Why everyone should regularly receive a full-body massage
By: Catherine Nelson, LMT, CST, CKTS
For my long-time patients, my students and anyone I've mentored to date, as well as my colleagues, this will be a nearly complete turn around on my previously held stance on full-body massage in general. But I've learned new information that has put this topic of discussion front and center, and made it a top priority.
In the early days of my massage practice, I focused heavily on full-body massages. Partially because that was the only thing I was really good at so early in my career, partly because that was the easiest service to get people to come in for, and in small part because I liked the idea of working on the whole body in one appointment.
In those early days, fresh out of school, my head was filled with all the textbook information about the benefits of massage, especially those relating to circulatory and metabolic effects, both of which happen in huge measures with full-body, Swedish-style massage. And because massage awareness among the general public is so poor (and by that I mostly mean limited in scope), a full-body, Swedish-style massage is what most people think of when they think of "massage."
Over the years, my practice became increasingly focused on specialty work, causing me to leave Swedish and full-body massage almost entirely. During this time, I became more and more educated and experienced in focused, technical work, seeing incredible results when sessions could be spent in a small, targeted area of the body. As this happened, I began to elevate the importance of this work over the work of general, full-body massage
I recently watched the documentary bOObs: The War on Women's Breasts. As a side note, if you haven't seen this documentary, I would highly encourage all women to watch it. However, this post isn't specifically about that information.
In this documentary, thermography is discussed, which is a technology I wasn't familiar with. A thermogram is basically an infrared camera used to take images of the body. And this is the point to discuss in this post.
Blood Flow & Disease
Here is a thermogram image of the body:
The quality of the image is not important to our discussion here. The dark blue spots are the "coldest" and the red spots are the "hottest." As you can see here, there are degree fluctuations all over this man's body.
This technology is being used to evaluate women for breast cancer, and it can help to discover the beginnings of the disease a full seven to ten years before traditional methods would ever be able to see anything. Those problem spots show up as areas of poor blood flow, poor circulation.
And this was when it struck me.
Massage = Blood Flow
I already knew this, of course. It's my main focus in my injury work and my sports work with athletes. Focusing on increasing blood flow and circulation causes the body to heal faster, rid itself of troublesome waste, and--hello--repair itself.
Seeing those images, it just suddenly clicked for me. Those women need breast massage. If those areas of poor circulation are left unbothered for years, disease will develop. In this case, cancer. But the same principle applies to the whole body, and to most disease.
The body is infinitely capable of healing itself, provided it has all the elements it requires to do so and there are no barriers in the way. An area of fluid stagnation is a barrier. Remove the barrier, I'm willing to be the farm you can remove the problem. If not entirely, than significantly reduce it.
Here's another image:
That area of reduce circulation on the left ankle and foot is concerning. And it would be ideally treated with manual tissue manipulation such as massage therapy.
Blood Flow = Health
This is an inarguable position. Massage therapists may disagree among themselves about the best techniques, and massage therapists may argue with Western medicine about the legitimacy of massage therapy in general, but everyone understands that blood flow equates to healthy tissue and the healing of injuries and illnesses.
The earliest uses of massage therapy were for increased circulatory benefit. Over the last five thousand years, that benefit remains one of the primary objectives of massage. It is probably the single most researched effect of massage, and the best understood.
There is absolutely no question that with massage therapy we can free restrictions to increase blood flow, manually move the body's fluids to facilitate blood and lymph movement, and cause a cascading effect of benefits inside the body as a result of that fluid movement.
What that means in plain terms is that we can directly influence the body's ability to maintain health. We can directly stop some diseases before they ever get going.
Benefits Of Full-Body Massage
- Increase oxytocin levels
- Increase dopamine
- Increase serotonin
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Lower cortisol levels
- Lower norepinephrine
- Lower epinephrine
- Treat on a physical as well as mental/emotional level
- Bring balance to the entire system--inside and out
- Increase mental focus and acuity
- Increase cognitive function
- Decrease anxiety
- Decrease/Eliminate pain
- Interrupt pain cycles
- Cause release of endorphins
- Decrease recovery time after physical activity
- Reduce muscle soreness and stiffness
- Accelerate healing of damaged tissue
- Relax and lengthen tight or short muscles
- Increase circulation
- Manually support and expedite circulation
- Increase flexibility
- Break up and prevent adhesions between tissues
- Reduce muscle restrictions and adhesions
- Prevent stiffness, pain, dysfunction, and immobility
- Improve muscle tone
- Return muscles to normal, resting tone
- Prevent muscle atrophy
- Help reserve and maintain muscle tone
- Strengthen the immune system
- Increase white blood cells
- Manually flush lymph system
- Notice how many of these have to do with circulation. Nearly all of them. That's how important circulation is to the health of the body.
Regular Full-Body Massage
For as long as I've been in the business, the standard recommendation is for everyone to receive one massage per month on a ongoing basis. Most of the industry is doing the same today.
