Why get a massage? According to a survey conducted by the American Massage Therapy Association, 28% of Americans who get a massage do so for relaxation and stress reduction.
That’s a lot of people in the US who feel pretty good about how massage helps them manage their stress. But warm fuzzies aside, what exactly do we know about massage and how it relates to stress and anxiety? And what does the research have to say about that?
Stress is your body’s response to demanding circumstances. Working long hours? You’re probably stressed. Studying for a big exam? Definitely stressful. Toddler throwing a tantrum? Probably stressful for both of you.
When stressed, your blood pressure goes up. Your breathing and heart rate increase. You may feel agitated and distracted. This is useful if you’re a prey animal that needs to flee for its life. Less useful if your stress the result of a loved one in need of patience and comfort.
When exposed to occasional stress, we can usually diffuse it and recover relatively quickly. When stress becomes a chronic condition, health problems can result.
Anxiety, on the other hand, isn’t necessarily a reaction to circumstances. Most often, it’s related to anticipated future or potential stress.
As with stress, anxiety isn’t necessarily an immediate health problem, although it’s unpleasant. Feeling a bit anxious about an exam, the birth of a baby, or a big presentation can give you a push to prepare as best you can.
Anxiety becomes unhelpful when it is overwhelming, requiring you to focus all your energy on surviving your immediate feelings rather than addressing their roots. Pacing, nail biting, trembling, and vomiting are signs that anxiety is veering into unhelpful territory. Test anxiety, social anxiety, and decision anxiety are all common forms of anxiety.
Anxiety disorder is the general term for chronic, excessive anxiety in response to everyday situations. Anxiety disorders include:
Many people discover that they have more than one type of anxiety disorder. Others deal with anxiety combined with depression, PTDS, eating disorders, alcoholism, or substance abuse. While stress and anxiety are more general terms that you can probably identify in yourself, anxiety disorders can only be diagnosed by a physician.
Stress: Stress levels are largely subjective. However, studies focused on pain, sleep, and other outcomes often find that patients report decreased stress levels as a major benefit of massage therap.
In one study on pain in acute care settings, more than half of the patients mentioned relaxation in their survey responses. One patient described the receiving massage as “very helpful, soothing, comforting, and relaxing.” A notable result, considering the stress of hospitalization. Patients and nurses also reported improved emotional well-being and sleep – both good indicators of stress reduction.
Anxiety: Most studies done on massage and anxiety have focused on specific populations. One study found significant improvement in both long term and immediate anxiety in children with cancer and blood diseases who received Swedish massage.
Another measured the physiological responses to stress (blood pressure and pulse) in hospitalized children and found similar results. Cardiac care patients were the focus of another study. Again, massage was helpful in reducing anxiety. Still, larger and broader studies on the matter still need to be done.
There have been relatively few studies on massage therapy for anxiety disorders specifically. Most studies that have been done are generally small and lacking good control groups. One randomized controlled trial found that massage therapy was significantly helpful for people with generalized anxiety disorder, but no more so than other relaxation techniques.
This study only measured improvement over multiple weeks, and not feelings of anxiety in the short term, before and after treatments. Because this study didn’t have a no-treatment control group, they weren’t able to state whether all three were equally effective or equally ineffective.
People regularly feel that massage helps reduce their stress and anxiety. There are also other techniques, such as Reiki, that seem to be helpful to varying degrees, depending on the situation and the person.
This is helpful to know, because not everyone enjoys massage. For some, touch itself can be a source of stress and anxiety. Therefore, it’s helpful to know that there are other complementary therapies available that also create positive results.
Stress and anxiety are closely tied to pain, sleep, and other factors. Reducing pain reduces stress levels. Reducing stress levels can also reduce pain. Improving sleep can impact both pain and stress, and vice versa. Does massage therapy work primarily through either pain or stress reduction, or does it impact both equally? This is an area for further study.
Massage therapy is a fairly safe way to manage stress and anxiety. With relatively few drug interactions and a very low chance for injury, massage therapy can be helpful to a wide variety of people dealing with stress and anxiety in different situations. From the smallest infants to athletes to people in hospice, there are few who could not benefit from massage therapy.
There is a lot more to learn. While there is a lot of research on massage for pain, massage for anxiety (and especially massage for anxiety disorders) has less research to back it up. It will take time and money before a large body of knowledge has been built up.
