Massage Therapy For Stress Relief

  • Jaiswarry SundaramMasters of Science in Biotechnology - MSc, Liverpool John Moores University, England
  • Jasmine Abdy BSc, Medical Microbiology with a Year in Industry, University of Bristol

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In the fast-paced and demanding landscape of modern life, stress has become an ever-present companion, affecting individuals both physically and mentally. The relentless pressures of work, personal responsibilities, and the constant bombardment of information can lead to a myriad of health issues, ranging from muscular tension to anxiety and beyond. 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), stress is characterised as the response individuals may exhibit when confronted with demands and pressures that excess their knowledge and capabilities, posing a challenge to their capacity to manage and cope.1 Stress-related illnesses account for approximately 75% of all doctor visits and office visits.2 Fortunately, amidst this chaotic lifestyle, massage therapy emerges as a beacon of relief - a holistic and enjoyable approach to combat the detrimental effects of stress.

Introduction

Massage therapy, a practice with roots dating back centuries, has withstood the test of time as a reliable and effective method for stress relief.3 Across civilisations and cultures, the healing power of touch has been recognized as a means to alleviate tension, promote relaxation, and enhance overall well-being. As we embark on an exploration of the world of massage, this article will uncover the various techniques that have evolved to cater to the diverse needs of individuals seeking respite from the strains of their muscles.

Swedish Massage

Description:

  • Long strokes and kneading: Swedish massage involves gentle, flowing strokes and kneading motions across the body, promoting relaxation4

Benefits:

  • Improved circulation: The technique enhances blood flow, aiding in the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the body's tissues
  • Stress reduction: The soothing nature of Swedish massage triggers the release of endorphins, providing a natural mood boost4

Deep Tissue Massage: Targeting Muscle Tension

Description:

  • Deep pressure: This technique focuses on reaching the deeper layers of muscles and connective tissues to alleviate chronic tension5

Benefits:

  • Muscle tension relief: Deep tissue massage can release persistent muscle tightness, promoting a sense of relaxation
  • Improved range of motion: It may enhance flexibility and mobility, reducing the risk of muscle-related injuries5

The National Health Service (NHS) highlights the importance of stress management, as chronic stress can contribute to serious physical and mental health issues such as heart disease and mental health disorders.6

Aromatherapy Massage: Power of Scents

Description:

  • Essential oils: Aromatherapy massage incorporates the use of essential oils, each with unique stress-relieving properties7

Benefits:

  • Enhanced relaxation: Aromatherapy adds an olfactory dimension, intensifying the overall relaxation experience.
  • Stress reduction: Aromatherapy massage is known to alleviate stress by targeting the limbic system, the part of the brain associated with emotions. Inhaling the pleasant scents during the massage can positively impact mood, promoting a sense of tranquillity and emotional balance8
  • Improved sleep quality: Certain essential oils used in aromatherapy, such as lavender and chamomile, are renowned for their sleep-inducing properties. Aromatherapy massage can help individuals struggling with sleep issues by creating a conducive environment for relaxation8

Hot Stone Massage: Harnessing Warmth for Relaxation

Description:

  • Heated stones: Hot stone massage involves placing heated stones on specific areas of the body to release tension9

Benefits:

  • Muscle relaxation: The warmth of the stones relaxes muscles, making it easier for the therapist to access deeper tissues for a more effective massage session10
  • Improved circulation: Enhanced blood flow contributes to a rise in energy levels, a better digestion system, and improved clarity of mental health providing an overall sense of well-being11

Shiatsu Massage: Balancing Body Energy 

Description:

  • Shiatsu, which means "finger pressure" in Japanese, is a popular therapy involving massage or bodywork. Many wellness centres offer this practice
  • The core idea of shiatsu revolves around the concept of energy flow, known as Ki or Qi. According to Shiatsu therapists, disruptions in this energy flow can lead to illness. Similar to acupuncture, shiatsu aims to clear blockages in the Ki flow and replenish energy in low areas. This is achieved by applying pressure or stretching points along energy channels, known as meridian channels12

Benefits:

  • Practitioners of Shiatsu believe that this therapy enhances blood circulation, helps release toxins and muscle tension, and stimulates the hormonal system
  • Stress reduction: By promoting energy balance, Shiatsu can alleviate stress and enhance relaxation.
  • Improved sleep: Regular sessions may contribute to better sleep quality and overall sleep patterns12

Usage as a treatment for cancer patients

Individuals with cancer often turn to Shiatsu because it provides a sense of well-being and comfort. Shiatsu therapists generally assert that enhancing energy flow can positively impact mood and overall wellness. Advocates of this therapy suggest it as a natural means to alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, pain, and nausea stemming from chemotherapy.

