When patients ask me about natural medicine, they often expect me to talk about herbs, folk remedies or exotic Chinese healing techniques. So, when the first thing I recommend for patients is stretching and massage, they are often surprised. Though most people view massage as a pleasurable indulgence and stretching as an athletic activity, both of these practices can also be part of an effective medical treatment.
Stretch It Out
Many orthopedic injuries occur when the body is pushed just beyond its regular capabilities. You may pull your thigh muscle playing tennis when you lunge too far for a shot. A similar injury can happen as you go about your everyday life. Maybe you strain your shoulder muscle reaching too far into a deep cupboard. In both cases, greater flexibility would make you less prone to injury.
Many people think stretching is only useful to prevent soreness after a tough workout. Though a good stretch feels pleasurable, research shows it has little effect on how sore you will feel the next day. The purpose of stretching is to create flexible muscles that will be more resilient when you do challenging activities. Enhanced flexibility also ensures greater range of motion, so you are able to reach further and perform stretching motions without constant risk of injury.
Stretching has other benefits too. In addition to feeling good, you will also improve your posture and release muscle tension. A recent study in the journal, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, suggests that a regular stretching program may enhance physical performance, increase strength and improve endurance. You should aim to stretch a few times per week for at least 10 minutes.
The Power of Touch
Massage is sometimes called “touch therapy” because the power of touch can be a very potent healer. Virtually everyone can benefit from massage in some way. Studies show that massage not only has physical benefits, but emotional benefits as well.
Some of the measurable physical benefits of massage are significant. It can decrease the heart rate and reduce anxiety before a stressful event like an exam or a speech. Research done at the University of Miami showed that massage can decrease blood pressure in hypertension patients. It has also been shown to increase white blood cell count, suggesting a boost in immunity. Furthermore, massage can increase blood circulation and lymph flow, a measure of a strong immune system. It can also increase endorphins, the feel-good hormones, enhancing some medical treatments.
You probably already know about some of the other physical benefits of massage, like relieving muscle tension, stiffness and spasms. It also speeds healing of muscle strain and sports injuries, but did you know massage can reduce aches and pains in arthritis sufferers? If you get migraine headaches, you should try massage, too. It can reduce pain and tension, making the migraine less severe.
The mental benefits are nearly as numerous as the physical. The power of physical contact, coupled with enhanced relaxation, creates feelings of calm, emotional stability, peace of mind and mental alertness. It has been shown to help office workers feel more focused and less stressed. It also fights feelings of depression.
If you suffer from an injury or a chronic medical condition, you should discuss massage therapy with your doctor. If you need a mental boost or a way to de-stress, schedule a massage or spend 30 minutes stretching today. Not only will you feel more relaxed, but you will enjoy a multitude of physical benefits as well!