Widely recognized as an effective treatment for injuries and pain, therapeutic massage leads to improved relaxation and greater overall well-being, but its benefits are not just physical. Research shows that massage can have a positive impact on mental health in several ways.
One way that massage can have a beneficial influence on emotional well-being is by helping to reduce the effects of stress. Stress in the workplace is a challenge that most people face all too often. While massage can be beneficial regardless of the job being performed or the type of stress experienced, some people, especially those in high-stress professions, may experience more stress than others.
Scientific research supports the effectiveness of massage therapy for people in the following five high-stress occupations, although its benefits are not limited to professionals in these areas.
Massage therapy for office workers
People who work long hours in office environments can often have poor posture if an ergonomic office chair is not available, which can strain the musculoskeletal structure of the neck, shoulders and back. Many of us sit up for more than half of our sleep, and this prolonged session can shut down the nerve impulses in our legs.
Sitting also deactivates digestive enzymes and reduces the speed at which energy is used. A massage lasting as little as 20 minutes can make the digestion move again while also activating the legs.
One study, which focused on a group of 38 office workers who received manual therapy for shoulder pain, highlighted the healing ability of touch to reduce pain, activate neural structures, lengthen tissues and increase range of motion.
Another study, which followed 34 office workers, found that scalp massage reduced heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormones. Study participants who received 15- or 25-minute massage therapy sessions showed significant improvements in their cortisol and norepinephrine (hormones related to the fight-or-flight response) levels.
Massage therapy for nurses
A study that followed 66 intensive care unit nurses, who are some of the most stressed workers in health care settings, found that massage produced a significant reduction in the occupational stress they experienced. Also, massage therapy improved the emotional well-being and quality of life of the study participants.
Additional research showed that massage therapy for nurses not only led to improvements in their health, but also had a positive impact on their ability to provide care to patients.
Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, led a research team that studied the effects of massage therapy on health professionals. According to Dr. Field, a 10-minute massage study with medical faculty and staff found altered brain waves in the direction of increased relaxation and improved performance on mathematical calculations. The professionals made half the errors at twice the speed.
If a massage has such a profound effect on error reduction and productivity, it may be a self-care practice worth offering to all health professionals.
Therapeutic massage for firefighters and first aiders
Firefighters, like nurses, often work long shifts (such as 24 hours on and 48 hours off). A researcher who conducted a study for the Ohio Executive Fire Program at the Forest Park Fire Department in Ohio found that firefighters enjoyed reduced stress and increased well-being after receiving massage therapy treatments.
Those who work with injured or deceased people often experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSS) and some show signs of full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For example, in the months following the two terrorist attacks in Norway in 2011, first responders such as firefighters, police officers, and paramedics reported their experiences and any symptoms of PTSD they had experienced. More than 5% of respondents found their work “extremely strenuous”, and 1-2% showed signs of PTSD.
One research group studied 47 first responders treated by massage therapists (including shiatsu, tui-na, and acupressure) and other providers of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) after 9/11. They noted the benefits of these alternative practices, when combined with standard stress treatments such as therapy or counselling, and the growing demand for CAM services, and advocated for rapid deployment of CAM professionals to treat rapid response teams.
Massage therapy for athletes
A primary goal of massage is the treatment of muscle strain, injuries and general pain. Athletes widely use massage as a treatment and preventive care.
One study examining the effects of massage on muscle function found that massage therapy is effective in reducing late-onset muscle pain without negatively affecting muscle performance. These researchers found that massage also helps reduce inflammation, especially 3-4 days after exercise.
Another study found that massage treatments, when given immediately after exercise, showed more significant success in restoring muscle function and reducing inflammation levels than when massage treatments were delayed.
Massage Therapy for Models
Many models or people from the entertainment world attend regular massage sessions to relieve the tension produced by their profession. Stress and poor sleep can accelerate the appearance of ageing, and models can often seek alternative treatments, such as massage, to help maintain emotional and physical well-being.
One research team evaluated the anti-ageing effect of massage therapy on skin tissues, both inside and outside the body. Skin tissues responded positively to massage treatments from a mechanical device. The researchers noted increases in essential anti-ageing compounds such as procollagen-1 and tropoelastin. After the trials, the researchers further examined the effects experienced by a group of 20 women who received facial massage through a face massager. These results were also positive.
Does massage therapy help professionals?
Massage therapy can be of significant benefit to any practitioner. People from all walks of life, regardless of occupation, need stress relief.
Current research shows that professionals in high performance, competitive, and traumatic workplaces can see even more positive results from massage. No matter what a person’s profession, these therapies can be beneficial, if a person uses it regularly for physical health, relaxation, emotional well-being, or preventive care.