Is massage therapy beneficial for your health?
While many people see massage primarily as a useful way to unwind when dealing with stress, its health benefits go far beyond simple relaxation. Internal medicine specialist Woojin Han, MD, explained how massage therapy might fit right in with your health care needs and what type of massage might work for you.
What are the health benefits of massage therapy?
“Massage therapy has been a cornerstone of holistic wellness and rehabilitation for centuries,” said Dr. Han. “One of its primary benefits is how it works to induce relaxation by reducing the level of the stress hormone cortisol.”
Cortisol, a hormone released by adrenal glands on top of your kidneys, controls your body’s response to stress. It’s sometimes called your body’s “alarm system.”
Increased levels of cortisol over time can undermine your body’s ability to regulate blood pressure, blood sugar levels, your metabolism and more. Reducing cortisol levels through massage therapy can help improve mood and blood flow, reduce fatigue and support your body in healing after injuries and lowering inflammation. This can be especially useful when dealing with chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia or arthritis.
Regular massage may also help to improve quality of sleep and immune system function.
The different types of massage therapy
“Massage can be very gentle and focused on soothing the body and helping it relax,” said Dr. Wan. “However, this isn’t the only type of massage therapy available. More vigorous and firm massage can be useful when healing from injury or dealing with pain.”
Swedish massage, which utilizes long strokes, kneading and circular movements that are based on promoting relaxation and soothing muscles, is one of the gentlest massage therapy types and is best when you’re looking for something a little easier.
Deep tissue massage, on the other hand, is more vigorous and targets the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue. Deep tissue massage is ideal for resolving muscle damage.
Sports massage is tailored for younger patients and athletes to prevent or treat sports injuries and enhance performance.
Hot stone massage incorporates heated stones to promote deeper muscle relaxation and ease tension while reducing inflammation.
Is massage therapy safe for those who are pregnant, being treated for cancer or who are injured?
“Almost anyone can benefit from the rejuvenating effects of massage therapy,” said Dr. Han. “Individuals with chronic pain conditions, athletes, those under considerable stress or experiencing anxiety and people looking for a holistic approach to wellness are all ideal candidates. In some cases, there are safety concerns that you’ll need to speak with your physician about first.”
In pregnant patients, your obstetrician may approve use of massage by certified prenatal massage therapists to help lessen pregnancy-related discomfort. Those being treated for cancer should speak to their oncologist before scheduling massage therapy due to the way massage can stimulate the lymphatic system, although gentler massage can help with relaxation and comfort.
Massage can play a role in a comprehensive rehabilitation treatment plan after an injury, but you’ll want to ensure pursuing massage is cleared by your primary care provider before scheduling an appointment.
Before and after massage therapy
“I advise having a light meal at least an hour before your massage therapy session, and arrive a little early so you can talk to your massage therapist about any concerns or specific areas you’d like them to focus on. Be sure to talk about any ongoing medical conditions or medications as well,” said Dr. Han.
Feeling a little sore after a massage is common, especially if you underwent a deep tissue treatment. A warm compress and staying well-hydrated can help lessen your discomfort.
Is massage therapy covered by health insurance?
“Whether or not massage therapy is covered under health insurance depends on the individual policy and the reason for pursuing this therapy,” said Dr. Han. “Check with your insurance provider regarding specifics for coverage under your plan, as it may be covered if prescribed by a physician as part of a treatment plan.”
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