Massage and Stress-Related Symptoms
Massage therapy has gained a considerable amount of popularity over the past several years. In some occupational settings massage has been offered to employees as a potential modality for decreasing stress, boosting morale, and potentially keeping ergonomic stress, from repetitive movements (e.g., typing on a computer for 10hrs a day), to a minimum.
A recent paper (Engen DJ, et al. Feasibility and effect of chair massage offered to nurses during work hours on stress-releated symptoms: A Pilot Study. Compl Thera Clin Prac 2012; 18: 212-215.) looked at the impact that massage can have on occupational and ergonomic stress on nurses during working hours.
Thirty-eight nurses (5 men/33 women) participated in the study. The nurses received a weekly, 15min chair massage, for 10 weeks. The subjects were assessed at baseline, 5wks, and 10wks using a self assessment scale, a perceived stress scale, an anxiety scale, and a symptom visual analog scale.
In this particular study, the massage treatment was set up in such a way that it allowed the therapist the ability to customize the treatment to the client based on their requests. For example, if the client was seeking stress reduction then various techniques such as light strokes, slower paced massage strokes, and slow compressions might be used to help induce a more parasympathetic state. If the subject was asking for pain reduction or a decrease in tightness or stiffness then the therapist tailored the treatment towards more compression and stretching techniques, joint mobility techniques, and trigger point/accupressure compression techniques depending on how the client was responding to the therapy.
Some of the interesting findings included:
- Stress and anxiety related symptoms improved over the entire study at both 5 and 10 weeks.
- Thirty-five or the thirty-eight subjects had positive comments about their massage with regard to improved sleep and reduction of pain, headaches, tension, and stress. They also noted that they felt more relaxed and re-energized.
- Thirty of the nurses felt that they had improved job satisfaction due to the massage and twenty-three of them reported that they would be willing to pay $10-25 for a 15min massage if it were regularly available at work.
Interesting study and one of the biggest limitations is that it did not include a control group. That being said, it is a pilot study and hopefully more studies will look at some of the effects of massage on stress.
From a practical standpoint, even those the subjects are not athletes, I am always trying to think about what I can take away from the study and how it can be applied to the population and clientele I work with.
One thing I took away from this study was the benefits massage can have on morale, well-being, and stress reduction, something I have discussed a number of times in previous blog articles:
With athletes, especially during the competitive season when trying to be at your best for every game is paramount, finding ways to improve the athletes’ psychological well-being and decrease stress can be an essential component to keeping people healthy.
Not only is stress reduction a benefit of massage but I believe, when used appropriately, it can be helpful for enhancing stress resistance as we attempt to boost the athlete’s buffer zone and increase their ability to tolerate the stresses placed on them – obviously this is only one piece to a large puzzle of stress resistance, as enhancing fitness, nutritional intake, and sleep (as well as numerous other factors) go into developing quality stress resistance. Massage can be one tool to assist in this capacity.
What I did like about the approach used in this paper was that the therapist was given the ability to alter the treatment based on the client’s needs. Often massage research is conducted in such a way that there is a protocol being tested (IE, 5min of gliding, 5min of kneading, 2min of cross-fiber friction, 3min of gliding) which is very limiting as human beings are not protocols. Humans are living, adapting organisms and, while we all have many similarities, we are all individual and have different needs. Making changes to the session based on what the individual needs is a key component to therapy and can impact the result you get.
I do feel that a proactive approach to stress and stress resistance should be emphasized. In the sports and athletic arena, professionals often tend to be very reactive (only doing something when an athlete complains of a problem) rather than trying to build a program that heads issues off at the pass. When used properly, massage may be one potential tool that can assist in this proactive approach.