Stress, Anxiety, and Massage

Why get a massage? According to a survey conducted by the American Massage Therapy Association, 28% of Americans who get a massage do so for relaxation and stress reduction. That’s a lot of people in the US who feel strongly enough about their own experiences with massage for stress reduction to put their money on it. But aside from individual feelings, what exactly do we know about massage and how it relates to stress and anxiety? And what does the research have to say about that?

What is stress? What is anxiety?

Stress is your body’s response to demanding circumstances. Working late hours? You’ll experience stress. Prepping for a big competition? Definitely stressful. Toddler throwing a tantrum? That’s no doubt stressful for both of you. When you’re stressed, your blood pressure goes up, your breathing and heart rate quicken, and you feel jittery and distracted. All this is useful if your stress is a result of the big race you’re running, when you can put that energy to good use. It’s less helpful if your stressor is a friend in need of patience and comfort.

People who regularly put themselves into stressful circumstances on purpose (public speakers, for example) often learn how to channel that stress response for their own benefit, but it takes practice. When stress goes from being an occasional experience to a chronic condition, health problems result.

Anxiety (not to be confused with anxiety disorders, see below), on the other hand, isn’t necessarily a reaction to circumstances. Most often, it’s related to anticipated future or potential stress. As with stress, anxiety isn’t necessarily an immediate health problem, although it’s unpleasant. Feeling a bit anxious about an upcoming exam, the imminent birth of a baby, or the quality of a presentation can give you a push to prepare as best you can. But anxiety becomes unhelpful when it is overwhelming, requiring you to focus all your energy on surviving your immediate feelings rather than addressing their roots. Pacing, nail biting, trembling, and vomiting are signs that anxiety is veering into unhelpful territory. Test anxiety, social anxiety, and decision anxiety are all common forms of anxiety.

Anxiety disorder is the general name given to chronic, excessive anxiety in response to everyday situations. Anxiety disorders include

  • Generalized anxiety disorder: excessive anxiety in general.
  • Social anxiety disorder: anxiety disorder related to interacting with others.
  • Separation anxiety disorder: anxiety disorder related to separation from specific people, often parents or caregivers.
  • Phobias: subset of anxiety disorders characterized by persistent fear of a specific thing.
  • Panic disorder: anxiety disorder characterized by reoccurring panic attacks.

Many people discover that they have more than one type of anxiety disorder, or deal with anxiety combined with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, alcoholism, or substance abuse. While stress and anxiety are more general terms that you can probably identify in yourself, anxiety disorders can only be diagnosed by a physician.

What kinds of studies have been done on massage for anxiety and stress?

Stress:

While stress levels are largely subjective, studies focused on pain, sleep, and other outcomes often find that patients report decreased stress levels as one of the major benefits they receive from massage therapy treatments. In one study on pain in acute care settings, more than half of the patients mentioned relaxation in their survey responses. One described the experience of receiving massage as “very helpful, soothing, comforting, and relaxing,” which is notable considering how stressful being hospitalized is. Improved emotional well-being and sleep were also mentioned by many patients and nurses, both of which are good indicators of stress reduction.

Anxiety:

Most studies done on massage and anxiety have focused on specific populations. One study found significant improvement in both state (long term) and trait (immediate) anxiety in children with cancer and blood diseases who received Swedish massage. Another measured the physiological responses to stress (blood pressure and pulse) in hospitalized children and found similar results. Cardiac care patients were the focus of another study. Again, massage was shown to be helpful at reducing anxiety. Still, larger and broader studies on the matter still need to be done.

Anxiety disorders:

There have been relatively few studies on massage therapy for anxiety disorders specifically, and those that have been done have been small and generally lacking good control groups. One randomized controlled trial found that massage therapy was significantly helpful for people with generalized anxiety disorder, but no more so than thermotherapy (relaxing with hot towels placed in different locations on the body) or being in a special relaxation room with no additional treatment. This study only measured improvement over multiple weeks, and not feelings of anxiety in the short term, before and after treatments. Because this study didn’t have a no-treatment control group, they weren’t able to state whether all three were equally effective or equally ineffective.

What does all this mean?

People regularly feel that massage helps reduce their stress and anxiety. There are also other techniques that seem to be helpful to varying degrees, depending on the situation and the person. This is helpful to know, because not everyone enjoys massage. For some, touch itself can be a source of stress and anxiety, so it’s helpful to know that there are other complementary therapies available that also create positive results.

