Massage therapy, widely recognized as an effective treatment for injuries and pain, is also known to lead to improved relaxation and greater overall well-being. But massage can be applied broadly, and its benefits are not only physical. Research shows massage therapy can positively impact mental health in a number of ways.
One way massage can have a beneficial influence on emotional well-being is by helping to reduce the effects of stress. Workplace stress is one challenge most individuals cope with from time to time. While massage therapy can be helpful regardless of occupation or the type of stress experienced, some individuals, especially those in high-stress professions, may experience more stress than others.
Scientific research supports the effectiveness of massage therapy for people in the following five high-stress occupations, though its benefits are not limited to professionals in these areas.
Massage Therapy for Athletes
A primary goal of massage therapy is the treatment of muscle strain, injury, and general soreness, and massage is widely utilized by athletes as both treatment and preventative care.
One study examining the effects of massage on muscle function found massage therapy to be effective at reducing delayed-onset muscle soreness without negatively affecting muscle performance. These researchers found massage to also help reduce swelling, especially 3-4 days after exercise.
Another study found that massage treatments, when they were administered immediately after exercise, showed greater promise for restoring muscle function and lowering inflammation levels than when the massage treatments were delayed.
Massage Therapy for Models
Many fashion models and other performers get regular massage therapy sessions to soothe the stress of their profession. Stress and poor sleep can accelerate the appearance of aging, and models might often seek alternative treatments, such as massage, to help maintain emotional and physical well-being.
One research team tested massage therapy’s anti-aging effect on skin tissues, both inside and outside of the body. Ex vivo (out-of-body) skin tissues responded positively to massage treatments from a mechanical device. Researchers noted increases in essential anti-aging compounds like procollagen-1 and tropoelastin. After the ex vivo testing, researchers further examined the effects experienced by a group of 20 women who received facial massage from a mechanical device. These results were also positive.
Massage Therapy for Office Workers
People who work long hours in office environments might often have poor posture, which can put strain the musculoskeletal structure of the neck, shoulder, and back. Many of us sit down for more than half our waking hours, and this prolonged sitting can shut down nerve impulses in our legs. Sitting also turns off digestive enzymes and lowers the rate at which energy is used. A massage lasting even 20 minutes can get digestion moving again while also flushing out the legs.
One study, which focused on a group of 38 office workers who received manual therapy for shoulder pain, highlighted the ability of healing touch to reduce pain, activate neural structures, lengthen tissues, and increase range of motion.
Another study, this one following 34 female office workers, found that scalp massage reduced heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones. Study participants who received 15- or 25-minute massage therapy sessions showed significant improvements in their levels of cortisol and norepinephrine levels (hormones related to the fight-or-flight response).
Massage Therapy for Nurses
A study following 66 intensive care unit (ICU) nurses, who are some of the most stressed workers in health care environments, found massage therapy produced a significant reduction in the occupational stress they experienced. Further, massage therapy led to improved emotional well-being and quality of life in study participants.
Further research showed that massage therapy for nurses did not only lead to improvements in their own health, it also had a positive impact on their ability to provide care to patients.
Tiffany Field, director of the University of Miami School of Medicine’s Touch Research Institute, led a research team that studied the effects of massage therapy on health care professionals. According to Dr. Field, a 10-minute chair massage study with medical faculty and staff found altered brain waves in the direction of heightened relaxation and improved performance on math computations. The professionals made half the errors at twice the speed.
If massage therapy has such a profound effect on error reduction and productivity, it may be a self-care practice worth offering to all health care professionals.
Massage Therapy for Firefighters and First Responders
Firefighters, like nurses, often work long shifts (such as 24 hours on and 48 hours off). One researcher conducting a study for the Ohio Fire Executive Program at the Forest Park Fire Department in Ohio found firefighters enjoyed reduced stress and increased well-being after receiving massage therapy treatments.
First responders who work with injured or deceased people often experience posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS), and some show signs of full-blown posttraumatic stress (PTSD). In the months after Norway’s two 2011 terror attacks, for example, first responders such as firefighters, police officers, and EMTs reported on their experiences and any PTSD symptoms they experienced. Over 5% of respondents found their work “extremely strainful,” and 1-2% showed signs of PTSD.
A research group at Boston’s Pathways to Complementary Medicine studied 47 first responders treated by massage therapists (including shiatsu, tui-na, and acupressure practitioners) and other complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) providers after 9/11. They pointed out the benefits of these alternative practices, when combined with standard stress treatments such as therapy or counseling, and the increasing demand for CAM services and advocated for rapid deployment of CAM professionals to treat first responders.
Does Massage Therapy Help Professionals?
Massage therapy can be of significant benefit to any professional. People from all walks of life, regardless of occupation, need stress relief. Current research shows professionals in high-performance, competitive, and traumatic workplaces may see even more positive results from massage therapy. No matter a person’s profession, massage therapy can be helpful, whether a person utilizes it regularly for physical health, relaxation, emotional well-being, or preventative care.
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