I see my role as a Massage therapist not to "fix" or "treat" problems, but it's simply to deliver the Massage and leave the healing to the client. However, I'm also fascinated by the increasing body of evidence about the effects Massage and Touch therapies. The effect for one person may not be the same for the next (which is why if you book in for a Massage with me I won't promise to create any particular effect but instead will work with you to come up with a treatment which feels right for you so you can focus entirely on taking what you need from it) but where a significant majority of a trial group experience a benefit I find it takes my own experiences with individual clients to a much broader scale - as well as reinforcing the potency of Massage.
So, taking a look at just one of these areas that has had a range of studies looking into it...Massage and Pain.
The old adage of "rubbing it better" is one example of the truth of the power of Touch being deeply embedded - in fact, "rubbing it better" was quite possibly the first therapy on the planet. People have done this for millennia because it actually releases chemicals that help reduce pain. And this 2008 study explores just that:
MASSAGE REDUCES PAIN AND ANXIETY
A randomised controlled trial to assess the effectiveness of a single session of nurse administered Massage for short term relief of chronic non-malignant pain. Seers K, Crichton N, Martin J, Coulson K, Carroll D. BMC Nursing July 2008
At the RCN Research Institute, School of Health & Social Studies, University of Warwick, a simple but effective trial took place which proves very effectively that Massage provides pain relief potential. The aim of this study was to determine the effectiveness of a single session of nurse-administered Massage for the short term relief of chronic non-malignant pain and anxiety.
METHOD: A randomised controlled trial design was used, in which the patients were assigned to a
Massage or control group. The Massage group received a 15 minute manual Massage and the
control group a 15 minute visit to talk about their pain. Adult patients attending a pain relief unit with a diagnosis of chronic pain whose pain was described as moderate or severe were eligible for the study. An observer blind to the patients' treatment group carried out assessments immediately before (baseline), after treatment and 1, 2, 3 and 4 hours later.
ASSESSMENT: Pain was assessed using 100 mm visual analogue scale and the McGill Pain Questionnaire. Pain Relief was assessed using a five point verbal rating scale. Anxiety was assessed with the Spielberger short form State-Trait Anxiety Inventory.
RESULTS: 101 patients were randomised and evaluated, 50 in the Massage and 51 in the control group. There were no statistically significant differences between the groups at baseline interview.
Patients in the Massage but not the control group had significantly less pain compared to baseline immediately after and one hour post treatment. The difference in mean pain reduction at one
hour post treatment between the Massage and control groups is 5.47 mm to 24.70 mm. Patients in the Massage but not the control group also had a statistically significant reduction in anxiety compared to baseline immediately after and at 1 hour post treatment.
CONCLUSION: Massage is effective in the short term for chronic pain of moderate to severe intensity.
Looking more broadly, the UK's NHS National Institute for Health & Clinical Excellence (NICE) issued guidelines in 2009 identifying that it considers a course of manual therapy, including Massage, to be an effective treatment of non-specific back pain. This view of Massage and pain relief is backed up by an independent survey carried out for the American Massage Therapy Association which found that 28% of people who had had a Massage in the past year felt it gave them the "greatest relief from pain" - the same proportion (28%) as those who believed medication offered the greatest relief.
BENEFITS OF THERAPEUTIC MASSAGE FOR CHRONIC NECK PAIN
Sherman KJ, Cherkin DC, Hawkes RJ, et al. Randomized trial of therapeutic Massage for chronic neck pain. Clinical Journal of Pain. 2009;25(3):233–238.
In a study from the US, 64 adults with neck pain persisting for at least 12 weeks were randomly assigned to receive either Massage or a self-care book. The Massage group had up to 10 treatments over a 10-week period, provided by licensed practitioners who used a variety of common clinical
Massage techniques and also made typical self-care suggestions. The participants were interviewed to assess function (using the Neck Disability Index), symptom bothersomeness and other measures at 4, 10, and 26 weeks.
After 10 weeks, the Massage group was more likely than the self-care-book group to have clinically significant improvement in function and symptoms. At 26 weeks, the Massage group tended to be more likely to report improvement in function but not in specific symptoms. For both function and symptoms,
mean differences between the two groups were strongest at 4 weeks and not evident by 26 weeks. At all followup points, the Massage group was more likely than the self-care-book group to report global improvement ratings of "better" or "much better." At 26 weeks, medication use had increased 14 percent for the self-care-book group but had not changed for the Massage group. There were no serious
adverse experiences reported.
The researchers concluded that therapeutic Massage is safe and may have benefits for treating chronic neck pain, at least in the short term. They recommended studies to determine optimal Massage treatment, as well as larger, more comprehensive studies to follow patients for at least 1 year.
This is but a brief taste of the research that has already been carried out into Massage and Pain and, as with any research, carries with it limitations. But for a therapy which can often be considered simply "skin polishing" I'm so grateful to the people out there dedicating their lives to carrying out these studies. My own personal experience as a therapist and client tells me the power of Massage to provide pain relief is very real, but I so value the validation from outside my own little treatment room, because if a study provides a doorway for a Massage & Touch Sceptic to give a treatment a try, all the better!