If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, massage therapy is worth trying. The evidence is still rolling in, but what we have is promising. Are you ready to give it a try? Book your next massage today. Click HERE to book now.
There is no doubt that massage is wonderful. It has many positive health and wellness benefits. It’s relaxing, it feels great when you’re feeling not so great. There is also no doubt that people sometimes overlook/underestimate the risks of massage in certain situations.
The main culprit that can make massage a contraindication is its effects on the circulatory system. Pick a spot on your arm or hand where you can maybe see some good veins. Rub your hand down your arm towards that vein with about the pressure your massage therapist does. You’ll probably notice that it stands out more as you push; this is because you’re pushing the blood through that vein at a higher rate than normal.
During a massage, muscle is not the only thing getting pushed around. Massage includes moving the blood around in your veins, the fluids in your lymphatic system, and the other various hormones and chemicals floating around in your body.
It means that if a person’s veins or circulatory system are compromised, massage may be a bad idea. We need to know if your bones are brittle or you have joint replacements. Tell us if you have immune system problems, or you have herniated discs or spinal issues. Illness such as the flu, infections, and disease with serious complications are a red flag when it comes to massage.
I realize that it can feel awkward to share your health information with someone other than your doctor. Especially if it’s someone you don’t know very well. It’s important to realize that while massage may seem like a pretty safe therapy, there really are cases where it can do more harm than good. Rest assured that I follow health information privacy guidance, and do not share your health information with anyone. The online form is HIPAA compliant, and I keep your paper intake forms locked up when unattended.
If you are under a doctor’s care, I will likely ask that you receive a written recommendation for massage. I like to make sure that they understand that massage is increasing circulation and lymph flow. Doctors don’t always remember that massage is not purely about relaxation. I may ask you to talk to your cardiologist, endocrinologist, obstetrician, or other specialist you may be working with.
It may seem awkward or annoying to have to answer these questions and communicate between your various health care providers. However, it’s ultimately all about keeping you safe and healthy, as well as relaxed and pain free. If your doctor does not recommend massage, there are other options that may help you. This includes Reiki therapy, which does not physically manipulate the muscles or circulatory system
As with any wellness regimen, it’s important that all of your healthcare providers work together to ensure that you are receiving safe, effective care. If you have any concerns about privacy or your health issues related to massage, you can always contact me to discuss them!
“This project is such a headache!”
They’re so common that the term has become synonymous with an annoyance, but what are headaches, really? And can massage therapy really help?
We all know a headache when we feel it. It’s a pain in the head. However, not all headaches are created equal.
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. Pain occurs on both sides of the head without other symptoms. The pain can range from very mild to severe.
Migraine headaches are often pulsing, and can be accompanied by nausea, dizziness, sensitivity to light and sound, and hallucinations. Some people experience migraines only rarely, while other people experience them on an almost daily basis.
Cluster headaches are less common. Generally experienced as severe pain around one eye, they occur in clusters over a period of time. Long periods of no symptoms may follow.
Secondary headaches are not conditions themselves, but are symptoms of other conditions. These conditions can be as everyday as a sinus infection. Or, they can be more serious, like traumatic brain injury or meningitis. Secondary headaches can be managed, however, it’s important to focus on getting the appropriate medical treatment for the underlying condition.
Tension headaches, the type of headaches people are most likely to experience, seem to respond well to massage therapy. Massage helps reduce pain in the moment. Regular massage therapy appears to increase the time between headaches for those who experience them on a chronic basis. This could be a result of helping to manage stress. It could also be underlying mechanical issues that result in headaches. There’s no solid science yet on precisely why massage helps, only that it does.
It’s no surprise that people who experience regular headaches are also more likely to experience high levels of stress. Not to mention, depression and anxiety. Studies have found that massage can help people who live with chronic headaches, as well as stress and anxiety.
Some people with secondary headaches can also benefit from massage. People with fibromyalgia related headaches experience both pain and stress relief with regular massage therapy. More gentle massage may be needed during a flare-up, but can provide relief for both headaches and body aches.
Massage therapy is wonderful and often helpful, but it’s not a cure for headaches. Some people just need a bit of rest or a drink of water (dehydration is a surprisingly common headache cause). Other people continue to experience headaches all their lives. Unfortunately, migraines triggered by things like foods or hormonal changes probably won’t see an impact from massage.
