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Massage and Medicine

By: Barbara Kohn
Posted: June 18, 2008, from the July 2006 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

When Cimeron Morrissey was suffering from shingles, a painful disease that attacks nerve fibers, she found that traditional painkillers didn’t work for her. She then turned to alternative medicine and massage therapy for relief. “It felt like swarms of wasps were stinging me every 30 seconds; it was excruciating, and I couldn’t sleep for days,” Morrissey recalls. “Because Vicodin* wasn’t working for me, my physician recommended acupuncture and massage therapy, which measurably reduced the pain and stress on my body, finally allowing me to sleep.”

Morrissey represents a growing number of people who are utilizing massage therapy to improve their health and to help them feel better. A study from the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) indicates that in 2004, 47 million Americans received a massage. More than 21% discussed massage therapy with their physicians, and, among those, 60% were advised by their physician to seek out massage as a form of therapy.

Researching the effects

To examine whether massage provides clear evidence of physiological benefits, researchers, physicians and practitioners have been busy studying its effects. Because the impact of these analyses may have far-reaching implications for health care, the United States Department of Health & Human Services’ National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) both have funded research. The findings from several studies have begun to emerge, illustrating a range of massage therapy benefits, from pain reduction and improved immune function to the alleviation of the symptoms of depression.

To ensure that there is more study completed in this field and that it reflects massage therapy as practiced, the Massage Therapy Foundation (MTF) established a research agenda. It also is funding studies on the safety and efficacy of massage therapy, the physiological—or other—mechanisms by which massage therapy achieves its effects, massage from a wellness paradigm and the profession of therapeutic massage.

In 2004, the MTF funded an ongoing study to assess the effects of lymphatic-circulatory massage on wound-healing, specifically for patients undergoing coronary artery bypass grafting. In this procedure, surgical site complications and the need for extended treatment are frequent.