The problem is it can be subjective and difficult to measure, said Deborah McIntyre, a member of the massage therapy team based at the Glen Sather Sports Medicine Clinic. Massage has a mix of benefits for both mind and body, depending on the varying needs of the client, she said. It’s specific to what the situation and problem is. It could be massage for a musculo skeletal condition, pain relief, relaxation therapy; the question is, have we fulfill the client’s request for a treatment to address their concerns.

Major physiological system

The key to that, McIntyre added, lies in connecting with four of the body’s major physiological systems during massage therapy and “trying to manipulate the soft tissue to obtain the favourable results the client desires. The first is the neuromuscular system; which includes all the muscles in the body and the nerves serving them. In this capacity, massage can treat muscles that are either in spasm (too short and tight) or flaccid (too stretched and weak), McIntyre said.
The second part of the body to benefit from a good massage treatment is connective tissue like ligaments, tendons, cartilage and scar tissue. A massage can increase range of motion in a joint or smooth and realign disorganized scar tissue, explain McIntyre. The circulatory system also benefits from massage by increasing blood flow to the tissues; which aids in delivering oxygen and getting rid of metabolic waste to promote healing.

Used with caution, massage can also help lymphatic drainage for mastectomy patients; also stimulate better breathing for people with limited lung capacity or other respiratory conditions. It also improves circulation of cerebral spinal fluid, which could hold potential for treating concussions, McIntyre believes.

The autonomic nervous system

Massage also helps the autonomic nervous system; which regulates sympathetic responses in the body like heart rate and arousal. A massage helps people come down from heightened stress and anxiety, explaine McIntyre. They added the benefits of massage also linger after the appointment is done. The physiological experience definitely has a lasting effect. Massages can’t solve everything, but they can be very successful when used appropriately.

More research into measuring the effects of massage on the body’s four physiologic systems will further help pinpoint its benefits, she added. Some studies have shown it also holds potential for people with dementia and Parkinson’s disease; so she noted, because soft massage can decrease aggressiveness and anxiety.

The massage therapist should assess the patient, get their consent and then develop a plan that could also recommend hydrotherapy and other treatments. A skilled massage therapist will have many tools to get favourable results without causing further damage. Relaxation massages are good for treating minor aches and reducing anxiety, McIntyre said.
It’s a softer touch, and you’re trying to provide a feeling of well-being as the patient starts to relax. However, she added, massage treatment may not be appropriate for people with certain conditions that could require first aid or medical attention due to strokes, diabetic comas, systemic infections, high fevers, or uncontrolled high blood pressure and bleeding.