How Massage Therapy Can Relieve Endometriosis Pain

People with endometriosis often choose massage therapy as a complementary treatment to ease pain associated with the condition. Massage therapists can address endometriosis symptoms without medication and potentially reduce reliance on pharmaceuticals.

What Is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis is the expansion of the uterine lining into nearby organs and tissues. Uterine tissues then grow outside the uterus, causing sensitivity, bleeding, and pain.

Endometriosis typically arises in women of childbearing age, and those with the condition usually experience extreme cramping during menstruation. The pain associated with this condition is often severe enough to disrupt daily activities.

Medical experts have not identified an exact cause of endometriosis. However, some suggest hormonal imbalances—such as high estrogen levels—may contribute to the condition. Other physicians suggest environmental toxins or genetic abnormalities may be factors in endometriosis.

How Do Massage Therapists Treat Endometriosis?

Physicians typically recommend surgical intervention for those with endometriosis. Surgeons remove uterine tissue from the areas into which the tissue has expanded. Some doctors also recommend hormone therapy as an alternative or complementary treatment to surgery.

However, the body of research on massage for pain relief continues to grow. Modern physicians frequently recommend massage therapy for pain relief as an alternative to potentially addictive pain medications. In February 2017, the American College of Physicians changed its recommendations to include massage therapy as a first-line treatment for lower back pain. Opioid medications are now only recommended as a last resort.

Many endometriosis patients prefer massage therapy to more aggressive endometriosis interventions, such as surgery. Massage therapy has fewer side effects and typically costs less than other endometriosis treatments. Massage therapists treat cramping and other endometriosis symptoms by manipulating the abdominal regions surrounding the ovaries and uterus.

Research shows massage therapy can effectively reduce symptoms of endometriosis. In one study, researchers recorded pain relief data for people with endometriosis who underwent massage therapy treatments for six weeks, ultimately finding significant levels of pain relief.

How Do I Use Self-Care Massage for Menstrual Cramps?

A primary care physician can help you integrate self-massage into any pain relief treatment regimen. It might be beneficial to ask for information about self-care abdominal massage as well as a referral for a licensed massage therapist who specializes in endometriosis pain relief.

It might also help to give yourself a simple abdominal massage. Start by warming up a small amount of massage oil in your hands. Gently move your hands in small circles from your navel and out across your abdomen. Then, create a heart shape with both hands, flattening them against your stomach and keeping your thumbs and forefingers close together. Apply enough pressure to ease the cramping sensation, but be careful not to push too hard.

For another self-massage option, place your dominant hand on your stomach (palm down) just above your navel. Place your other hand on top. Rub your stomach clockwise (which can aid digestion because it follows the digestive pathway of the colon) for a minute or two. Stop and take a few breaths to balance yourself and process any physical or emotional sensations that may arise. Place your hands under your rib cage and massage your abdomen in long downward strokes going toward your hips. After stopping for another set of breaths, knead your lower abdomen briefly, again in a clockwise direction.

Acupressure, Aromatherapy, and Self-Care Massage for Menstrual Pain

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends acupressure for menstrual pain and cramping. A research team at the University of Maryland found a combination of acupressure and ibuprofen significantly reduced study participants’ pain.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, pressure points may be effective in relieving menstrual pain and cramping. The pressure point on the top of the foot between the first and second toes, called the Bigger Rushing point, can help relieve cramping. Pushing on the sacrum, which is between the lumbar spine and tailbone, can also help relax the uterus.

Consider combining aromatherapy with self-care massage to further soothe cramping and pain associated with endometriosis. Research has shown massage with lavender oil to be more effective than massage with placebo oils.

Research continues to prove the efficacy of massage therapy for endometriosis pain, however, massage therapy may not be the right treatment for all cases. Always consult your primary care physician before seeking a massage therapist.

