I strongly believe that there is a time and a place for all things in life. This is especially true as far as fitness is concerned. On one hand, there is a time to get in the gym consistently and push your body to its limits, but sometimes, you just gotta treat yo’ self. I’ve found that a monthly massage is a fantastic way to do just that.
Besides the obvious stress-relieving and relaxation functions of a massage, there are multiple research-proven health benefits. These benefits can be especially critical for active people who may be more prone to muscle, tendon, or ligament sprains or injuries. So before you heap judgment on me for my monthly indulgence, let’s take a look at the whole truth and health-based grounds for massage therapy.
Benefits of massage
In case you’re completely clueless, a massage is essentially rubbing the superficial or deep tissues of the body. Massage therapists use their hands, fingers, elbows and forearms at various levels of pressure to work on massage target areas.
Massage therapy is good for our bodies biologically and physiologically. Though traditionally considered a part of complementary or alternative medicine, it is becoming increasingly suggested alongside standard treatment for various ailments. Take back pain, for instance. Most people, at some point, will experience some form of back pain of varying degrees. Research conducted in 2011 demonstrated that a massage helped people with back pain feel and function better. Massages may also help with joint stiffness and may help sore muscles recover more quickly postworkout. Also, according to WebMD, regular massages can reduce a person’s number of migraine headaches.
Besides the pain and physical healing advantages, massages are also beneficial for our internal systems. For example, some small studies have linked massages to a strengthened immune system—it seems that working the soft tissue encourages white blood cell growth. Getting a massage ever so often may be helpful for those dealing with anxiety and depression—occurrences of which are reported more often during the winter months when there is less sunlight (e.g., NOW). Massages reduce the level of cortisol (stress hormone) in the body, which relaxes us and often lowers blood pressure.
If you’re familiar with massages in any way, then you don’t need me to tell you that they can really help you sleep. Research shows that massages have a positive effect on delta brainwaves, which are the brainwaves engaged during deep sleep.
What kind is right for me?
There are at least 80 different types of massage, each with their own set of techniques and specific goals. But the two basic kinds of massage performed by American massage therapists are Swedish massage and deep-tissue massage.
The Swedish massage probably originated in … Sweden. This form of massage therapy utilizes long strokes, kneading and deep circular movements in order to relax the client. It is the gentler of the two kinds of massage mentioned above and encourages blood flow to the heart by primarily engaging the top layer of muscles.
Because of past injuries and extremely tight shoulders and back muscles, I usually opt for the deep-tissue massage. This kind of massage is much more intense and uses deeper, slower strokes and a higher level of pressure to work muscles and connective tissue under the surface. This kind of massage specifically treats long-term muscle tension and aids in healing damaged muscles.
Deep-tissue massages aren’t as "relaxing" as Swedish massages, but the long-term benefits for those with consistent muscle or joint problems far outweigh the possibility of a little unease during the massage itself. If you do get a deep-tissue massage, make sure to stretch well after the fact and drink a ton of water to keep yourself hydrated. If it’s done right, you’ll feel like you got a workout, even though all you technically did was lay there. You may even want to take it pretty easy for the next 24 hours.
Most people can benefit from a massage or two, but it may not be appropriate for everyone. For example, if you have any kind of blood-clotting problems, fractures or are pregnant, you may want to talk to your doctor before setting up an appointment. Otherwise, you may want to consider massage therapy for not only relaxation but for the good things it can do for your overall health.
Rashad J. Gober is a gym junkie, avid runner and freelance writer whose interests include pop culture and healthy living. But he's not a doctor, so his suggestions are no substitute for medical advice. Feel free to contact him via Twitter or email with any comments or suggestions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
Updated @ 8:31 a.m. on 11/4/13 to correct some errors.