Massage Therapy and Improving Mental Health

When you hear the term “addiction”, you might think of drugs, extreme sports participation, Fanatics of sports teams, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, egocentric disorders (narcissism, etc), or stalking behaviors.  Chemical imbalances attribute a large portion of the root of mental diseases that Western medicine defines and sometimes it is a simple pattern of choices that our brain makes that determine, over time, our inability to change or our trained capacity to be “successful” based on these repeated, and very often destructive behaviors.

A Little About Mental Health

Our overall longevity, health, and quality of life depends largely on a few factors: getting shelter, food, social interaction, and security – the last being the highest level of cognitive health…and I think, also the highest level of existence.  When humans do not experience long-lasting, healthy, and quality security, it affects their perception of the world – the other three – which ALL have a physical impact on the body.

Depression is one of the most inaccurately and inadvertently diagnosed dis-eases in modern times.  This does not assume that depression or any other form of mental distress are any less important or don’t have as much an impact on a human’s health than an acute or chronic injury, viral or bacterial infection, or sources of imbalance received into the body from an outside source.  Because of the power of the patient to manage, or rather “mismanage” as medical diagnosis seems to imply, depression is also one of the most difficult psychological disorders with physical manifestations to “cure”.  Maintenance of lower levels of depression are what many humans are challenged with and achieved on a daily basis – some examples of daily rituals that humans use to maintain good mental health might include religion, motivational reading or listening, and expression of gratitude, and all the practices & rules therein.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Who says In 1949, Congress passed a Bill recognizing May as Mental Health Awareness Month in the U.S. in a effort to raise public awareness and discourse about the existence, role, and maintenance options for mental illness in society.  Today, the World Health Organization and the National Institute of Mental Health concur: approximately 1 in 4 adults develop, at some point, degree, or length of time, a mental disorder.

What does it mean In the world of health care options, there are a rapidly growing number of methods that have been noted as successful.  As it is with “fixing” things, not every person responds the same way to a method and not every method works for everyone.  The discourse and repeated awareness is to engage the public in the current options, successes, and reasons for addressing mental health as an important part of quality life – for the person and those people surrounding them.

Why it’s important our attitude and ability to rebound from events that affect us physically and mentally are the two most important qualities to be aware of when finding non-pharmaceutical or alternative methods of healing.  A healthy ego, self-esteem, and perception of the big picture are just a few ways that people get from depression that is moderately imbalanced to depression that is at-risk of existing in a void, beyond help from outside sources.

How Massage Therapy Affects Mental Health

Massage therapy can help a person overcome or recover from physical & mental addictions or conditions that are supported by physical imbalances (hormonal, pain management, restricted range of motion, etc) and feed depression or various other psychological elements to your health.  It has been used and recommended by medical doctors to alleviate mental stress for patients and recommended by massage therapy professionals in the field by the nature of the physical effects that correlate improved physical function with improved mental faculty.

Anyone can search the internet to find articles, blogs, stories, anecdotes, and research to support the use of massage therapy to better or enhance the quality of life for those addressing their mental or psychological imbalances, but there are a few places that I recommend you search and decide for yourself.

For quantified results (before:after, test pilots, research studies):

For anecdotal results (what works for me, industry statements, experienced practitioner reports):


In 2002, Cathy Wong at published an article called What Do Physicians Think About Alternative Medicine?  Amazing results of a 276-Colorado-Physican pool (published originally in the Archives of Internal Medicine):  48% of the 276 MDs recommend Massage Therapy to their patients AND 60% of the MDs wanted to learn more about alternative medicine/therapies.

Massage therapy can be a method of release of muscle memories resulting in (possibly) either physical or emotional discomfort or trauma but definitely reprogramming – the intent of the work is to balance the chemical, virtual, real, and spiritual body and the methods used to achieve balance are some of the most diverse and effective known to humans – from touch therapy (bodywork) to medical massage (soft tissue manipulation).

Be careful: getting regular massage may seem or actually be addictive – the endorphins that are naturally produced from an activity such as exercise, good food, and good social interaction are also produced during a massage session in your favorite place or using your favorite massage modality.  But this kind of addiction can be managed in a way that makes it a moderate form of healthy healing time for your mind, body, and soul.