References:

  1. Bakhtshirin, F., Abedi, S., YusefiZoj, P., & Razmjooee D. (2015). The effect of aromatherapy massage with lavender oil on severity of primary dysmenorrhea in Arsanjan students. Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, 20(1), 156–160.
  2. Mayo Clinic staff. (2014). Menstrual cramps: Definition. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menstrual-cramps/basics/definition/con-20025447
  3. Mayo Clinic staff. (2016). Self-care approaches to treating pain: Lifestyle approaches. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/back-pain/in-depth/self-care-approaches-to-treating-pain/art-20208634?pg=2
  4. Morris, I. (2013). Pressure points to relieve menstrual cramps. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/134764-pressure-points-relieve-menstrual-cramps/
  5. Mortimer, S. (2008, September). Abdominal massage for menstrual cramps. Retrieved from http://balance-holistics.blogspot.com/2008/09/abdominal-massage-for-menstrual-cramps.html
  6. Natural Therapy Pages (2010). Massage for endometriosis. Retrieved from http://www.naturaltherapypages.com.au/article/Massage_for_Endometriosis
  7. Qaseem, A., Wilt, T., McLean, R., & Forciea, M. (2017). Noninvasive treatments for acute, subacute, and chronic low back pain: A clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians. Annals of Internal Medicine. doi:10.7326/M16-2367
  8. Relief of menstrual cramps with massage. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ladycarehealth.com/relief-of-menstrual-cramps-with-massage/
  9. Sherk, S. (n.d.). Laparotomy, exploratory. Retrieved from http://www.surgeryencyclopedia.com/La-Pa/Laparotomy-Exploratory.html
  10. Valiani, M., Ghasemi, N., Bahadoran, P., & Heshmat, R. (Fall 2010). The effects of massage therapy on dysmenorrhea caused by endometriosis. Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, 15(4), 167-71.

The Science of Massage Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

As part of multiple sclerosis (MS) awareness month in March, people in the MS community raise awareness and share solutions for living with the condition. Many have found massage therapy can be an effective treatment for some of the symptoms of MS, such as pain, fatigue, and inflexibility.

What Is Multiple Sclerosis?

People with multiple sclerosis have damaged myelin layers (fatty coatings that protect nerves). Nerve cells need these protective myelin sheaths to avoid damage and exposure to other body systems. Just like electrical wires, nerves need insulative and protective coatings to avoid short circuits, slow signals, and direct damage.

Physicians refer to areas of myelin damage as lesions. When MS patients experience lesions, their nervous systems can’t properly transmit information from below the affected area up the spinal cord to the brain. MS can cause inflammation, scarring, and damage in both brain and spinal cord tissues.

While MS is not genetic, researchers have noted the condition sometimes does run in families. Environmental factors also may play a role in the development of the condition. People of any age can get MS, but it typically affects adults. Women have twice the chance of developing MS as men.

Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

The symptoms of multiple sclerosis can vary widely from one person to the next as well as throughout the course of the condition. The many symptoms associated with MS depend on the location of lesions in the body, among other factors.

People with MS typically feel tingling, numbness, and pain in one or more limbs. These symptoms usually occur on only one side of the body at a time. People with MS may feel weakness and numbness in only one leg or on only one side of their torso. Some may experience partial or complete loss of vision, which usually occurs in one eye at a time. They may feel pain in their eyes, see double, or feel dizzy. They may have related physical and mental health issues such as limited memory, mood swings, depression, and seizures.

MS can manifest as fatigue, slurred speech, and a lack of coordination. MS patients might have muscle spasms and stiffness that can make walking difficult, and some might experience paralysis in their legs. Some people with MS feel sensations similar to electrical shocks when they bend their necks, especially when bending forward. They might also have difficulties in bladder, bowel, and sexual function.

Symptoms may come and go as the condition progresses, and they typically worsen over time. There may be periods of relief and relapse. Some MS patients may experience months or even years of symptom-free living.

If you or a loved one experience any of these symptoms, seek the professional opinion of a physician and discuss the possibility of a multiple sclerosis diagnosis.

Can Massage Therapy Help People with Multiple Sclerosis?

Research has highlighted massage therapy’s value for treating symptoms and stress in MS patients. One study found people with MS commonly use massage therapy as a complementary treatment. The study’s 24 participants, all diagnosed with MS, reported overall health improvements after receiving Swedish massage therapy for four weeks.

