A soothing massage can do more than help you unwind. Massage is gaining popularity among doctors and their patients as a component of standard care for stress relief, pain, controlling blood pressure, and boosting immunity.
“Consumers are being more pro-active about their health,” says Michele Merhib, certified massage therapist and founder of Elements Therapeutic Massage, a national franchise with more than 85 studios. “And they are realizing that getting a professional massage—with the right therapist—can help keep their immune system up and running throughout cold and flu season.”
Post editors talked to the massage professional about turning to the relaxing technique for better health.
What does science say about the benefits of massage in besting colds and flu?
Recently, a study at Cedar-Sinai hospital evaluated 59 clients who received a 45-minute massage while connected to a lot of equipment. In the end, they discovered that a single massage resulted in significant biological changes: it decreased the stress hormone cortisol, increased production of lymphocytes (an important facet of the immune system response), and boosted levels of oxytocin, a hormone associated with a feeling of contentment.
What do your clients say about the benefits of massage?
Clients notice that regular massage at home or in a studio helps reduce colds and flu and improves overall health. For example, those who typically get a massage every 4th week say they feel sluggish by the end of week 5 if they miss a session. They also report that regular massage helps them sleep better.
Is any one type of massage particularly effective?
Research shows that hands-on bodywork increases circulation and promotes health—whether that touch is light, or deep. What matters most, then, is identifying the pressure that works for your body. If it’s too deep, you won’t enjoy the massage or reap its benefits.
Can you suggest a massage technique to perform at home?
I’ll give you two! One technique massages the hand with the eraser-end of a pencil. The other uses a tennis or golf ball to rub the feet.
- Turn palm up. With the eraser of a #2 pencil, apply pressure in a small circular motion at base of the thumb.
- Repeat at base of each finger. Continue to work down the lateral, or pinkie-side, of the hand.
- Travel twice around each hand.
For Feet: Reflexology teaches that points on the feet connect to the chest and lungs, so this technique may be especially good for avoiding colds and flu.
- Sit comfortably on chair or couch and place tennis or golf ball near your feet.
- Roll foot over ball, moving back and forth and side to side to cover the entire sole. Repeat with other foot. Apply enough pressure to feel a substantial, but not painful, massage. Ease up just before reaching the “hurts-so-good” threshold. As an alternative, cross the right leg over the left one. With your left hand, roll ball over right foot. Repeat on other side.
- Set aside ball. Use hands to massage each toe from base to tip.
Can you offer tips to finding the right massage therapist?
First, start your search on websites affiliated with the American Massage Therapy Association and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, especially if interested in a particular technique. These national organizations provide continuing education and liability insurance to its members as well as resources for the public.
Then, before scheduling your massage, set up a meeting to describe what’s going on in your body. You want to find a therapist who fits your needs. If you have back pain, for example, you want someone with knowledge and experience in that area.
Finally, try a half-hour massage session to gauge the therapist’s touch and communication style. Questions to consider include: Are they talking too much? Are they addressing the areas that most affect me? Do they even ask?
Remember that you don’t have to visit the same therapist. Personally, the one I choose for relaxation is not same person I see to get the knot out of my shoulder.
Part of what makes my business successful is that each Elements studio has 15-20 therapists on staff. We are going to find a therapist who can meet a particular need.