, and now there’s research that suggests massage therapy may just be more effective in dealing with low-back pain than other more traditional medical interventions.
“This is important because chronic back pain is among the most common reasons people see doctors and alternative practitioners, including massage therapists,” explains Dr. Daniel Cherkin, Director of Group Health Research Institute and lead author of the study. “It’s also a common cause of disability, absenteeism and ‘presenteeism,’ when people are at work but can’t perform well.”
The study comprised 401 patients aged 20 to 65 years old with nonspecific chronic low-back pain and compared the effectiveness of either relaxation or structural massage versus usual care, including medication and physical therapy. Participants were asked about their abilities to perform daily activities and then randomly assigned to receive one of three treatments.
One group received full-body relaxation massage, often called Swedish massage, and another received focused deep tissue massage, where specific pain-related tissues, ligaments and joints are targeted. The third
group received therapies including painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants or physical therapy. Those receiving massage were given a one-hour massage once a week for 10 weeks.
The results speak for themselves. After 10 weeks, the researchers again
surveyed the participants about their symptoms and mobility, and again
at six months and one year. The two groups of patients receiving massage
therapy reported their back pain was significantly improved or gone altogether.
“We found that patients receiving massage were twice as likely as those
receiving usual care to report significant improvements in both their pain
and function,” explains Cherkin. “After 10 weeks, about two-thirds of
those receiving massage improved substantially, versus only about one third
in the usual care group.”
Although previous studies on massage therapy and low-back pain have
concentrated primarily on the effectiveness of deep tissue massage, researchers are hopeful about the success of relaxation massage modalities
offering significant benefits. Two reasons are that relaxation massage is
oftentimes more widely available and more cost-effective.
Relaxation impacts heart health
It’s heart month! In February, the American Heart Association steps up its educational efforts communicating the seriousness of heart disease and its prevention.
A range of techniques including massage, relaxing music, guided relaxation and yoga have shown promising results in lowering blood pressure and heart rate — factors that have a positive effect on heart health. Recent research indicates that relaxation techniques can reduce strain on the heart.
One study from Duke University followed cardiac patients over a period of years. The program included education on stress and specific techniques to relax the body and mind. Participants in the program showed a significant reduction in heart attacks. In another study, at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, yoga and meditation significantly reduced the impact of cardiac disease on patients.
Many people feel victimized by stress. But relaxation can reverse the ill effects of stress by helping you learn to respond differently.
The key is to practice relaxing regularly. If you take time during your workday for a 15-minute massage, a lunchtime yoga class, or simply breathing slowly and deeply for several minutes, you’ll let go of stress buildup and start to relax. If you make this a regular habit, you can retrain your mind to stay balanced in the face of stress.
So this month get an extra massage, take a yoga class every single week, or start that meditation practice again. Your heart will thank you!
Immune System and Massage
You may be surprised to learn that the largest immunological organ in your body is your intestine, with 70%-80% of all antibody-producing cells located in your digestive system. Eating well, (ie. more veggies, minimizing sugar and processed foods,) is important. So are sleep and exercise.
Your immune system is also tied to and affected by your emotional state. Negative emotions and stress actually decreases natural defenses resulting in less efficient and slower healing, and a greater susceptibility to infection.
In one study after another, research suggests that massage therapy improves immune function. In a study conducted by the Touch Research Institute (TRI) on women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, 80 percent of the women who received regular massage therapy (three times a week for five weeks), showed improved immune function.
Massage therapy can alleviate stress and pain, relax muscles, improve sleep and serve as a complementary medical practice when needed. Don't underestimate the power of regular massage!
Mom’s Day In; Relax to the max
Here’s a suggestion for you moms out there. This Mother’s Day, ask for some time to yourself — at home. That means everybody else leaves for your requested period of time, and you get the house all to yourself.
Once the family is out the door, enjoy whatever feels relaxing and rejuvenating to you. But before you settle into that good book, nap in the hammock, or popcorn and a movie, take a few minutes to wind down so you can truly enjoy yourself.
Here are two ways to unwind
Stand under a warm shower. While relaxing in the warm water, use the fingers of both hands to massage the sides and back of the neck, including along the bony ridge at the base of the skull. Inhale and imagine rejuvenating energy circulating through each part of your body. Exhale and imagine all the clutter in your mind flowing out and down with the warm water.
Try progressive relaxation if you’re feeling particularly tense. Lie on the bed or floor in a darkened room with a soft pillow under your head. Play soft music if you like. Close your eyes and take slow, deep breaths. Concentrate on relaxing each specific area of the body starting with your feet. Feel them become floppy and heavy as you breathe. Next, moving up your body, relax your calves, knees, hips, pelvis, back, arms, hands, shoulders and neck. Finally breathe and relax your face and scalp. Take 10 to 15 minutes to slowly move your attention through your body.
Now transition into the pleasurable activity you’ve been waiting for. When the family comes home, you’ll feel rested and ready!
Chocolate may contribute to a healthy heart and lower blood pressure. Chocolate is not only delicious; It’s good for her, too!
Chocolate and flowers — there's a reason the combination may be so popular for Mother's Day. The color and scent of fresh flowers can lift a woman's mood, and who doesn't love chocolate?
Choose dark chocolate: While the studies are not conclusive, some dieticians are recommending you eat chocolate with a cocoa count of 65 percent or higher and limit yourself to around 3 ounces day. Eating more than that may contribute to weight gain which can lead to heart disease. So stick to a yummy, but moderate portion — and enjoy!
Bodywork treatments are one of the most appreciated Mother’s Day gifts.
The Evolution of Mother’s Day
Beyond the cards-and-flowers holiday
Ancient cultures celebrated the mother not as the personal mother, but as Mother Earth or the Mother of Life. The celebration of our personal mothers began after the Civil War, when Julia Ward Howe, the author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, was so disturbed by the devastation of the war that she wrote the Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870. In the Proclamation she called upon mothers across borders to celebrate peace and harmony among people. The Proclamation planted a seed that was carried by women through the years and was finally signed into a national observance in the U.S. by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914.
Finding the deeper meaning in Mother’s Day
Until 1914, Mother’s Day was primarily observed in churches with a focus on peace. By the 1920’s the floral industry began to capitalize on its popularity. Mother’s Day became a highly successful commercial holiday.
The evolution continues today. Many people look at this holiday as a time to honor all the mother figures in their lives, not only with flowers or a card, but with gifts of deeper meaning and value.
Massage is one such gift. Receiving the gift of nurturing bodywork or some other luxurious body treatment is a wonderful way to help the mother (or mothers) in your life feel cared about. And when she receives this treatment, she will enjoy the pleasurable relief from the buildup of aches and pains, and a time to restore her mental and emotional resources.
Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother.