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Massage and Modern Medicine — Ask Dr. Scott

  • Dr. Scott Cuthbert is a chiropractor at Chiropractic Health Center in Pueblo, Colorado, as well as the author of two textbooks and over 50 peer-reviewed research articles. PuebloChiropracticCenter.com.

Q: Dr. Scott, Does therapeutic massage has a place in modern medicine? 

A: Given that most health problems are exacerbated by stress and massage therapy measurably alleviates stress, therapeutic massage should probably be high on the health priority list, along with diet and daily exercise.

The role of massage for modern health improvement is expanding at an accelerated rate. Massage now has enough validation to justify its use by the public, as well as healthcare professionals. Many insurance plans and managed care systems are looking for ways to include massage therapy among their covered services. 

Sports massage for amateur and professional athletes is becoming the norm, with massage therapists working side by side with athletic trainers and coaches. Before I moved to Pueblo I was the chiropractor for a professional rugby team in Ireland (the Galway Tribesman), and sports massage therapists were always working with me in the rehabilitation and treatment of those injured athletes.

Day spas are bringing the art of pampering to the general public. No longer does a person have to travel to some far off place and spend thousands of dollars to experience the pleasure of a day of luxury. The spa industry is one of the fastest growing employers of massage professionals, as are massage professionals in the corporate setting. 

There is a number of excellent fitness and beauty spas in Pueblo and you should contact them for more information about the detailed and professional services they provide. Pueblo spas now provide Swedish massage; stone therapy massage; Shiatsu (acupressure); Reflexology (zone therapy); neuromuscular therapy (deep muscle/connective tissue massage), and sports massage among many others.

Q: But is massage therapy really good for me? 

A: Studies done at the University Of Miami School Of Medicine have shown that massage produces very beneficial effects upon the nervous system, the endocrine system, the immune system, and neurotransmitter levels. In fact across decades of studies, decreases have been noted in anxiety, depression, and stress hormones with increased alertness and better performance of cognitive tasks at the same time (making us more creative and think more clearly). The pressure stimulation associated with massage increases vagus nerve activity, which in turn lowers physiological arousal and stress hormones such as cortisol. Decreased cortisol levels in turn lead to enhanced immune function. (Fritz & Chaitow, 2009)

Therapeutic massage also facilitates growth in children, alleviates pain in everyone when done correctly, improves immune function (massage increases the number of natural killer cells, which has implications for those with immune system weaknesses). Massage reduces stress and promotes the healing of psychiatric problems, improves sleep, helps your digestion and premenstrual symptoms, lowers blood pressure, increases job performance, reduces headaches, improves self-esteem and body image, and massage also reduces stress for the therapist as well! (Fritz, 2012)

Scientific study and technology have enabled us to describe some of the physiological responses to touch, such as changes in the concentration of hormones, alterations in the activity of the central and peripheral nervous systems, and regulation of body rhythms. We simply must be touched to survive. Touch is a fundamental, multilayered, and powerful form of communication. It is the most personalized form of communication we know. (Montagu, 1986)

The skin is the largest sensory organ of your body. Many internal soft tissue structures, (e.g. muscles, connective tissue, and visceral structures, the lungs, the heart, the digestive organs) project sensation to the skin. The autonomic nervous system, which regulates the visceral and chemical homeostasis of the body, is highly responsive to skin stimulation that supports your well-being. 

Two forms of massage service have become standardized in Colorado today; wellness massage outside the healthcare system and medical massage within the healthcare system. These trends will allow easy access to both types of services. Several colleges in Pueblo offer excellent massage therapy programs (500-1000 hour) that insure licensed massage therapists have the scientific background to serve patients in spas, private practices, hotels, mountain resorts, hospitals and health centers.

Recognition that chronic diseases are resistant to surgical or drug treatment has increased around the world. Neither the acute care concept nor a single solution approach seems to work with chronic diseases. A more complex way of envisioning and treating these diseases has been developed, and massage is one approach that has proven effective over time. 

Massage has always been one of the most natural and instinctive means of relieving pain and discomfort. When a person has sore, aching muscles, abdominal pains, or a bruise or wound, the instinctive impulse is to touch and rub that part of the body to obtain relief. The fastest growing segment of our population is those over 80 years of age. Many elderly people are alone and their spouses have passed away and their families are busy with their own lives. I have seen profound improvements in both physical and emotional health for the elderly in their interactions with massage therapists.

Massage professionals are the experts in this kind of healing touch, and their work is highly beneficial and recommended. 

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