I'm not entirely sure how or when this began, or what the basis of it truly is, but I suspect it has more to do with marketing than with health.
For most of modern history, massage has been viewed in this country as a luxury for rich people. It's really something to compare that view to that of the rest of the world over the last five thousand years. In every culture, in every country, and in every era of human history, massage therapy has been viewed as important health care, both in prevention and in treating problems.
Because of the stigma here in America, millions of people turn to pills and surgeries when things get bad enough, or go untreated all together because traditional medicine can't help them.
Massage is too expensive
This is the most common belief in our modern American culture. But here's something to think about.
On average at the time of this writing, the cost for a carpal tunnel surgery is $6,900, with the out-of-pocket cost being about $1,000. Each year, about 30% of carpal tunnel surgeries fail. Imagine being stuck with a permanent alteration to your body, a $1,000 bill, and still having the same pain you did before the surgery.
Compare that to receiving treatment by a skilled, knowledgable massage therapist. Based on the rates Del Sol charges at the time of this writing, the same patient could have received five massage treatments for $385, and most likely would have been pain free after the third or fourth appointment. The problem most likely would have been resolved after the fifth.
How is it cheaper to have surgery?
Let's examine my hypothesis that regular massage therapy could prevent some types of cancer. At the time of this writing, it is estimated the out-of-pocket cost for most women to treat stage 0 breast cancer is about $48,500. (Stage 0 is the earliest stage, which means this cost would increase dramatically the more advanced the cancer is.)
For $48,500, that woman could receive 646 massages at the rates Del Sol charges at the time of this writing. That is equal to one massage per month for nearly 54 years.
Umm . . . Right. Let's all just chew on that for a minute.
The current yearly spending on custom coffee is over $2,300 for women and $1,900 for men. The national average rate for a 60-minute massage is $60. At the time of this writing, the average rate in our area is about $75, which is also Del Sol's current rate. A massage a month at $60 each is $720. A massage a month at $75 is $900.
That means for most women, they could skip the coffee less than half the time and get a massage each month instead.
So for nearly everyone using the excuse that massage is too expensive, I encourage you to evaluate your priorities. It is totally okay for you to prioritize coffee and dinner out over regular preventative healthcare such as massage therapy, but if that is the case, let's call a spade a spade. That isn't a case of being unable to afford it. That is a case of choosing to spend your money on other things.
The last thing I'll say here is that choosing to write off massage because you "can't afford it" or more accurately, you don't want to prioritize it, it really silly. I've been in practice for almost twenty year now. Not a single year has gone by that I haven't traded or bartered with someone for services. Nearly all of the practitioners I know, be it massage therapists or acupuncturists or private-practice physical therapists, do the same thing. We all need someone to help with things around the office, to do things we're not good at or that we simply don't have time for.
So if you are serious about prioritizing your health and you legitimately can't come up with $60-75 a month for massage work, have you approached anyone about a trade? If not, it's time to start thinking outside the box.
Does it have to be once a month?
The short answer is "no." Receiving a full-body massage even every other month would be hugely beneficial to your health. And for others, depending on many factors that should be discussed with a skilled and knowledgeable therapist, it may be better for someone to receive more often than once a month.
This is an individual consideration that would take into account a variety of factors, not the least of which being your current state of health and your health goals. If you're a patient at Del Sol, this is a discussion to have at your next appointment. If you don't have an appointment scheduled, it's time to do that.
If you're not a patient of Del Sol, but you live in our area, we'd love to have you come in for treatment. If you live outside our area and you're established with a therapist, have this discussion with him or her. If you don't get an informed answer that you understand and agree with, it may be time to find a new therapist. Your health is too precious to leave in the hands of someone who doesn't know what they're doing.
What about if you're in treatment for something else?
If you're being treated for pain, a specific injury, anxiety, or something else, and at this time you are coming in for regular, frequent massage treatments, it is reasonable to wait on the full-body massage. At some point during that treatment process, you should receive a full-body massage anyway. This usually happens toward the end of the treatment phase as we're transitioning into a maintenance phase. From this point, it becomes a natural transition to move into regular full-body work.
I do not recommend trying to cram focused treatment work into a session in which a full-body massage is expected. Let the therapist focus on the problem. Save the full-body for a stand-alone session where that can be the only focus. You'll receive a better, more thorough full-body massage and will likely enjoy it more anyway.
This has been a reminder for me to go back to some of the basics. I like the technical work. I like solving the problems. I like focused treatment sessions.
But the enormous impact on the body with full-body massages focused on increasing circulation of blood and lymph, and the importance of that kind of work, can't be understated.
Receive full-body massages regularly. Prioritize that as part of your essential preventative care. I cannot conclusively say regular massage work
Catherine Nelson, LMT, CST, CKTS, is a long-time massage therapist with a long and varied background in Western medicine. She specializes in CranioSacral Therapy for PTSD and anxiety, medical massage therapy for injury rehabilitation, and sports massage therapy for all phases of training and competition. She can be reached directly at Catherine@DelSolCommunityWellness.com.