Another study found massage therapy benefited MS patients more than exercise therapy, and combining both massage therapy and exercise therapy also produced good results. Researchers studied 48 MS patients and randomly assigned them to four groups: massage only, exercise only, both treatments, and a control group. They found the patients who received massage therapy enjoyed greater increases in pain relief, balance, and walking speed than those who received exercise therapy alone. The patients who received both treatments also experienced significant pain relief.

A pilot study on MS patients found massage therapy relieved study participants’ fatigue and pain symptoms. Researchers from this study highlighted massage therapy’s ability to improve quality of life for people with MS.

Always check with your doctor before starting massage therapy or other treatments for multiple sclerosis. People with certain diseases and conditions should avoid massage therapy—as should anyone with deep-vein thrombosis (blood clots). Certain people (pregnant women, cancer/heart patients, etc.), can benefit greatly from massage therapy, but only with physician guidance about appropriate types of massage therapy.

You might ask your doctor to refer you to a massage therapist who specializes in dealing with your specific needs. Many physicians today maintain lists of preferred massage therapists.

References:

  1. Backus, D., Manella, C., Bender, A., & Sweatman, M. (2016). Impact of massage therapy on fatigue, pain, and spasticity in people with multiple sclerosis: A pilot study. International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, 9(4), 4–13.
  2. Mayo clinic staff. (2015). Multiple sclerosis: Symptoms and causes. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/multiple-sclerosis/symptoms-causes/dxc-20131884
  3. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. (n.d.). Massage and bodywork. Retrieved from http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Treating-MS/Complementary-Alternative-Medicines/Massage-and-Body-Work
  4. Negahban, H., Rezaie, S., & Goharpey, S. (2013, December). Massage therapy and exercise therapy in patients with multiple sclerosis: A randomized controlled pilot study. Clinical Rehabilitation, 27(12), 1126-36. doi:10.1177/0269215513491586
  5. Schroeder, B., Doig, J., & Premkumar, K. (2014, May). The effects of massage therapy on multiple sclerosis patients’ quality of life and leg function. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. doi:10.1155/2014/640916

12 Characteristics of a Top Massage Therapy School

Today, aspiring massage therapists and bodywork professionals can choose from more than 300 accredited massage therapy schools in the United States. You could complete your study faster with an accelerated program or get a traditional four-year degree from a college or university. You could travel overseas to expand your massage therapy knowledge or stay right in your own backyard. You could study with professors, doctors, chiropractors, cosmetologists, or Chinese medicine practitioners.

With so many options and opportunities in this vibrant and growing field, how do you choose the right school for you?

Factors to Look For in a Massage Therapy School

When searching for a massage therapy school, it is important to consider the environment in which you would like to provide massage therapy services. Where do you want to work? Do you see yourself in a spa or a chiropractor’s office? At a resort or on a cruise ship? In your own private practice?

The type of school you choose will likely have an impact on the setting in which you practice. Here are 12 characteristics to think about when choosing the right massage therapy school for you:

1. Style – Spa Training Schools

Some massage therapists get their training and certifications from organizations that teach a variety of spa treatments. For example, the AVEDA Institute offers courses in massage therapy, cosmetology, and esthiology (skin care). You might select a spa training school if you see yourself providing massage therapy in a spa environment. Some schools even give you the option to simultaneously work toward licenses in both massage therapy and another spa treatment.

2. Focus – Massage-Only Schools

You may choose to gain your massage knowledge and experience at a school that focuses primarily on massage therapy. These programs may offer specific opportunities for students. For example, through the Cortiva Institute, Steiner Leisure Limited can provide assistance for placement at spa resorts and on cruise ships.

3. Perspective – Specialty Schools

Certain schools, such as the National University of Health Sciences, offer programs in alternative medicine, traditional medicine, and modern biomedical science. At these schools, you can share ideas with future doctors, naturopaths, chiropractors, and Chinese medicine practitioners while studying massage therapy. If you want a broader understanding of health and wellness, you might consider a school that includes allopathic and holistic approaches to healing.