There are some times when getting a massage for headaches isn’t just unhelpful, it’s actually dangerous. Most often, this is related to secondary headaches.
There are some times when getting a massage for headaches isn’t just unhelpful, it’s actually dangerous. Most often, this is related to secondary headaches.
The aches caused by a fever may make you feel like massage would be wonderful. However, it’s not a good idea to overtax a body already working hard to fight an infection. Then, there is the risk of spreading the illness to your massage therapist and others. Headaches resulting from a recent head, neck, or back injury could also be made worse by a well-meaning massage therapist.
It’s important to seek the opinion of a physician when the pain may be the result of illness or injury. Start by receiving appropriate care for the issue causing the headache. Along the way, you can ask them whether or not massage is a good idea. Safe is always better than sorry
A change of environment may help. If you have a headache and have been hunched over a computer for hours, try a stretch. A quick walk outside or a brief nap can help with a headache caused by eye strain. If you haven’t eaten or drunk anything all day, do that. It’s not uncommon to get busy and distracted and forget basic self-care.
If it’s safe to take them, medications like ibuprofen or aspirin can be helpful in treating a headache. Sometimes caffeine helps. Strong or chronic headaches may require prescription medication.
And then there’s massage therapy, of course. It’s not a magical cure-all, but for many people, it really does help manage the pain and stress of headaches. Are you one of them? Schedule your next massage, and let’s find out together.
You probably have a rough idea of where wrinkles come from… laugh lines, frown lines, decreased skin elasticity as we age… but you may not consider one of the key contributing elements—the muscles underneath.
Wrinkles tend to develop where muscles pull on the skin, and muscle tension in our face, from stress, tension, even laughing and smiling a lot, can create the holding patterns that lead to wrinkles. Factor in the loss of elasticity over time and voila! Wrinkles!
Facial massage helps soften tight muscles in the face, which in turn may help reduce the appearance of wrinkles. In addition, massage improves circulation to your skin, which you know is good for you! Other benefits of facial massage include easing headaches and sinus pain.
As I have continued the forward momentum of Birch Tree Wellness, I have been learning about the kinds of things my clients are looking for out of massage. The thing I see the most is chronic pain of one sort or another.
For many people it’s stress related. It may be unforgiving jobs, family or life stress. Sometimes the chronic pain comes from physical activity or the lack thereof, as in demanding desk jobs. Other times, it’s chronic pain associated with mental or emotional distress.
All of this has led me to become interested in specializing in chronic pain. Going forward, I’ll be looking into continuing education related to chronic pain, new muscle release techniques, and the effects of psychology on the human body. Some of the modalities I’ll be adding in the future include Spontaneous Muscle Release Therapy (SMRT) – a positional release modality that interrupts pain signals in the body quickly and painlessly, and CranioSacral Therapy (CST) – a form of bodywork using gentle touch release restrictions in the soft tissues that surround the central nervous system.
Here is some information about the programs I’m looking at, if you would like to learn more:
In the process of brainstorming all of these ideas, one of the things I’ve done is streamlined the scheduling process. In my opinion, all massage is “therapeutic” whether you just need to relax, or you really need some deep tissue work and stretching. So, now when you schedule, whether it’s online or in person, you won’t have so many types of appointments to choose from. In the scheduling system, you just choose “Therapeutic Massage” and how long you want the massage to be, and we’ll chat about what exactly you’re looking for. No more decision fatigue!
The extras are still there! You can schedule a hot stone massage, add on a mini hot stone massage, aromatherapy, or a foot scrub. In addition, you can still schedule specialized appointments like Pregnancy Massage, Intuitive Bodywork, Relaxation Training, or Massage & Reiki together. The Monday Special and Ultimate Study Break are also still available at this time.
For everyone who has been coming to Birch Tree Wellness over the last couple of years, essentially the only thing that has really changed is the name of the appointment you’re scheduling. We’ll continue with the same awesome massage therapy you’ve been getting, and as I learn new tricks, we’ll apply them where appropriate! If you have chronic pain, we’ll continue working on your chronic pain. If you are experiencing emotional or mental distress – with or without chronic pain – we’ll continue working with whatever combination of massage, Reiki, and other modalities are helping you.