Stress and anxiety are closely tied to pain, sleep, and other factors. Reducing pain reduces stress levels. Reducing stress levels can also reduce pain. Improving sleep can impact both pain and stress, and vice versa. Does massage therapy work primarily through either pain or stress reduction, or does it impact both equally? This is an area for further study.

Massage therapy is a fairly safe way to manage stress and anxiety. With relatively few drug interactions and a very low chance for injury, massage therapy can be helpful to a wide variety of people dealing with stress and anxiety in different situations. From infants to athletes to people in hospice, there are few who could not benefit from massage therapy.

There is a lot more to learn. While there is a lot of research on massage for pain, massage for anxiety (and especially massage for anxiety disorders) has less research to back it up. It will take time and money before a large body of knowledge has been built up.

If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, massage therapy is worth trying. The evidence is still rolling in, but what we have is promising. Are you ready to give it a try? Book your next massage today.

What Should I Do During My Massage?

Massage is kinda weird.

We aren’t a high-touch society.  We don’t touch strangers, and we may even feel weird touching our friends and family.  So it can be awkward to get massage.  We don’t know what we’re supposed to do.

Just telling us to “Relax!” doesn’t cut it.

To start, allow the full weight of your body to sink into the table and take full, deep breaths. This can be difficult. Don’t be hard on yourself. If you notice your mind racing, thinking about all the things left to do today, bring your attention back to your breath. If you’re clenching your jaw rethinking an argument with a friend, allow the muscle to soften.

Again, this can be difficult. Don’t be hard on yourself. But if you’re clenching your jaw or holding your breath because the massage hurts…

What if it hurts?

Sometimes, when getting a massage, folks describe feeling a “good pain” or a “good hurt.” It’s an intense sensation, but it feels right. Like sweet relief. This is totally fine.

But sometimes, pain is just pain. If you find yourself tensing your muscles in an effort to avoid the pain, tell your massage therapist.  We can adjust the massage so it doesn’t hurt. We’re here to help you feel better, not worse.

Should I talk?

Although some people prefer to talk throughout the massage, don’t feel like you have to make conversation with the massage therapist. Many people close their eyes and try to relax. Your massage therapist should take the cue from you.

But please be sure to speak up if you:

  • Feel too hot or cold
  • Are in pain
  • Have any questions about the massage
  • Forgot to mention a health issue during the consultation

What if I fall asleep?…or drool?!

Falling asleep during a massage is very common. I almost always fall asleep when I get a massage. It’s totally fine to snore or drool.

What if I have to pee?

Please tell us. We have a bathroom in our office. Holding it for the duration of the massage is not relaxing!

So there you have it. A few guidelines for what to do during your massage. Did I miss anything? Let me know.

And remember, your massage therapist will ask about the pressure and your level of comfort. This is your massage. If you are too cold or hot, if the pressure is too light, deep, or painful or if anything is interfering with you relaxing it is important to speak up.

Book my massage now

Massage Myth #4: You can’t get a massage if you weigh too little or too much.

Welcome to myth #4 on our reasons-you-can’t-get-a-massage-myth series.  Be sure to check out Myth #1, #2, and #3.

Myth #4: You can’t get a massage if you weigh too little or too much.

scale and measuring tape

There are so many variations of this one. Skinny people don’t have enough “meat on their bones” to get a massage, so they’ll just bruise. Overweight people can’t get a “real” massage because there’s too much fat between their skin and their muscles. People without perfect bodies shouldn’t show their skin to anyone. (And so on. Blah, blah, blah.)

Big people like massage. Small people like massage. In-between people like massage. And massage therapists love providing massage to all kinds of people. It’s a perfect combination! Are there different techniques better suited to bodies with specific needs? Of course. Is weight or size a prohibitive factor? Nope. Not by a long shot. The folks who make these kinds of arguments in the name of “health” are either misinformed or just being mean.

Massage myths aren’t usually malicious, but they can still hurt. Who knows how many people avoid getting a massage due to some myth they heard from a source they trusted? If you’re one of them, why wait? Since you now know truth from tale, get that bodywork you’ve been dreaming and schedule your appointment today.

Massage Myth #3: You can’t get a massage while breastfeeding.

Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash

Welcome to myth #3 on our reasons-you-can’t-get-a-massage-myth series.  Be sure to check out Myth #1 here and Myth #2 here.

Myth #3: You can’t get a massage while breastfeeding.

This myth is so insidious, because nobody needs a massage more than postpartum parents. The idea behind this misunderstanding is the belief that massage somehow squeezes toxins out of a person’s tissues, which are then released into the bloodstream. Since the body is “toxic” after a massage, the story goes, any breast milk produced at this time is also toxic. The choice is between “pumping and dumping” after receiving bodywork, or avoiding massage therapy altogether until the child is weaned.

Fortunately, this isn’t even one of those half-true-but-it’s-complicated situations; it’s 100% false, no question. Normal cell byproducts are filtered by the body and are not a danger to breastmilk, and massage doesn’t release toxins anyway. And keep in mind that massage can improve depression, body image, and (perhaps most importantly to new parents) SLEEP.

Need a break? Schedule your appointment today.

Why is My Massage Therapist Always Telling Me to Drink So Much Water?

Mason jar filled with water
Photo by Ethan Sykes on Unsplash

If you’ve ever gotten a massage, chances are good your massage therapist has told you that you should drink a lot of water afterward. Many believe that deep tissue massage releases toxins from your muscles and that water is needed to flush it out. Let’s start there.

What toxins are we taking about here?

Toxins are a bit of buzzword. Seems every time you turn around someone’s trying to sell you something to “detoxify” your body, like a special diet or a fancy drink. They don’t really mention what “toxins” you need to ditch. So we’re not quite clear what toxins we’re talking about.

Is massage detoxifying?

Often massage textbooks teach budding massage therapists that massage breaks up knots, releasing toxins in your muscles and flushing them out by increasing circulation in your body. Water is supposed to help with the “flushing.”

This is based on old, but pervasive myth about how massage works. We want to understand how massage works, and the idea that it removes toxic substances that are causing pain is a simple, appealing explanation.

To be clear, toxins do actually exist. Any chemical in a high enough concentration can be toxic to the body. Some things like pesticides and lead are more toxic than others. But massage doesn’t help get rid of these things.  When these things do end up in our body, our body has ways of dealing with them, like processing in the liver or sweating.

So, should I drink water after my massage?

The reason many massage therapists recommend drinking water directly after massage isn’t supported by science. But our bodies are composed of quite a bit of water. It’s essential to life.

I’m usually thirsty after a massage. That’s why I offer you water.

 

Massage Myth #2: You can’t get a massage while taking painkillers. 

bottle of pills
Photo by Jonathan Perez on Unsplash

Welcome to myth #2 on our reasons-you-can’t-get-a-massage-myth series.  Be sure to check out Myth #1.

Myth #2: You can’t get a massage while taking painkillers. 

You’re hurting, so you schedule a massage. But then you’re still hurting, so you take some ibuprofen … should that stop you from getting the massage you’ve scheduled?

This myth states that taking a painkiller leaves you unable to tell whether your massage is too deep, which can lead to a massage therapist injuring you accidentally. And this can be a realistic concern, especially if you’re taking strong narcotics for pain. Drug side effects like dizziness, easy bruising, and low blood pressure can also impact your massage session.

In most cases, though, this can be dealt with through open communication, rather than avoidance, especially if it’s a simple NSAID or other over-the-counter medication. When you let your massage therapist know what kinds of painkillers you’re taking, things like pressure, positioning, and duration can all be adjusted to make sure that your session is both satisfying and safe. There is no reason that painkillers and appropriate bodywork have to be mutually exclusive.

Get some relief. Book your massage now.

 

Massage and Headaches

Woman with headache screaming
Photo by Gabriel Matula on Unsplash

“This project is such a headache!”

They’re so common that the term has become synonymous with an annoyance, but what are headaches, really? And can massage therapy really help?

Different types, different causes.

Headaches are pretty easily defined, and we all know one when we feel it: it’s a pain in the head. But not all headaches are created equal:

  • Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, with pain occurring on both sides of the head without other symptoms. The pain can range from very mild to severe.
  • Migraine headaches are often pulsing, and can be accompanied by nausea, dizziness, sensitivity to light and sound, and hallucinations. Some people experience migraines only rarely, while other people experience them on an almost daily basis.
  • Cluster headaches are less common, and are generally experienced as severe pain around one eye. “Cluster periods,” during which many headaches occur during a period of time, are interspersed with longer periods without any symptoms.

