The Healing Touch: Benefits of Massage

You probably think of massage as a once-in-a-while splurge. But medical research shows that the feel-good treatment has real health benefits.
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Get Relief from Insomnia

If you're one of the estimated 40 million Americans who had a massage last year, you know that a good one feels fantastic. Now medical research is showing that this relaxing ritual can actually improve your health, and not just in a vague, happiness-boosting way.

"More and more, we find massage can have measurable medical benefits for a variety of conditions," says Brent Bauer, MD, director of complementary integrative medicine at the Mayo Clinic. Research has shown that it can increase the number of cancer-fighting cells in breast cancer patients, make osteoarthritis sufferers more mobile, and help reduce the spasms of Parkinson's disease. It offers potent benefits to healthy people, as well. "Massage -- even self-massage -- slows the heart rate and lowers the level of the stress hormone cortisol," says Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

The evidence is apparently convincing family doctors: Fifty-seven percent of people who talked to their doctor about having massages reported that their doctor strongly recommended or encouraged them, says an American Massage Therapy Association survey. In fact, twice as many doctors recommended it to patients in 2006 than just five years earlier -- though it's still hard to get insurance reimbursement. "Even for sports injuries, major surgery, and spinal injuries, only about half of insurance companies cover it in some way," says Dr. Field. It's best to use a licensed practitioner who can target the massage to your situation. Here's a quick guide.

Get Relief from Insomnia

Massage prescription: Lots of anecdotal evidence -- and some research on chronic fatigue -- supports the idea that a good rub can lead to a good night's sleep. Medical facilities including the Mayo Clinic and South Miami Hospital use bedside massage to help patients relax and sleep more easily.

Doctor's orders: A weekly massage is ideal.

Self-help: Give yourself -- or have someone give you -- a nightly foot massage, suggests Dr. Field. "Apply moderate pressure and slow, soothing motions for at least five minutes. That gives you time for a relaxation response so you fall asleep more easily, sleep well, and wake up more refreshed."

Continued on page 2:  Calm a Headache


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