Massages are sometimes seen as the ultimate in self-care and relaxation. You're literally putting yourself into someone else’s hands for 20 minutes or more, allowing them to make you feel amazing.
Some people come away feeling relaxed, calm, and happy, which is the perfect antidote for the stresses of life. What about the health side of things, though? Are massages good for you?
After all, there are cheaper ways to improve your emotional state and feel better. Massages would be even more powerful if they helped with your physical health too. And, just like baths and saunas, the potential is there. However, there are some risks we need to think about as well.
Are Massages Good For Your Health?
- Benefits Of Massages
- Problems With Massages
- Types Of Massage
- Which Type Of Massage Is Best?
- Final Thoughts
Benefits Of Massages
Massage is generally used as a complementary or integrative approach to health. This means that massage isn’t likely to cure any conditions, but can be part of a broader treatment approach.
When used in this way, massage can be a surprisingly powerful tool, one that’s been linked to many benefits.
Calming And Destressing
The most obvious feature of massage is that it is soothing. It helps many people to calm down, to unwind, to let go of stress in a way that they can’t easily do on their own.
This feature alone is incredibly powerful.
After all, modern life is fast paced and is packed full of noise and activity. It’s very easy to end up overstimulated and to struggle to get any time to yourself.
Having a massage forces you to slow down and relax. Doing so regularly could help with your stress levels too, helping to keep you calmer and more centered in your life.
These effects are even relevant to your physical health, as chronic stress can lead to a variety of health issues. Finding ways to decrease your stress regularly, like through massage and baths may help to keep you healthy.
Could Promote Heart Health
Some theories suggest that massage may be relevant to your heart as well, perhaps even lowering your risk of heart disease.
This effect is partly due to the way that massages can improve circulation. They can also decrease your blood pressure and heart rate. Even the relaxation effect could be relevant, as it helps to lower your stress levels and makes you feel less tense.
Relevant For Pain
Massage is often used as a way to treat pain as well, including for people with fibromyalgia, lower back pain, nerve pain, and more.
Evidence in this field isn’t as strong as you might expect. So, there are no guarantees that massage will help with your pain. It could even make things worse.
Despite this, many people experience some degree of pain relief from massage, so it may be worth trying for yourself.
It Involves Human Contact
Physical contact between people is important for mental health, helping us to feel cared for, loved, and connected. Many of us get this contact through romantic relationships, along with hugs from friends and family members.
However, people who spend a lot of time alone mightn’t be getting much physical connection. Massages are one way of finding that physical human connection in a safe and supportive environment, one that generally has no sexual overtones.
Could Help With Specific Conditions
Massage is sometimes thought to help with various health conditions, including anxiety, depression, digestive disorders, headaches, insomnia, and more. These benefits are often related to the way that massage decreases stress and tension, an outcome that could then improve health in a variety of ways.
The potential for improvement is certainly there, particularly for people who feel stressed and overrun. However, you’ll need to take a leap of faith, as such benefits haven’t been proven.
It's also best to see massage as an addition to whatever treatment you’re working on, not an alternative. You could also talk to your doctor to find out whether massage is safe and realistic for your needs.
Can Make You Feel Better
Beyond everything else, massages simply feels good, often leaving you happier and less stressed than when you walked in. This feature alone makes them worth it. After all, most of us need more healthy feel goods in our lives, especially when things are busy and stressful.
Problems With Massages
While massages come with a whole host of benefits, there are some serious risks to consider too. Most of these come from too much pressure and from being massaged by someone who is inexperienced.
Side Effects Are Common
Despite being seen as safe, minor side effects from massage are incredibly common. Many people experience at least some kind of mild discomfort in their muscles in the day following a massage.
Massages can also cause injuries, like bruises or aggregate old injuries. Most such problems are minor and may be barely noticeable, but they do still happen.
The risk may be higher if you have a massage therapist who doesn’t know what they’re doing or one that refuses to listen to your requests. Some customers have had such experiences, where the massage therapist actually causes pain and refuses to be gentler.
Deep Tissue Massage Is Riskier
If you’re getting a gentle massage, then any side effects should be minor. More serious side effects are still possible, but they don’t happen often.
Deep tissue massage is another story. This massage technique is more intense than most others and involves considerable pressure.
This type of massage can lead to pain that lasts long after the session, increased inflammation, headaches, and even injuries.
Not Suitable For Every Situation
Massages also aren’t a good fit for every person. For example, you don’t want to have a massage when your skin is healing or when you have burns. Similarly, people with fractures or severe osteoporosis should avoid most massages.
Some blood conditions can be a problem as well, such as deep vein thrombosis or bleeding disorders.
The simplest solution is to talk to your doctor if you have any health condition or are taking any form of medication. They’ll be able to advise you on whether massage is suitable and whether some forms of massage are better for you than others.
They’re Often Expensive
Massages aren’t cheap, especially not when the person doing them is highly experienced.
There aren’t any guarantees either. You might shell out $50 or more for a session, just to find that you’re not at all satisfied afterward. This is frustrating, given that there are plenty of cheaper relaxing options, like taking a bath.
Once you’ve found a massage therapist that you like, your experience should get more consistent – but this takes time and you might go through multiple bad experiences before you find the right fit for you.
You May Choose Massage Over Medical Care
Massage isn’t medical care. It won’t treat serious conditions, nor should it be your first port of call for dealing with pain.