Secondary headaches are not conditions themselves, but are symptoms of other conditions. These conditions can be as everyday as a sinus infection or conjunctivitis (pink-eye), or more serious, like traumatic brain injury, or meningitis. While the pain from secondary headaches can be managed, it’s important to focus on getting the appropriate medical treatment for the underlying condition.

Headaches and Massage

The good:

Tension headaches, the type of headaches people are most likely to experience, seem to respond well to massage therapy. Not only does massage seem to reduce pain in the moment, but regular massage therapy also appears to increase the amount of time between headaches for those who experience them on a chronic basis. This could be a result of helping to manage stress or underlying mechanical issues that can result in headaches, but there’s no solid science yet on precisely why massage helps, only that it does.

More good news!

It probably doesn’t surprise anyone that folks who experience regular headaches are also more likely to experience high levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. Studies have found that massage can help with these issues, not just in the general population, but also specifically in people who live with chronic headaches.

Some people with secondary headaches can also benefit from massage. People with fibromyalgia, for example, who often experience headaches as part of their condition, can experience both pain and stress relief with regular massage therapy. While massage during a flare-up of symptoms may need to be modified to be more gentle, some people find that it can provide relief both for headache as well as for pain throughout the body.

The bad:

Massage therapy is wonderful and often helpful, but it’s not a cure for headaches. While some people just need a bit of rest or a drink of water (dehydration is a surprisingly common headache cause), other people continue to experience headaches all their lives. While people who experience headaches caused by stress or muscular tension can absolutely benefit from massage, migraines triggered by things like foods or hormonal changes probably won’t see an impact.

The ugly:

There are some times when getting a massage for headaches isn’t just unhelpful, it’s actually dangerous. Most often, this is related to secondary headaches. Fevers, as an example, often cause headaches as well as achy joints that could lead someone to want to receive massage, but this not only risks overly stressing a body that’s already fighting off an infection, it also has the possibility of spreading the illness to the massage therapist and anyone else they come into contact with. Headaches resulting from a recent head, neck, or back injury could also be made worse by a well-meaning massage therapist.

When there is the possibility of pain being caused by an illness or injury, it’s always best to seek out a physician’s opinion first. They can provide or recommend appropriate care for the issue causing the headache in the first place, and at that point you can ask them about whether it would be a good idea to receive a massage. Safe is always better than sorry!

Headaches can be a real, well, headache. But there’s help.

Sometimes a little change of environment is all that’s needed. If you have a headache and have been hunched over a computer for hours, try a stretch. A quick walk outside or a brief nap can help with a headache caused by eye strain. If you haven’t eaten or drunk anything all day, do that. It’s easy to get caught up in the business of our lives and forget to take care of our own basic needs.

For those who can take them, over the counter painkillers like ibuprofen or aspirin can be helpful in treating a headache. Sometimes caffeine is recommended as well. For stronger headaches, medications prescribed by a physician can be a lifesaver to many people, enabling them to function at work and with their families when they might otherwise have been left incapacitated.

And then there’s massage therapy, of course. It’s not a magical cure-all, but for many people, it really does help manage the pain and stress of headaches. Are you one of them? Schedule your next massage, and let’s find out together.

Massage Myth #1: You can’t get a massage during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Contraindication is a long word with a simple meaning: a reason you shouldn’t receive a particular treatment, such as a massage. There are local contraindications—things like a small wound—that shouldn’t be massaged directly, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still get a perfectly good massage on other parts of your body. Then there are general contraindications, or situations in which you shouldn’t get a massage at all. Contraindications can be an illness like the flu, a treatment or medication like a strong blood thinner, or even something environmental, like a bedbug infestation at home.

But there’s another kind of contraindication that also seems to make the rounds on a regular basis: the mythological kind. Despite all the scientific advancements we’ve made in studying massage therapy over the years, there are a few persistent misunderstandings that just won’t seem to die. And while tales of mermaids and unicorns can brighten an otherwise dull day, these massage myths unfortunately prevent too many people from getting the professional bodywork they deserve.

Photo by Olliss on Unsplash

Myth #1: You can’t get a massage during the first trimester of pregnancy.