4. Outreach – Health Care Schools

The New York College of Health Professions, the first college in the U.S. to offer a massage therapy degree in therapeutic bodywork, provides an innovative massage therapy program that focuses on a foundation of European massage but also includes curriculum on principles of Chinese medicine. Its students have the unique opportunity to spend a few weeks at the college’s medical facility in Luo Yang, China.

5. Tradition – College/University Medical Schools

Massage therapy students at traditional college and university medical programs, such as the Miami Dade College Medical Campus, benefit from the rigorous standards and sterling reputation of a world-class medical school. In addition to massage therapy instruction, these types of institutions may offer accelerated tracks for physical therapists and other health care professionals who want to add massage therapy certification to their existing credentials.

6. Dedication – Four-Year Degree Programs

Massage therapy schools typically provide technical certificate and associate degree programs, which can qualify students for further instruction. At Michigan’s Siena Heights University, students with associate degrees in massage therapy can pursue a Bachelor of Applied Science in Massage Therapy.

7. Credibility ­– State Certification Boards

Regardless of the school you choose, you will need to meet your state’s massage therapy licensing requirements. Ask school administrators how their programs of study meet (or exceed) state requirements. For example, the California Massage Therapy Council (the state’s regulatory body for massage therapy) requires 500 hours of study. Licensing requirements vary by state.

You will probably also need to take the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) test, offered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB).

8. Perseverance – Ongoing Education

To remain certified in your state, you may need to take continuing education classes. Florida, for example, requires massage therapists to study for 500 hours before gaining a license and earn an additional 24 hours every two years. Ask your massage therapy school what classes are offered to meet your state’s ongoing education requirements.

9. Achievement – National Certifications

The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) offers massage therapy board certification and specialty certification. They require 750 hours of study and 250 hours of professional experience for board certification applicants. These standards exceed the requirements for most state entry-level licensing. the NCBTMB also requires a criminal background check, a current CPR certification, and a passing grade on the board certification exam.

If you want to gain recognition as more than just an entry-level massage therapist, ask your school if they are affiliated with a national certification board. Make sure they offer an expanded course of study that meets the higher standards of organizations such as the NCBTMB.

10. Accountability – Accreditation

The U.S. Department of Education recognizes the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA) as the specialized accrediting agency for massage, bodywork, and esthetics. It’s this agency’s role to review curriculum and ensure massage therapy schools provide adequate and safe training to their students.

Some massage therapy schools gain voluntary accreditation through other accrediting agencies such as the National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences (NACCAS), Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). These agencies offer assurance that a massage therapy program meets high standards, but they are more generalized accrediting bodies when it comes to massage therapy schools.

11. Community – School Visits

Though factors such as location, price, and duration will affect your choice of schools, you might want to also consider the types of students and professors with whom you want to engage. For example, if you love spas and have a passion for skin care, a traditional college/university setting might not be the best fit for you. Visit various campuses, meet massage school faculty and students, and sit in on classes before making your final decision.

12. Enjoyment – Explore Your Options

When you choose a massage school, find a place and a program you are likely to enjoy. Learn everything you can from your program while remaining flexible. Consider online classes and seminars to connect with and learn from experts outside your local area. Investigate travel opportunities, internships, and overseas programs to gain a perspective on the many styles of massage and the huge variety of people that make this healing practice their life’s work.

