Massage as Medicine?

Just days after writing my first ever article about mindfulness enabling me to cope with my back pain, I injure my back. Badly. So as I lie here, mindfully accepting the pain, I start contemplating the idea of going for my first massage. Then my mind really goes for a wander, as I think more and more about researching it, writing an article on it and whether I'll actually decide to brave someone massaging my very painful body. Ok, so no meditation for me tonight as I hobble over to dig out my massage books and start learning.


The only book I can find is a 20 year old book which I think my (very supportive) mother may have bought me in her local charity shop thinking it would come in handy. Notice the trend of me not reading any of the self-help books people buy me? Ok, so the book is archaic but I give it a go.

The book defines massage as one of the best ways to treat many of our most common, modern day ailments, as well as being a 'natural tranquilizer', proven to slow the heartbeat and lower blood pressure. It also says that massage is 'easy' and apparently 'anyone can do it.' However, I am not entirely convinced that just anyone can administer massage, especially for complex health problems. The book makes no warnings about contraindications, or provide any advice about any regulatory bodies, how to find a suitable therapist and so on. I was also surprised that the book makes no mention of different types of massage, despite the fact I can name several popular types of massage off the top of my head. Yes, this book is a beginner’s guide but I still get the feeling that the subject of massage may have progressed significantly since this book was published. It's time to Google...

According to The Federation of Holistic Therapists, massage is usually something that involves working with soft tissue, in order to ease everyday stresses and muscular tension. However, there are many types of massage. Some types of massage concentrate on specific areas of the body, or problematic areas, such as Indian Head Massage. Others may use different ‘tools’ to enhance the experience, for example, hot stones, shells or oils. Whichever particular massage treatment a client chooses, the therapist can adapt the pressure and techniques, in order to suit the client's needs and preferences. The FHT asserts that massage therapies can have a positive effect on many physical, mental or emotional problems. Many professional athletes use massage before / after training and competing, in order to stay in optimum condition and aid recovery.

The potential benefits of massage are widely cited across many respected sources online. They are comprehensively outlined by Massage Therapy UK here

The NHS also offer evidence that massage can be useful for treating a range of health conditions, including; helping to reduce some of the symptoms of cancer and the side effects experienced by cancer treatment patients. According to a 2009 study, massage also can have positive effect on cancer patients' perceived quality of life.

Interestingly, NICE published guidelines in 2009 which recommends massage for the early management of persistent, non-specific back pain, although patients are advised to consult their doctors or specialist health care workers for diagnosed back conditions.

The National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society suggests that massage can be a beneficial tool which can help to manage the pain of A.S or simply to aid a patient’s relaxation. However, during periods of high inflammation, deep tissue massage on affected areas may not be suitable.

There is also a growing trend within the UK to embrace the concept of corporate massage as a low cost / high return for employers and employees. Employees can benefit from reduced stress levels, as well as feeling more energized and revitalized through their working day. Benefits to employers include; reduced staff absences from work due to stress, demonstrating a progressive and caring ethos to staff, as well as increasing staff morale and motivation, which can then increase productivity.

As per the recommendation of the FHT, I will be speaking to my Rheumatologist before booking an appointment for myself but I have enjoyed researching the subject, and feel much more enlightened about the numerous benefits of various massage therapies. Whilst I may be advised that a back massage may not be beneficial for my condition, I may well opt for one of the many alternative types of massage, just for pure enjoyment.