This myth is based around the idea that there is an acupressure point around the ankles that can induce premature labor. Since the first three months of pregnancy are also the time of the highest risk of miscarriage, the wisdom says that it’s best not to get a massage at all during this time.

Of course, this doesn’t take into account the fact that pregnant women regularly do all sorts of things that put pressure on the ankles.

Like wear shoes.

And given that most people go at least a few weeks before they’re even aware that they’ve conceived, this is basically saying that anyone with the sort of working parts that could lead to pregnancy should stay away from the massage table… just in case.

Luckily, there’s no evidence for any of this. Still, it’s a good practice to give your massage therapist a heads up if you know that you’re pregnant so that they can be prepared to make adjustments for things like loosening ligaments or a sudden sensitivity to smells.

One caveat, if  you are having complications with your pregnancy, talk to your doctor or call us before scheduling: (217) 552-1670.

Schedule your appointment today.

How Much Should My Massage Hurt?

low back massage, massage therapist using elbowFolks seek out massage for many different reasons, including relaxation, stress relief, and pain relief. Right off the top, if you’re looking to relax or de-stress, a painful or uncomfortable massage is not the way to go.

Many of of our customers come in for massage looking for relief from muscle aches and pains. Often folks think that, to achieve this, the massage has gotta hurt. A lot. No pain, no gain! Right? We’ve all heard it, but is more pain the way to relieve pain? And if so, how much pain?

What do we mean by “hurt”?

Sometimes, when getting a massage, folks describe feeling a “good pain” or a “good hurt.” It’s an intense sensation, but it feels right. Like sweet relief. So pain isn’t maybe the right word to use to describe this sensation.

But sometimes, pain is just pain. And if you tune into your body, you may find yourself holding your breath, or clenching your jaw, tensing your muscles in an effort to avoid the pain.

Is pain helpful for relieving pain?

There is a difference between an intense or vigorous massage and a painful one. An intense feeling of “good pain” can be therapeutic. But a painful massage that causes you to tense your muscles in an effort to avoid the pain? Not so much.

So, how much should your massage hurt?

Not at all.

You may feel an intense sensation that many describe as “good pain” for lack of a better phrase. And that is perfectly normal and helpful.

But if you’re just feeling plain ol’ pain, if you’re holding your breath or clenching your fists, that’s no good. Tell your massage therapist if it hurts, or if you need less pressure in that area (or for the whole massage), or even if an area is too painful to be touched at all. We’re here to help you feel better, not worse.

Ready to schedule your massage? Book here.

 

Should I Surprise My Partner With a Couples Massage?

Photo by Rachel Walker on Unsplash

Sure, this seems like a no brainer! Massage is awesome! Why wouldn’t I surprise my favorite person with one? Here are few questions to ask yourself before you schedule that couples massage.

Has your partner ever expressed interest in massage?

Maybe your partner was rubbing their shoulders and saying how nice a massage would be. Or you were watching a movie and the character is getting a massage and they say “wow, that looks amazing!” If not, a massage is probably not a great gift, especially a surprise one. Not everyone likes massage, and that’s okay. Maybe a surprise evening out at one of the many great restaurants in downtown Champaign would be a better idea?

Has your partner ever had a massage? 

If yes, a gift certificate for their favorite massage therapist would make a great gift. But what about a surprise massage appointment? This gets a little tricky. We have to know  a little about your partner. Luckily, you do!

If they’re adventurous, then they would probably LOVE a surprise couples massage! Schedule your couples massage here.

But there are plenty of reasons that folks, while they might love massage, may not liked to be surprised with one. Maybe they ate a really big meal and don’t want to lie on their stomach, or maybe they had too much coffee that day.

There may be other reasons, too:

Massage is weird. There. I said it.

Women often worry that their massage therapist will be offended they haven’t shaved their legs, or folks worry that they might be, you know, gassy.

(To be clear, we won’t be offended by these things. Never feel the need to apologize for your body.)

But the fact is, we humans do worry about all kinds of things. And your partner might be worrying about these things when you show up at the massage office for your surprise. And that’s not relaxing. So maybe surprise them with a massage gift certificate instead. Or schedule a couples massage minus the surprise bit.

So there you have it. A few questions to help you decide if you should surprise your partner with a relaxing couples massage. Bottom line, in most instances, probably not. (I bet you didn’t think you’d have a massage therapist telling you not to get a massage, huh?)