People undergoing cancer treatment report that Shiatsu aids in managing symptoms and mitigating side effects like poor appetite, sleep problems, pain, and low mood. Following a Shiatsu session, individuals often express feelings of deep relaxation and increased energy levels, contributing to an overall sense of relief12.

Thai Massage: A Fusion of Stretching and Massage

Description:

  • Stretching movements: Thai massage combines massage with assisted yoga postures and stretching

Benefits:

  • Improved flexibility: The stretching component of Thai massage enhances flexibility and reduces muscle stiffness13
  • Holistic relaxation: The combined approach addresses both physical and mental aspects of stress

Reflexology: Feet, Hands, and Stress Relief

Description:

  • Pressure on reflex points: Reflexology focuses on specific points in the feet, hands, and ears that correspond to organs and systems in the body

Benefits:

  • Stress reduction: Stimulating reflex points may induce a state of relaxation and reduce overall stress levels in addition to releasing tension and anxiety. The relaxation response triggered during a session can have a positive impact on mental well-being
  • Prenatal and Postnatal Benefits: Reflexology can be adapted for prenatal and postnatal care. It may help alleviate discomfort during pregnancy, promote relaxation, and support overall well-being during the postpartum period14

Trigger Point Massage: Targeting Knots for Relief

Description:

  • Trigger-pointing is a specialised technique aimed at relieving pain by applying isolated pressure and subsequent release. During trigger pointing, therapists employ their thumbs or specific tools designed for trigger pointing. This method involves direct pressure on trigger points to interrupt the accumulated pain cycle that keeps a muscle area contracted. By utilising trigger pointing, muscle fibres are relaxed, and circulation to the targeted area is enhanced15

Benefits:

  • Trigger-pointing serves as a method for addressing acute pain in soft tissues, which can appear as brief or extend over weeks and months, but generally not exceeding six months.16 Commonly associated with acute aches, trigger points play a role in various pains like headaches, neck discomfort, and back pain. These points not only induce pain locally but also refer it to other body areas. The trigger-pointing massage technique proves effective in alleviating pain originating from trigger points by temporarily impeding blood flow and causing cellular death. Upon pressure release, cellular rejuvenation occurs as new oxygenated blood flows into the area16
  • Beyond acute pain, trigger pointing is also applied in managing chronic pain, defined as lasting more than 3-6 months. Chronic pain often results from persistent trigger points that resist relief.16 Symptoms may include muscle weakness, tingling, stiffness, and sleep disturbances. Trigger pointing interrupts the cycle of pain, stretching the trigger points and knotted fibres, promoting relaxation, and increasing restricted circulation, allowing for the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the affected area16
  • Moreover, trigger pointing aids in alleviating tight muscles, whether localised or affecting entire muscle groups.17 Tight muscles can limit joint movement and exacerbate pain. Trigger pointing induces autogenic inhibition, a reflex response to excessive tension in muscle fibres. This process involves maximal contraction followed by maximal relaxation, fostering the release of tightness and associated pain18

Your Stress-Relief Toolkit

Incorporating massage therapy into your stress management routine can be a game-changer. Whether you opt for the soothing strokes of Swedish massage, the targeted pressure of deep tissue massage, or the holistic approach of Thai massage, each technique offers unique benefits for stress relief.

FAQs

How often should I get a massage for stress relief?

The frequency of massages depends on individual preferences and needs. Some find weekly sessions beneficial, while others may opt for monthly treatments. It is essential to listen to your body and adjust accordingly.

Are there any contraindications for massage therapy?

While massage is generally safe, individuals with certain medical conditions should consult their healthcare provider before getting a massage. Conditions such as deep vein thrombosis or recent surgery may require caution.

Can massage therapy help with mental health conditions like anxiety or depression?

Yes, massage therapy has shown promise in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. However, it should not replace professional mental health care. Always consult with a mental health professional for personalised advice.

Summary

In summary, massage therapy offers a diverse range of techniques, each contributing to stress relief in its unique way. From the gentle strokes of Swedish massage to the targeted pressure of trigger point massage, there's a modality for everyone. The article also highlights the therapeutic role of massage in managing stress-related illnesses, with shiatsu even being considered for cancer patients. Incorporating regular massages into your routine, along with other stress management practices, can significantly enhance your overall well-being.

