For most of us massage is considered a pampering relaxing treat without the realization that therapeutic massage can be a powerful tool used for our health and well being, as recognized by ancient cultures for thousands of years. Traditional Hawaiian massage – lomilomi - for example, was a sacred practice involving the balancing of the body (structural and functional), mind (thoughts), and spirit (love and forgiveness), to reconnect and energize the body.
“It need not cause surprise that a mere gentle handling of body muscles can have such profound effects on both body and mind. The more that is being discovered about psychosomatic diseases, and in general about the extremely complex two-way traffic between the brain and the rest of the body, the more obvious it has become that too rigid a distinction between ‘mind’ and ‘body’ is of only limited use to medical science - in fact can be a hindrance to its advance.”
– Nikolaa Stinbergen, Nobel Lecture, December 12, 1973
Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician, who lived in the fourth century BC, is considered the “Father of Medicine”, as he was the first influential physician to observe health and disease as a result of natural causes, and to establish medicine as a science, as opposed to it being the work of magic and gods. His treatments included exercise, fresh air, rest, diet and massage.
Anatripsis (to rub up) was developed by Hippocrates as a method of rubbing towards the heart to increase circulation; a technique still taught today and one of the major benefits of massage. He recommended that all physicians be trained and experienced in anatripsis to promote healing, adjust the tension at a joint, and to tighten, relax or build muscle.
The Emergence of Myofascial Dysfunction and Musculoskeletal Medicine
Dr. Janet Travell M.D. (1901–1997) graduated from Wellesley College and in 1926 earned her M.D. from Cornell University Medical College, receiving the John Metcalf Polk Memorial Award for the highest scholastic standing during her four years in medical school. Later in her career she was appointed Personal Physician to President John F. Kennedy, and President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Beginning her medical career, Dr. Travell served simultaneously on pulmonary, cardiology and general medical services and noted the major complaint she encountered with patients was pain. When doctors could not find objective evidence of disease to account for the patient’s pain, they believed it to be psychosomatic.
It was then that Dr. Travell realized that the skeletal muscles of the patients had not been examined as the source of the pain. When she examined these patients, all three groups had isolated tender spots in muscles, which when compressed reproduced the patient’s pain. She became absorbed in this unrecognized common ailment and dedicated her life to its research. Dr. Travell is generally recognized as the leading pioneer in myofascial trigger point syndrome, and few would deny she created this branch of musculoskeletal medicine.
A Powerful Partnership
Dr. David Simons, MD (1922-2010) first met Dr. Travell when she lectured about trigger points, and myofascial pain, at the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine where Simons, a research scientist, aerospace physician, and flight surgeon, was developing improved methods of measuring physiological responses to the stress of weightlessness. Intrigued by her work Dr. Simons eventually retired from the Air Force and began an informal apprenticeship under Dr. Travell. Over the next twenty years Dr. Simon’s strict attention to detail and adherence to scientific methodologies, as a research scientist, helped bring authority and rigorous objectivity to the documentation of myofascial pain, and was the driving force in getting the Travell and Simons books written.
In 1987 Dr. Simons wrote:
“Skeletal muscle is the largest organ of the body. It makes up nearly half of body weight. Muscles are the motors of the body. They work with and against the ubiquitous spring of gravity. Together with cartilage, ligaments, and intervertebral discs, they serve as the body’s mechanical shock absorbers. Each one of the approximately 500 skeletal muscle is subject to acute and chronic strain. Each muscle can develop myofascial trigger points and has its own characteristic pattern of referred pain”.
Myofascial Tissue Release and Its Benefits
Dr. Ida P. Rolf (1896- 1979) earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University and upon graduating worked for 12 years at the Rockefeller Institute, first in the Department of Chemotherapy and later in the Department of Organic Chemistry, attaining the rank of Associate. In 1927 she took a leave of absence to study mathematics and atomic physics at the Swiss Technical University in Zurich, and also studied homeopathic medicine in Geneva.
Upon her return from Europe, seeking answers to health problems, and dissatisfied with what was available at the time, she spent a decade researching, with a scientific viewpoint and her intuition; osteopathy, chiropractic medicine, yoga, The Alexander Technique, and Korzybski’s work on states of consciousness. During her research she made a fundamental discovery about the body. The same network of connective tissue, which contains and links the muscle system, can be used to reshape it when it has been moved out of alignment.
She was able to help many chronically disabled persons, who were unable to find help elsewhere, and her work eventually came to be known as Structural Integration, or more commonly - Rolfing®. The work focuses on manipulating the web-like fascia, or connective tissue in order to release stress patterns, thereby realigning and balancing the body as a whole. Dr. Rolf believed, “That the body process is not linear, it is circular; always, it is circular. One thing goes awry and its effects go on and on and on and on. A body is a web, connecting everything with everything else”.
