Massage: Real Medicine

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

In the upcoming New Year, give yourself or someone close to you a gift of healing: regular massage treatments. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, stated that the essential elements of medicine were, “Massage, music, and gymnastic.” So in addition to the healing power of the arts and the benefits of exercise, the importance of massage in medicine has been appreciated for millennia.

When did you last get a real massage, beyond a friendly backrub? A professional massage is a proven way to relieve stress and is highly effective for many medical conditions, chronic pain, sports injuries, even the side effects of cancer treatment such as lymphedema. Dr. Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute in Florida has been one of the leaders in the scientific study of massage. Her research, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, has demonstrated the benefits of massage in multiple conditions: increasing weight gain in preterm infants, enhancing attentiveness, alleviating depressive symptoms, reducing pain, reducing stress hormones, and improving immune function.

Licensed massage therapists are required to complete at least 500 hours of study and practice. They may acquire additional certifications in areas such as myofascial release, craniosacral, oncology massage, infant and pregnancy massage. There is even a certification for animal and pet massage!

For some people, a massage is a real luxury such as when they are on vacation, at a spa, hotel, or on a cruise. For others, such as professional athletes, regular massage is required to keep muscles and tendons loose, reduce soreness, and keep them playing at their best. For the rest of us, a massage once or twice a month can be part of a healthy lifestyle.

Think about how deeply relaxing a massage can be. The nurturance of human touch is something we all need from infancy on. There is something truly soothing about leaving ourselves in the hands of a skilled professional masseuse or masseur for a stress-free hour or so with no demands on us at all. Even a brief chair massage, now available at many airports, shopping malls, and other public locations can help release tight muscles and shoulder and neck tension built up from too many hours hunched over a computer or over the steering wheel in rush hour traffic. 

There are a number of skilled professional massage therapists in Galveston County. Word-of-mouth referral from your doctor, chiropractor, nurse, trainer, or trusted friend can help introduce you to someone you with whom you feel comfortable. Prices vary depending on location, time and type of services offered, and ancillaries such as stone massage, aromatherapy, or other specialized services.

Despite the many medical benefits of massage, most insurance companies do not cover it except  sometimes with prior approval. Flex plan benefits may be applied when your doctor recommends massage.  However, think about the minor investment in massage as an alternative to the personal and real costs of pain, physical dysfunction, anxiety, and stress. These can affect not only your work but also personal relationships.

by Dr. Victor S. Sierpina, the W.D. and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine at UTMB.  Published in the Galveston County Daily News.

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