References:

  1. American Massage Therapy Association. (2017). Starting a career in massage therapy: What you need to know. Retrieved from https://www.amtamassage.org/professional_development/starting.html
  2. Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards. (2015). Massage & bodywork licensing examination. Retrieved from https://www.fsmtb.org/mblex/
  3. National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. (n.d.). Board certification. Retrieved from http://www.ncbtmb.org/board-certification
  4. National University of Health Sciences. (2017). Bachelor of science in biomedical science. Retrieved from http://www.nuhs.edu/admissions/biomedical-science/
  5. Top schools for massage therapy. (2017). Retrieved from http://study.com/articles/Top_Schools_for_Massage_Therapy.html
  6. U.S. Department of Education. (2016). Accreditation in the United States. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/accreditation_pg7.html

Massage Therapy and Cancer: What the Experts Say

In recent decades, medical experts have shown an increased interest in massage therapy research. As they dig deeper into the science of massage, researchers are finding benefits for people with all kinds of physical ailments. In people with cancer, massage therapy sessions can relieve pain, improve sleep, and increase immune function, among other things. While the benefits are vast, it is important to talk with a physician before seeking massage therapy as a complementary treatment.

Can Massage Therapy Relieve Cancer Symptoms?

During a three-year period, researchers at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center studied 1,290 cancer patients who received massage therapy sessions. They asked study participants to rate symptoms such as pain, nausea, stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue on a scale from 1-10 before and after treatment.

Massage therapy reduced cancer patients’ symptoms by roughly 50%. Outpatients saw 10% more improvement than inpatients and noticed no return of symptoms after a 48-hour follow-up. The researchers highlighted massage therapy’s substantial improvement of patients’ symptoms as well as the increasing popularity of massage therapy as a complementary cancer treatment.

Can Massage Therapy Help Cancer Patients Sleep Better?

Many people with cancer have difficulty getting enough quality sleep. In 2003, two Stanford psychiatrists researched the ways sleep quality affected patients’ hormonal balance and found sleep directly affects at least two cancer-fighting hormones. Sleep deprivation also causes the body to turn off more than 700 genes, including those that manage inflammation, immunity, stress, metabolism, and cancer.

In a recent study in Iran, researchers found massage therapists were able to help cancer patients improve their sleep quality. They recommended massage for people with cancer to get the healthy, healing sleep they need without having to rely on medication.

Should Breast Cancer Patients Get Massage Therapy?

Talk to your doctor about any adjustments you should make during your massage sessions. They may recommend a massage therapist with special training and knowledge about people with particular types of cancer, such as breast cancer. For example, it might be best to lie on your back during massages while you’re recovering from breast surgery. If your lymph nodes have been removed, ask your massage therapist to use a very light touch near the affected areas, including your arm and underarm area. If you have arm lymphedema, tell your massage therapist to avoid your arm altogether. Instead, get manual lymphatic drainage, a special type of massage for those with arm lymphedema.

If you are currently undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment, ask your therapist to use a light touch to avoid any possibility of bruising (which can put stress on an already weakened immune system). A light touch can also help if your skin is very sensitive due to these treatments. You might ask your massage therapist to massage you through clothing or a towel, avoid any temporary markings in the corners of your radiation treatment area, and leave the massage oils on the shelf as they have the potential to irritate sensitive skin.

Is Massage Appropriate for People with Advanced Cancer?

A University of Colorado Hospital study reviewed relevant data collected by many experts and determined massage was safe and beneficial for cancer patients. The study’s author recommended oncologists talk with their patients about massage therapy (when appropriate) to relieve stress, anxiety, and pain.

A research team at the Harvard Medical School determined metastatic (advanced stage) cancer patients who received two to three massage therapy sessions in their homes enjoyed a better quality of life that persisted for at least a week after treatment. These experts highlighted massage therapy’s potential to reduce pain and improve sleep quality.

At the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine, a team of researchers studied 380 adults with advanced cancer who experienced moderate/severe pain (90% of these people were in hospice care). Over a two-week period, they gave study participants either six 30-minute massage therapy sessions or just simple touch and attention.

The researchers found massage therapy improved patients’ mood and relieved their immediate pain. They pointed out that simply giving attention and gentle touch also had a therapeutic benefit.

In another study, researchers conducted a secondary analysis of the above study. After each treatment, massage therapists filled out six-page treatment forms. The secondary research team examined these documents and made some new findings.

The researchers found 93% of advanced cancer patients could turn over and achieve any position they desired for their massage treatments. About 77% of the time, massage therapists noted patients preferred to sit or lie on their backs during their sessions, and 10% of participants chose to lie face down or on their sides. Even people with late-stage cancer had the mobility to enjoy and benefit from massage therapy.