If you learn about a type of massage or other bodywork or healing modality you think I’d be interested in, feel free to send along the information! If you have more questions about any of the changes, don’t hesitate to ask them. As always, my massage practice is about all of you, my awesome clients, and what kind of wellness magic we can work together!
You finally took the time to schedule yourself a massage. Now, you’re feeling all mellow, and your aches and pains have eased. Maybe you’re kind of dreading heading out into the “real world” again. What can you do to keep that post-massage zen going just a little bit longer?
If possible, try to schedule your massage on a day when you can take it easy afterwards. At least give yourself an hour or so to enjoy the zen. Heading right back to work or running home to do house or yard work is definitely a good way to let that tension seep right back into your muscles. Just as you allowed yourself the opportunity for relaxation, you owe yourself the chance to enjoy that relaxation for a little while afterwards.
Get yourself in the zone before the massage even starts. Tone down your music, avoid stressful phone calls, maybe drink a little herbal tea. Arrive a little early, so that you don’t feel rushed. Make sure before you shut off your car you either turn off your radio, turn it down, or set it to something that relaxes you. Take a little time to make sure you’re fully back in your head before getting on the road!
Stretch out the relaxed feeling even longer with a nice soak in the tub or hot tub, or warming shower. Use a favorite essential oil in the tub or a natural soap in the shower. Epsom salts are a great additive to continue easing tight muscles, especially if you’ve had a lot of deep tissue work during your appointment.
If you have the time, take a few minutes to yourself. Take your mind back to the twilight state. that sort of not asleep, not awake sensation you may experience during a massage. This is a great starting point for some reflective or centering and grounding meditation.
Plan a trip to your favorite bookstore, or take a book to a cozy cafe and read with a cup of tea. Go to a museum or for a quiet walk in nature. Just pick a favorite short (or long) activity that makes you happy or soothes your soul!
Essentially, just about anything that makes you happy, relaxes you, and keeps those positive hormones flowing. That means if going home to energetic children or cooking dinner for your family is what makes you happy, go for it! You might discover it’s pretty easy to find ways to stretch out the positive vibes from your massage appointment!
Is there any time of year more obsessed with health habits than the New Year? Even spring bikini season panic doesn’t reach this level of hype. Everywhere you go, someone is trying to get you to try a class, a supplement, a shake, a piece of equipment, a diet, a lifestyle… and it can be exhausting trying to figure out what’s real and what’s a load of hooey. It’s perfectly normal to look forward to a fresh start in January (or not!), but here’s a little guidance on whether to put money down on that hot new habit after the holidays.
If whatever you’re thinking of trying *SWEARS* you’ll get the desired result in no time at all—you can be pretty sure you’re entering into scam territory. The human body is based on homeostasis. It can change, and it does, but most of those changes occur over time. There’s a reason why most things that cause fast changes in the body (like surgery and drugs) require a physician to administer them; they can be dangerous if not used carefully. If you’ve been out of shape for five years, don’t expect to get back in shape in five weeks. That’s just not how the body works.
There are diets that can help you lose weight. There are exercise routines that can help you gain muscle and strength. There are massages that can help you relax and manage your stress levels. (Might want to get on that one soon!) But if someone is selling One Amazing Thing that will evaporate your fat, increase your happiness, straighten your posture, whiten your teeth, cure your cancer, and send your sex drive through the roof? You can be pretty sure it’s not worth your money. Don’t pay a Magical Thinking Tax for exaggerated claims.
Conspiracies can be fun to read about, but if the main selling point is that “doctors hate it” or “Big Pharma doesn’t want you to know about this,” it’s probably not the best addition to your life. Why? Because you and your physician (and your dentist, your massage therapist, your counselor, your personal trainer, your nutritionist…) are part of your health and wellness team. If any one of them refuses to be a team player, they’re not doing what’s best for you.
When the Magic Cure’s only big selling point is how much someone else hates it… definitely not cool. If you haven’t heard much else about said Magic Cure, it’s probably not because your health team is trying desperately to hide it from you. It’s much more likely that it just doesn’t work at all. I recommend researching it further, or asking those members of your wellness team what their thoughts on it REALLY are.
If yes, then this is something worth looking into, whether it’s a gym membership, a cookbook of heart-healthy meals, or a habit tracking app. Ultimately, we try things out and see how they work for us over the long haul. Not everything will be a perfect fit, but at least we can weed out some of the resolutionist marketing malarkey and move forward with our best efforts into the new year.