Unfortunately, it’s far too easy to over-rely on massage, as it seems like a benign and relaxing approach. Some massage therapists also have an alternative medicine focus, so they may not take medical symptoms seriously.
To avoid this problem, it’s critical to talk to your doctor about any symptoms you experience, including the ones that happen during and after a massage. This way any health problems can be identified early on, before they become serious.
Types Of Massage
Massage comes in infinite variations. Often, you’re wearing loose fitting clothing and either sitting in a chair or lying on a table. Other times, you may partially or fully undress, allowing the massage therapist to work on your skin directly.
Some massages involve oil, others don’t. Sometimes there is music. Sometimes it is silent.
The massage should feel comfortable and relaxing most of the time. There may be moments of discomfort, like when there’s a ‘knot’ in a muscle, but the experience should never be painful. If there is any pain, then it’s important to speak out.
There are also specific types of massage, with their own characteristics.
Swedish massage is a great place to begin, as the pressure is light to firm and there are plenty of long strokes. You often end up with a relaxing massage that isn’t likely to stress you out.
Sports massage. This massage style uses similar techniques to other types of massage, but there’s an emphasis on the parts of your body that are under strain when you’re exercising. Practitioners will tailor the massage to your specific needs, as different types of exercise vary in their impacts on your body.
Percussion massage. This unusual style uses a massage gun, which can create a more powerful effect and have even more benefits for your muscles. However, because this is a more intense massages style, it also comes with more risks. It’s also not something you should practice on yourself. Look for an experienced massage therapist instead.
Deep tissue massage. Here no massage gun is used, but there’s still an emphasis on working deeper in your body. Doing so often creates an intense experience. While there are many potential benefits, this is another massage type to be careful with, as there’s significant risk of harm too.
Hot stone massage. This massage approach relies on heated stones. It’s a surprisingly relaxing form of massage that can be powerful for reducing muscle tension and helping with pain.
Which Type Of Massage Is Best?
The various types of massage all come with benefits. For the most part, you can run with whichever type you enjoy the most.
However, it’s important to be cautious with the more intense options, like deep tissue massage or percussion massage. These massage types are less relaxing, as they involve more pressure. In fact, they’re often uncomfortable or even slightly painful.
While such massage types can still provide benefits when practiced well, they’re also riskier than other types of massage. They’re more likely to cause injuries or cause internal bleeding.
The most important thing is to be sensitive to yourself. Pay attention to how you feel after different types of massage and look for ones where you feel the best.
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want either. You’re the client. You get to choose whether the massage is gentle or firm, along with which parts of your body they focus on.
If your massage practitioner won’t listen (and some won’t), then it’s time to find a new one. Don’t stop until you find one that will truly listen to your needs.
It’s also important to check in with your doctor about which types of massage are safe and beneficial for you. For example, people taking blood thinners should steer away from intense approaches, including deep tissue massage, as they are at higher risk for internal bleeding.
Massages can be amazing for relaxation and they may even offer some physical health benefits. However, they’re best seen as a complement to other health approaches. They're also not likely to dramatically change their health on their own.
Don’t be naïve either. Despite seeming benign, massages can sometimes lead to injury or put your health at risk.
This is why it’s important to look for massage therapists that know what they’re doing and who don’t use too much pressure. Don’t be afraid to speak up if something doesn’t feel right. Doing so is how you protect yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Often Should I Get A Massage?
The ideal massage frequency will depend on your level of tension and your needs. However, getting massages every one, two, or three weeks is a popular recommendation. You might also need to adjust this based on finances, like getting a massage every month or even every two months.
You can get multiple massages a week, if you feel the need. It’s best not to have the sessions back-to-back though. Try leaving a couple of days between them instead, especially if you have a deep tissue massage. Leaving this gap gives your body time to recover.
Do Men Get Massages?
Women get massages much more often than men, perhaps because massages seem pretty feminine. However, men get just as many benefits from massage as men. Some may even see more benefits if they’re in physically intensive roles and have aching muscles.
Thankfully, male stereotypes are starting to drop away and more men are beginning to have massages. There’s no reason why not, as massages are generally professional rather than sexual and many massage therapists will serve male or female clients without a problem.
Why Do Massages Feel Good?
Massages provide us with an immediate endorphin response. This is partly linked to the therapist’s touch and the pressure they’re applying. As humans, we naturally respond to touch in this way.
Massage can also help to soothe the body, reduce tension, and decrease blood pressure. These effects also help us to feel good.
Finally, some people feel good simply because they’re taking time out for themselves. They’re spending half an hour or an hour where nothing needs to be done and worries can all take a back seat.
Are Massages Covered By Insurance?
Despite all the benefits, many insurance companies don’t cover massage, nor does Medicare and Medicaid in most situations. This is partly because massage is still considered an alternative therapy.
You may have some success with a Medicare Advantage plan or with private insurance. Even here, you’re likely to need a doctor’s referral to say that massage is crucial for your health.
Are Massages Supposed To Hurt?
Most of the time, massages shouldn’t be painful. They’re typically a gentle process instead, one that helps your body feel much better.
If your massages are regularly painful, your massage therapist may be using too much pressure or a poor technique. Some massage therapists will recognize this from your body posture and change their approach. Other times you may need to actually tell your therapist that the massage is hurting.
The main exception here is deep tissue massage. This can cause more discomfort than others, as it is working on relieving tense muscles. But, even here, the sensations are often described as ‘good pain’, rather than a ‘clench your teeth’ type of pain.
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