Why is research important?

Although massage and complementary approaches to health have been used throughout history for the benefit of well-being for thousands of years and there is much anecdotal evidence to their efficacy; there are few well designed, controlled studies. We may feel relaxed and sleep better after a massage or other holistic treatment, but scientific evidence adds validity to their safety and efficiency.

As we are all aware the government has committed to developing a NHS that is responsive to the needs and wishes of patients and one that enables patients to play an active role in managing their health conditions. As many of those patients are unhappy managing chronic conditions with medications the focus is turning to more holistic approaches; there are many complementary therapies and alternative medicines (CAM) available in the UK, unfortunately not all NHS trusts offer them as an optional extra to treatment. However; the fact that some do indicates that there is evidence for CAM to be offered as an adjunct to mainstream medical management.

Stress and Disease

The effects of stress can be devastating to a persons health; the following research into stress and disease is described as “note-worthy”

“There is an increased risk for heart disease for individuals experiencing either acute or chronic stress (Krantz, Sheps, Carney, & Natelson, 2000; O.Connor, C.M. Gurbel, P.A, & Serebruany, V.L., 2000). These researchers have shown that stress increases platelet activation, which is a cause of heart attacks. Other correlations are pointed out between stress and gastrointestinal disorders, chronic pain and diabetes (Jacobs, 2001). It has also been confirmed that stress is responsible for making one more vulnerable for catching the common cold (Cohen & Miller, 2001). Chronic stress has also been found to have devastating effects on the brain (McEwen, 2000). It decreases the size of the hippocampus, which impairs memory.

Certain life experiences may be very stressful. Loss of a child, loss of a spouse, and divorce can be devastating to an individual. However, any stressor will stimulate and elevate enzymes in the adrenal glands to produce the major stress hormones, which are epinephrine, norepinephrine, and adrenal corticoids. These hormones are responsible for activating biochemical changes in the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems, which affect all organ systems (Blauer-Wu, 2002).”

The Relaxation Response

“Pioneered by Herbert Benson, M.D.(1976), head of the “Mind-body Medical Institute” at New England Deaconess Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Division of Behavioral Medicine, attests to its scientific validation for stress reduction.

Dr.Benson has shown scientific evidence for the physiological changes that occur during the relaxation response. There is a decrease in heart rate, and a rapid decrease in blood lactate that is associated with lower levels of anxiety. Blood pressure is also lowered in persons with hypertension. Alpha brain waves, associated with feelings of well-being and relaxation, increase in frequency and intensity. These physical changes are a sign of decreased activity of the sympathetic nervous system, indicating a sense of calmness and low anxiety. The relaxation response gives individuals control over their physiological actions, giving them generalized self-control and peacefulness.”

Mind-Body Interventions (MBI’s) that activate this response include relaxation, aromatherapy, hypnosis, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback, meditation, hypnosis, tai chi, yoga, dance, exercise, music and the placebo effect. Available from: http://spectrum.diabetesjournals.org/content/14/4/213.full

Meditation, imagery, therapeutic touch and humour are all beneficial in activating the relaxation response. Available from: http://www.altjn.com/perspectives/stress.pdf

The “Relaxation Response” is recognised medically as the opposite to the “fight and flight” response: Benson (2010). BENSON, H. (2010) Relaxation Revolution: Enhance Your Personal Health Through the Science and Genetics of Mind Body Healing New York: Scribner


Bell J. “Massage therapy helps to increase range of motion, decrease pain and assist in healing a client with low back pain and sciatica symptoms.” Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 2008 12(3):281-9. Available from: http://altmedicine.about.com/od/massage/a/value_of_massage.htm

According to the Parkinson’s Disease Society; small studies have shown that massage therapy has shown some improvement in motor symptoms of sufferers.

Reuters (2010): Massage may help lift depression. A report in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reviewed medical literature to find out if massage therapy was an effective treatment for depression. Dr. Wen-Hsuan Hou of I-Shou University in Kaohsiung, Taiwan and colleagues cited 17 studies which led the researchers to conclude that massage therapy had “potentially significant effects” in alleviating symptoms of depression.

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