About 42% of cancer patients in this study showed signs of fatigue or weakness during massage therapy sessions, but only asked to stop early in 2% of cases. The study’s authors pointed out that the massage therapists they studied were trained to work with advanced-stage cancer patients. They knew how to use a gentle touch, deal with low-energy clients, and work around medical devices such as oxygen lines, and feeding tubes.

For those seeking a massage for relief from cancer symptoms, it may be most beneficial to find a massage therapist who has extensive experience in treating those with cancer.

References:

  1. Cassileth, B. & Vickers, A. (2004). Massage therapy for symptom control: Outcome study at a major cancer center. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 28(3), 244-249.
  2. Corbin, L. (2005). Safety and efficacy of massage therapy for patients with cancer. Cancer Control, 12(3), 158-164.
  3. Kashani F. & Kashani, P. (2014). The effect of massage therapy on the quality of sleep in breast cancer patients. Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, 19(2), 113-118.
  4. Kutner, J., Smith, M., Corbin, L., Hemphill, L., Benton, K., Mellis, B., . . . Fairclough, D. (2008). Massage therapy versus simple touch to improve pain and mood in patients with advanced cancer: A randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine, 149(6), 369-379.
  5. Massage: What is massage? (2016). http://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/comp_med/types/massage
  6. Smith, M., Yamashita, T., Bryant, L., Hemphill, L., & Kutner, J. (2009). Providing massage therapy for people with advanced cancer: What to expect. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(4), 367–371. doi:10.1089/acm.2008.0391
  7. Toth, M., Marcantonio, E., Davis, R., Walton, T., Kahn, J., & Phillips, R. (2013). Massage therapy for patients with metastatic cancer: A pilot randomized controlled trial. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 19(7), 650-6. doi:10.1089/acm.2012.0466.
  8. Woodward, J. (2015). Good sleep habits fight cancer. Retrieved from http://slamthedooroncancer.com/sleep-fights-cancer/

How Massage Therapy Helps Veterans and Trauma Survivors

Massage therapy has the potential to benefit people who have experienced any type of trauma. For veterans who are having trouble reacclimating to civilian life, massage therapy may help them let their guard down. Refugees, survivors of abuse, and accident victims may also benefit from the care and support that can come from massage therapy.

Many experts refer to the mental and physical repercussions of traumatic events as posttraumatic stress (PTSD). When people experience dramatic and intense stress, their bodies and minds may respond with PTSD symptoms. When they return to everyday life and routine activities, they often need help to turn off the coping mechanisms they may have developed in response to the trauma.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), 10-20% of combat veterans experience PTSD in any given year. However, military personnel often describe a culture of self-repression that keeps them from reporting and working through their PTSD symptoms. Many soldiers want to be seen as strong and valuable members of their units, so they may not ask for help when they need it most.

PTSD is a common response to a traumatic event, not an indicator of weakness. More than 50% of Americans experience abuse, accidents, and assaults, or witness the injury or death of others. Roughly 4% of men and 10% of women will experience PTSD at some time in their lives. If you have PTSD, you’re not alone, and massage therapy may be an effective treatment option to help manage symptoms.

Effects of PTSD

If you’ve been through a major trauma and think you might have PTSD, talk with your physician immediately. Some effects of PTSD may include:

  • Hypervigilance– Veterans and others who have endured trauma may have trouble turning off the fight or flight response state. The brain can trigger powerful fear responses that make it difficult to trust others.
  • Insomnia – Many people with PTSD have trouble sleeping and may experience nightmares. They may feel agitated and unable to settle down.
  • Depression – People with PTSD commonly withdraw from others and may have thoughts of suicide. They may lose interest in activities they used to enjoy, and they might have changes in behavior.
  • Substance abuse – Studies of PTSD have shown high rates of substance abuse among those diagnosed with PTSD. For example, one study found as much as 80% of Vietnam veterans in treatment for PTSD abused alcohol and other drugs. However, increased acceptance of the diagnosis in recent decades has led to a decline in these numbers.
  • Emotional triggers – People who have experienced trauma may show extreme sensitivity to similar events or startle more easily than others. People with PTSD often display irritability, anger, and other outbursts of negative emotion.
  • Immune disorders – Those who experience trauma and find it hard to shut off their fight or flight response state often have an excess of cortisol in their systems. This stress hormone represses the immune system and prepares the fight or flight response, even when conditions are stable.