More info about mental health:  National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Mental Health America (MHA)

Abdominal & Pelvic Massage and Women’s Health Issues

deeper pressure addresses physiological aspects of the abdomen

deeper pressure addresses physiological aspects of the abdomen

Massage Therapists are trained to do abdominal and pelvic massage – this type of massage on the area of the torso can be physiological or energetic in nature. A therapist can assist in the movement of blood, toxins, muscle tissue, and visceral structures physiologically, and move energies related to the Hara, kidneys (Jing), and aura.

the Hara is believed to exist 3 finger-widths below & deep to the navel

the Hara is believed to exist 3 finger-widths below & deep to the navel

Several structures in the lower female pelvis are the apparatus that allows a woman to bear another human being. The ovaries produce and release eggs that travel down the uterine (Fallopian) tubes monthly, taking a 5-day journey to attempt to attach to the tissue nest of greatly-available blood and nutrients, the endometrium lining that the uterus has prepared all month (approximately every 28 days). The eggs are most likely to be fertilized in that journey down the uterine (Fallopian) tube. If the eggs are not fertilized within a certain amount of time, hormones communicate that the nest of blood and nutrients needs to be shed in the menses and the cycle starts at the beginning again.
No matter the reason for a massage therapist to choose to work on the abdominal and pelvic area, there are some conditions a therapist and their client need to be aware of when addressing the female reproductive system. Several conditions that women regularly and/or naturally experience in the pelvic area and that are of concern in the area of massage therapy include: use of birth control, dysmenorrhea, spontaneous and elective abortion, endometriosis, and fibroid tumors.
Birth control pills are used to tell the brain that the body is pregnant, thereby stopping the flow of hormones that prepare the body for fertilization and pregnancy. Massage in the pelvic area is appropriate when considering this form of health affectation.
Dysmenorrhea, referred to more commonly as a painful menstrual period, is defined by the woman’s experience of limiting activities for at least 1 day every month because of symptoms of dull aching or sharp severe lower abdominal pain – accompanying nausea and vomiting are also signs of dysmenorrhea. It is not advisable for massage to be done on the area of localized pain within the first two days that symptoms show – it is advisable to use reflexive techniques and massage all other indicated areas of the body.
Spontaneous Abortion, an unintentional termination of a pregnancy, can happen in many stages of pregnancy and for many reasons, many having to do with the overall & systemic health of the mother and the ability of the egg or fetus to survive in the health of the mother’s uterus. Elective Abortion, an intentional termination of a pregnancy, can also happen for many health-related reasons. In either the case of spontaneous or elective abortion, the lining of the uterus is disrupted and needs time to heal. Massage in the pelvic region is not appropriate after a spontaneous or elective abortion until after bleeding has stopped and there is no sign of infection. Client and therapist should be aware of doctor recommendations for massage therapy if an abortion occurred less than 6 weeks ago.
Endometriosis is a resultant condition of the non-exiting (in menstruation) tissue fragments of the endometrium (of the uterus) attaching to other cells and structure in the body. Circulation and implantation of the endometrial cells produces “blood blisters” or clear vesicles in early years – in later years, the implanted cells will grow over, appearing black and scarred. Massage therapy is not advised in the area of the diagnosis of endometriosis, especially during menstruation. Diagnoses have been known to displace structures in the area of endometriosis (usually in the pelvic region), so care in providing and receiving pelvic work is suggested for locally diagnosed endometriosis.
Fibroid Tumors grow in or around the uterus, mostly undetected (because of their small size) and exist in a postulated 20-30% of women between 30 and 50 years old¹. Symptoms of small fibroids are unrealized while in diagnosed cases of larger fibroids can reveal symptoms of mechanical pressure on other structures (including nerves) in the pelvic area and increased menstrual bleeding. Massage is suggested in pelvic areas other than the uterus if there is a diagnosis of fibroid tumors – as large fibroids can displace other structures in the pelvic area, massage is not appropriate in the area of the uterus.

finger-tip massage done at the transverse abdominal wall

finger-tip massage done at the transverse abdominal wall

Here are some points to consider when going for your therapeutic massage and your therapist does pelvic work:

  1. Deep work in the pelvic area is not generally practiced in massage therapy, although a few modalities address the pelvic region using deep tissue techniques. A client should always ask and the therapist should always explain what the intent of their work is deep in the pelvis.
  2. Deep work in the pelvic or abdominal area is generally not advised on days of heavy menstrual flow. Many other massage therapy techniques can be used by a therapist to alleviate symptomatic experiences of pain and discomfort.
  3. Let your massage therapist know if you’ve been experiencing conditions related to your health as a woman, so your therapist may best serve you and deliver the most appropriate method to improve your health and well-being.
  4. Your therapist may also let you know about structures s/he feels (literally) may be abnormal or out of place; the therapist may also refer you to a qualified health care provider that s/he knows personally in order to assist you in achieving a level of wellness or “peace of mind” – listen, and visit that doctor or qualified practitioner who can help you determine what the issue is and how to improve your overall health.
  5. As with all other areas of the body, the pressure should be delivered by the therapist and experienced by the client at a level that is comfortable and expected. Any level of discomfort beyond acceptable standards of the client needs to be recognized and addressed by the client so the therapist can respond appropriately.
  6. Most of all, enjoy your pelvic massage! It increases the internal health of the abdomen, strengthening, circulating, and stimulating movement in the organs and musculature, making your entire body healthier!
¹”A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology,” Ruth Werner, 1998, p. 331

To Deep…or Not Too Deep? Bodies on the Table Series

Massage is a great way to relieve stress, deepornot01588x400get all the toxins out, and just feel centered and relaxed in general. But there is a science to what your bodyworker is doing and how your body responds while you are zoning out to the tunes of nature on the beach and breathing deeply before you sink into that half-conscious Zen state after your session has started. Let’s find out what happens to your body while you are getting bodywork!
In this series of articles, we’ll talk about the physical responses of your body when you are receiving bodywork. We’ll address many aspects of what is happening in your body that gives you that “I feel like Jell-o” sensation when you get off the table or floor!
In this article, let’s talk about the depth of the stroke of a massage therapist. There are many preferences for the pressure that you may ask for in your massage. Some like a relaxing massage that incorporates flowing, rhythmic, or fluid strokes that are felt all over the body. Some like an invigorating massage that stimulates, encourages an increased circulation, or really addresses the “knots” you’ve been battling with for quite sometime or just recently. No matter your preference, your therapist is considering your physical response to the application of each stroke throughout the session.
Massage carries the connotation and characteristics of a good stretching workout. Your therapist manipulates your muscle tissue and fascia ultimately lengthening the fibers. They press, increasing the distance between the attachments of your muscles. This pressing, or lengthening, of the muscle resets the areas of muscle and tissue where chronic or acute shortness occurs. It also releases toxins into the surrounding space in between the muscle cells and tissues in your body.
The pressure by which your muscle and tissue is lengthened can cause micro-tears and damage to the cells, even in healthy tissue. Sometimes you may feel sore after a massage. There are several reasons you may feel this; one reason may be that your muscles are repairing themselves from the micro-tears that have been sustained from a firm massage or stretching session.
deepornot02588x400Part of the way your therapist detects how hard to press or squeeze is by your verbal communication indicating “That’s a little too much pressure” or “You can go harder, if you want.” The other way your therapist knows how much pressure to apply is by the holding or contraction of the muscle (or surrounding musculature) that is being addressed with the stroke. If your muscle tightens or you tighten up throughout the area, this is your body’s way of protecting itself from the micro- or macro-scopic damage that could be easily caused by “too much” pressure. Bruising may even occur, although rare, and only in cases where your physical condition is more prone to bruising, even in a specific area of the body.
There are many ways to recognize the best pressure for your body.

    1. If it is your first massage, let your therapist determine the depth of the stroke by applying the stroke in every area of the massage: notice the areas in which you may want more or less pressure in the future.
    2. If you have just completed and athletic event, it is always best to receive a more relaxing technique of massage in order not to damage the muscles further and to allow the muscle to recover and repair without inhibition.
    3. The amount of muscle or tissue you have is not always directly proportional to the amount of pressure you “need;” pressure preferences can range from little muscle needs a lot of pressure to much muscle needs a little pressure.
    4. Depending on your experience and habit of receiving bodywork, you may graduate into a deeper pressure the more you receive massage; if you get massage weekly, it is safe to have deeper pressure as your cells will be used to and will recognize the power of a deeper massage, especially on the deep layers of muscle that are hard to get to or have not been addressed yet.

In any case, always give verbal feedback if the pressure is too much or too little for your taste, but ultimately trust the therapist to “know when to say when” in order to avoid macro-scopic damage or other negative physical responses based on your health condition at the time of your session.
With regular massage (and stretching) your body soon comes to realize that longer muscles are more efficient and work better and are in less pain more often. The cells in your tendons that detect the length of a muscle are able to pay less attention to the shortness of the muscle and spend more time on kicking back and enjoying the massage!