Stress Relief: The Miracle of Massage (cont.)

Massage does much more than relieve everyday stress, and studies are proving it.

Ancient Health Practice Gaining Credibility

Massage is one of the oldest of health practices, found in ancient Chinese medical texts written some 4,000 years ago. Hippocrates advocated massage in the 4th century BC, as have doctors since then -- until the 1930s and '40s, when the practice was virtually abandoned as medicine became high-tech.

During the 1970s, massage went through a slight resurgence -- one that's finally taken hold in more recent years as healthcare practitioners become more attune to ancient healing practices -- and as Medicare and insurance payers have begun covering it.

"We believe in it in our clinic," says Ka-Kit Hui, MD, director of the Center for East-West Medicine at UCLA School of Medicine. "We believe it does more than just help people feel better."

In Chinese medicine, massage is called acupressure, he tells WebMD. In essence, massage and acupressure both work with the body's own healing systems -- the nervous system, blood vessels, lymphatic system.

"The concept is to remove stagnation," says Hui. "When your muscle spasms, it's a form of stagnation. The blood is not moving as smoothly as it should, either because of internal stress or as a reaction to pain."

He runs a "clinic of last resort" for patients with various pain problems -- fibromyalgia, neck spasms, frozen shoulder, and what's called "failed back syndrome." They've had two or three surgeries for back pain and nothing has helped.

"Oftentimes our patients either do not respond to pain medications or can't tolerate medications, or can't tolerate surgery or don't want surgery, or they fail surgery," he says. "We have been a resource center for them."

Doctors have been slow to refer patients to massage therapy simply because most aren't acquainted with it in their training, he tells WebMD.

"Today's massage therapists are better trained, better regulated than ever before," Hui says. "In prevention of disease, health promotion, massage may be an adjunct for patients who need our medication, who need our surgery. It may decrease complications, decrease pain and suffering."

People with migraine pain, lower back pain, arthritis -- they all can benefit from massage. New parents know that babies who are massaged are calmer and sleep better.

The effects on premature babies are especially dramatic. The babies gain weight faster -- and leave the expensive hospital neonatal intensive care unit earlier -- if they are massaged, says Tiffany Field, PhD, a psychologist and director of the Touch Therapy Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine.


Premature babies who are massaged three times a day have 47% more weight."

Field's own daughter was born prematurely in 1976 and inadvertently became her first study subject. "We were trying to help her grow," she tells WebMD. "We found that massage helped."