Wondering how massage can improve your health? The American Massage Therapy Association publishes lots of research on the benefits of massage. Check out this collection of links to different research information!
2. Get better sleep – Research indicates that massage can improve health by improving your sleep. This is especially helpful in people with chronic pain, anxiety, and stress.
3. Boost mental health and wellness – Research suggests that along with symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression may be directly affected with massage therapy.
4. Manage pain – Pain can affect your quality of life, not to mention, impede recovery from illness or injury. Research shows massage can help low-back pain, headaches, neck pain, and more.
5. Increase range of motion – Elite and recreational athletes alike can benefit from massage therapy. Massage can help reduce muscle tension, improve exercise performance and prevent injuries.
Here are some more posts that answer frequently asked questions:
I have a Cold/the Flu, Should I Cancel My Appointment?
Short answer: Yes, please.
Long Answer: Yes, please.
Massage is great, I’m not going to argue with you there. But it’s not always a great idea. As cold and flu season hits, it’s important that you know when it may be necessary to cancel your appointment.
It’s strange to think about it this way, but receiving massage is an active task, it is not entirely rest. Massage causes change in the body, and your body has to work to maintain stability. Getting a massage when you are sick takes attention away from infection-fighting. That’s no good.
Sure, it sounds like a warm squishy massage table would be fantastic. But the moment you put your already-stuffy head into that face cradle, you’ll realize the error of your ways. Gravity and pressure are not your friend here. Even if I do a great face massage to drain your sinuses, you’ll likely feel worse when you get off the table.
Since most of the common winter viruses are contagious even before symptoms show up, I could pass the cooties along to more clients before I even know it’s happening. Further, when I get sick, I have to cancel clients and take a few days off work. I work for myself, with no paid sick days to compensate for lost wages.
Sure, as a growing small business, I am building a fund for these situations. However, I would much rather use that fund for a vacation or a fancy new massage table. So, I’m gonna try to stay germ-free.
So it’s a deal. You’ll cancel so as not to infect me and my massage room, and I’ll do the same for you. We’ll keep each other safe.
There is often some gray area here, especially if you are in the recovery phase of a virus or bacterial infection. If you’re unsure about your situation, please call me before your appointment and we can make a decision together. For more information about the life cycle of a cold, check out this article.
Also, if you’re sick don’t worry about a cancellation fee, I won’t charge you for helping keep germs at bay!
Be Well, Stay Well!
If you have never scheduled a massage appointment before, looking at a full menu of options might be intimidating. Or, maybe you’ve just always had “a massage” and didn’t really consider the benefits beyond relaxation. Here are some descriptions of the types of massage I offer and how long a session you might schedule:
You may have seen this type of massage at any assortment of locations, from offices to sports events. A specially designed chair allows you to sit relaxed and fully clothed, leaning forward into a cushioned face cradle.
From that position, the massage therapist can work on your back, shoulders, arms, hands, neck and head. Sometimes, it’s possible to turn and face the other way in the chair for work on legs and feet.
At this time, I primarily offer chair massage at events. In those cases, most chair massages average around 5 to 10 minutes. Even just a few minutes can be helpful in improving circulation, loosening stiff muscles, and relieving pain.
For a relaxation massage, I use the long, flowing, and soothing strokes of Swedish massage. I adjust the pressure of the strokes to your comfort. When you just want to relax and let go, this is the massage for you.
We don’t focus on a specific problem area, nor poke and prod at “knots” or tight spots. At most, I may adjust the timing of the massage to spend more time on tired feet or achy shoulders. But, nothing too intense. This massage is just about relaxing, reducing stress, and improving your outlook on life.
With this type of massage, while we’re not completely ignoring relaxation, we’re focused on it less. There’s a bit more time spent on tight muscles and sore spots. We may talk a bit more about what I’m finding. I might include stretches for your arms or legs, or ask you to move a body part against resistance. This massage is about improving your mobility, releasing tension and relieving pain.
If you’re still not sure, you can always contact me to talk about what’s going on. We can plan a long first session with shorter follow ups, or a series of short sessions. I’m pretty flexible when it comes to working with you, your schedule, and your budget. Together, we’ll get you sorted out.