Remember, self-care is a crucial aspect of maintaining a healthy and balanced life. Hence, treat yourself to the healing touch of massage and embark on a journey to a more relaxed and rejuvenated you.

References

  1. Work Related Stress [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2024 Feb 3]. Available from: https://www.deakin.edu.au/students/student-life-and-services/health-wellbeing-and-safety/occupational-health-and-safety/work-related-stress
  2. Marksberry K. The American Institute of Stress [Internet]. America’s #1 Health Problem; [cited 2024 Feb 3]. Available from: https://www.stress.org/americas-1-health-problem
  3. The Rich History of Massage Therapy | Concorde Career Colleges [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2024 Feb 3]. Available from: https://www.concorde.edu/blog/rich-history-massage-therapy.
  4. Getting a Swedish Massage Could Improve Your Anxiety. Here’s What to Know. Health [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 3]. Available from: https://www.health.com/swedish-massage-7963962.
  5. Deep Tissue Massage - Type Of Massage We Offer - Massage - Treatments - Physio.co.uk [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 3]. Available from: https://www.physio.co.uk/treatments/massage/type-of-massage-we-offer/deep-tissue-massage.php
  6. Stress - Every Mind Matters. nhs.uk [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2024 Feb 3]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/every-mind-matters/mental-health-issues/stress/
  7. Ali B, Al-Wabel NA, Shams S, Ahamad A, Khan SA, Anwar F. Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2024 Feb 3]; 5(8):601–11. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2221169115001033
  8. [Internet]. 2022. The Benefits of Aromatherapy Massage | SOCHI; [cited 2024 Feb 3]. Available from: https://sochi.edu/benefits-of-aromatherapy-massage/
  9. Hot Stone Massage. National University Of Health Sciences [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 3]. Available from: https://www.nuhs.edu/patients/health-information/articles/hot-stone-massage/
  10. Li L, Xi Y, Wang Y, Gao Y, Lv X, Liu S, et al. Heat-stone massage for patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain: a protocol for multicenter randomized controlled trial. Front Med (Lausanne) [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2024 Feb 3]; 10:1215858. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10466406/
  11. The Importance of Good Blood Circulation. Sanguina [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 3]. Available from:   https://sanguina.com/blogs/all/the-importance-of-good-blood-circulation
  12. Shiatsu and cancer [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 3]. Available   from: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/treatment/complementary-alternative-therapies/individual-therapies/shiatsu
  13. What Is a Thai Massage—And How Does It Work? Health [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 3]. Available from: https://www.health.com/thai-massage-7814435
  14. Yang J, Li Z, Ye H, Wu Y, Long Y, Zhong Y, et al. Effects of foot reflexology massage on pregnant women: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies. Sci Rep [Internet]. 2024 [cited 2024 Feb 3]; 14(1):1012. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-023-51107-y
  15. Trigger Pointing - Our Massage Techniques - Massage - Treatments - Physio.co.uk [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 3]. Available from: https://www.physio.co.uk/treatments/massage/our-massage-techniques/trigger-pointing.php
  16. Other Services in Bristol | University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 3]. Available from: https://www.uhbristol.nhs.uk/patients-and-visitors/your-hospitals/other-services-in-bristol/pain-clinic/what-is-pain/acute-and-chronic-pain/#:~:text=Pain%20can%20be%20described%20as,often%20not%20a%20useful%20sensation
  17. Tight Muscles - When Can Massage Help - Massage - Treatments - Physio.co.uk [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 3]. Available from: https://www.physio.co.uk/treatments/massage/when-can-massage-help/tight-muscles.php
  18. Autogenic inhibition. Oxford Reference [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 3]. Available from: https://www.oxfordreference.com/display/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095435962.

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Jaiswarry Sundaram

Masters of Science in Biotechnology - MSc, Liverpool, John Moores University, England

Jaiswarry Sundaram is a passionate medical writer with a keen interest in healthcare advancement and communications. With a bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Science, a master's in Biotechnology and experience in scientific writing and marketing, she offers a distinctive perspective to her articles. Additionally, she has acquired valuable experience through internships in both laboratory-based and qualitative research, further refining her skill set. Jaiswarry is dedicated to presenting complex medical concepts with comprehensibility and accuracy, ensuring that her content resonates with readers, determined to make a meaningful contribution to the realm of medical communications. Delve into her articles to discover the latest insights into progressive developments in healthcare.

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