As researchers learn more about PTSD, they continue to point out the usefulness of massage for those who have been exposed to trauma. Massage therapists can help trauma survivors reset their fight or flight mechanisms, ease hypervigilance, and begin to move forward with their lives.

Massage as a Complementary Treatment for PTSD

Massage treatments typically work well in combination with other treatment methods such as psychotherapy.

For example, one study examined a group of 14 female veterans with PTSD who used prescription painkillers. Seven women received only standard treatments; the other seven underwent eight weeks of massage, inner-body awareness, and talk therapies. The women in the massage group experienced pain relief, relaxation, feelings of safety, and a new sense of trust.

One study participant pointed out how well her massage treatments complemented her inner-body awareness sessions. Regular massage therapy provided short-term relief from chronic pain and tension so she could address the underlying causes of the stress with other therapists.

Another study focused on the effects of massage therapy and other complementary treatments for survivors of refugee traumas, child abuse, torture, and other traumatic situations. They highlighted the effectiveness of massage for treating people with PTSD, depression, and chronic pain.

To explore the effects massage therapy could have on trauma survivors, Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center formed a wellness group for Somali refugee women. These women were exposed to the trauma of more than two decades of civil war and experienced lingering pain and psychological issues. Harborview Medical Center decided to offer a program of massage therapy and yoga to address the women’s chronic pain and emotional concerns. The program has grown in popularity as it continues to offer an option for pain relief and health education to Somali women in Seattle.

In another example of massage therapy’s effect on trauma, a team of German researchers interviewed a shiatsu massage therapist who treated soldiers who had returned home from conflict in Afghanistan, as well as children and young adults from war zones. The researchers learned massage therapy can treat the body/mind disassociation that often results from PTSD, unlock emotional energy, and maintain healthy relationships. Even those scarred by war and other traumas were able to recognize a healing connection between mind and body through massage.

If you think you or a loved one has PTSD, talk with your doctor immediately before seeking a massage. Massage therapy might be a beneficial complementary treatment to help ease symptoms.

References:

  1. Doughman, A. (2011). For Somali women, health program eases the pain of war, exile. Retrieved from http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/health/for-somali-women-health-program-eases-the-pain-of-war-exile/
  2. Dryden, T. & Fitch, P. (2000). Recovering body and soul from post-traumatic stress disorder. Massage Therapy Journal, (46), 133-19.
  3. Ferguson, P., Persinger, D., & Steele, M. (2010). Resolving dilemmas through bodywork. Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, 3(1), 41–47.
  4. Longacre, M., Silver-Highfield, E., Lama, P., & Grodin, M. (2012). Complementary and alternative medicine in the treatment of refugees and survivors of torture: A review and proposal for action. Torture: Quarterly Journal on Rehabilitation of Torture Victims and Prevention of Torture, 22(1), 38-57.
  5. Meisler, A. (1996). Trauma, PTSD, and substance abuse. The national center for post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD Research Quarterly, 7(4).
  6. Menard, M. (2016). Research: massage for female veterans with PTSD. Retrieved from https://www.amtamassage.org/articles/3/MTJ/detail/3487
  7. Price, C., McBride, B., Hyerle, L., & Kivlahan, D. (2011). Mindful awareness in body-oriented therapy for female veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder taking prescription analgesics for chronic pain: a feasibility study. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 13(6): 32–40.
  8. S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2016). How common is PTSD? Retrieved from http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/PTSD-overview/basics/how-common-is-ptsd.asp
  9. Wall, D. (2010). Massage combats PTSD. Massage Today, 10(12).