Unique to Rolfing® is the focus on the alignment of the body in relation to the constant force of the earth’s gravity field. “The gospel of Rolfing® is that when the body gets working appropriately, the force of gravity can flow through. Then, spontaneously, the body heals itself”, said Dr. Rolf.
Myofascial release can resolve pain and discomfort from many different causes, such as trauma, injury, repetitive motion, stress, and aging. In addition, graceful movement is attained, coordination and flexibility improve, mood behavior is enhanced, and a greater sense of well-being and vitality are gained.
Medically Diagnosing Myofacial Pain Syndromes
Dr. Robert Gerwin, MD, FAAN, is a board certified neurologist, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology, a faculty member of the John Hopkins University School of Medicine, and an attending physician at the Hopkins Pain Treatment Center.
In 1994 he was the recipient of the American Academy of Pain Management’s, Janet G. Travell Soft Tissue Pain Management Award for his work. Dr. Gerwin has stated that physicians must determine the nature of the patient’s pain, if possible, to prescribe treatment. At times this can be difficult especially when the cause is obscure or the pain poorly defined. When pain occurs in a region of the body but no structural or pathological cause is found, the physician and the patient can both become frustrated. Symptomatic treatment may be given reluctantly without a firm diagnosis, and psychological causes for the pain are often given as a diagnosis, or implied to exist. In such cases muscle pain or myofascial pain should be considered.
Therapeutic Massage Can Be Beneficial For A Number of Health Conditions and Research Is Documenting The Benefits
Therapeutic massage provides many physical, mental and emotional benefits, and studies now validate what the ancients had known all along. In 1992, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the government agency that oversees and conducts medical research in the U.S., opened an Office of Alternative Medicine, which has funded numerous studies on the benefits of massage. Organizations such as the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), and the University of Miami School of Medicine’s, Touch Research Institute have published numerous studies on the beneficial effects of massage.
Dr. Tiffany Field, Ph.D., is a recipient of the American Psychological Association Boyd McAndless Distinguished Young Scientist Award and a Research Scientist Award from the National Institute of Mental Health. She is the author of over 20 books including, Infancy, The Amazing Infant, Touch, Advances in Touch, Touch Therapy, Massage Therapy Research, and Complementary and Alternative Therapies.
Researching ways to help premature babies grow, while working in neonatal intensive care units, and the mother of a premature daughter herself, Dr. Field and her colleagues discovered that if the babies sucked on nipples, while tube feeding, they gained more weight. The team figured that if stimulating the mouth helped, then touching them all over their body would work even better, which it did. An added benefit was that the massaged babies got to go home six days earlier than the babies in the control group.
Inspired, Dr. Field established and became Director of the Touch Research Institute (TRI), at the University of Miami School of Medicine, in 1992, which is the first center in the world solely devoted to the study of touch and its application in science and complimentary medicine. Having authored and co-authored over 400 journal papers, Dr. Field is recognized as one of the most influential and premier experts and advocate for touch research.
Dr. Field and her colleagues have conducted studies on numerous areas of health documenting the benefits of massage, which include ADHD, anxiety, attention improvement, autism, bulimia, burns, cancer, carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, dermatitis, development delays, diabetes, cerebral palsy, fibromyalgia, immune function and healing, lower back pain, migraines, pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, pregnancy, and spinal-cord injury.
They also found, in all the studies, that massage increases the neurotransmitter serotonin, something that many anti-depressant drugs do, as well as decreasing stress hormone levels. This is found to slow the heart rate, reduce blood pressure and block the nervous system’s pain receptors. Massage was also found to increase delta waves, linked with deep sleep, and increase performance on intelligence tests for preschool children, and mathematical calculations in adults.
“Just adding massage makes such an incredible difference,” Field said. “In everything we've done, massage is significantly effective. There's not a single condition we've looked at, including cancer, that hasn't responded positively to massage.”
And, she argues that the Western world, including the medical profession, has marginalized and minimized its importance. Although, increasingly, physicians are taking notice of massage and contacting the Touch Research Institute to get advice on setting up massage studies.
Researchers at the Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle, WA found that massage has more benefits than other common complimentary treatments, including chiropractic therapy, and acupuncture. Plus, the benefits may last as long as a year, after just a few treatments, says Partap Khalsa, Ph.D., a chiropractor and a program officer at the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
“If people say massage works because it makes you feel good…excuse me! Massage works because it changes your whole physiology.” - Dr. Tiffany Field
Standing On The Shoulders Of Others To See Further
Alfred Korzbski (1879–1950), mathematician and scientist, described what he called “time binding”, as being the unique human ability to pass ‘knowing’ from one generation to the next, and the capacity of human beings to conduct their lives in the ever-increasing light of inherited wisdom. We owe much to those who have researched, worked diligently, and passed down their knowledge in this field for thousands of years.
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