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 Bodywork & Somatic Therapies: Massage Therapy and Bodywork: Healing Through Touch 

CranioSacral Therapytm;. This approach was named in 1977 by John Upledger, D.O., and Ernest Retzlaff, Ph.D., to distinguish it from Sutherland's cranial osteopathy. According to Upledger, "CranioSacral Therapy is not osteopathy. Sutherland's approach was bone-oriented and you make bony corrections. This is soft tissue-oriented, fluid-oriented, membrane-oriented, and energy-oriented. It's much more subtle than any other kind of cranial work I know of."3

Palpation (touch by the practitioner) is used both to observe and treat dysfunctions in the craniosacral system, which includes the head, spinal column, and sacrum in one continuous membranous sheath. This system has its own pulse for circulating the cerebrospinal fluid (six to twelve cycles per minute) and the practitioner can feel the rate, amplitude, symmetry, and quality of the rhythm—somewhat analogous to pulse diagnosis in Ayurveda and Chinese medicine. Corrective pressure of only about five grams (the weight of a nickel) is applied to various areas to promote the re-establishment of a normal, symmetrical pattern of pulsation throughout the system. This in turn allows more efficient functioning of the entire nervous system throughout the body.

Upledger reports success in treating chronic pain, chronic brain dysfunctions when there is no structural problem involved, endogenous depression, migraines, learning disabilities, dyslexia, hyperkinesis, spasticity in cerebral palsy, strabismus (cross-eyes), Ménière's disease (vertigo), and many other conditions.

Reflexology. This approach involves the manual stimulation of reflex points on the ears, hands, and feet. Similar methods resembling shiatsu and acupressure have also been practiced in China for thousands of years. Thumb pressure is applied to specific points that correspond somatotopically to specific areas or organs of the body.

Reflexology was introduced to this country by William Fitzgerald, who termed it "zone therapy," in the early 1900s. One of the contemporary explanations for how it works is that compression by specific touch techniques affects a system of points and areas that are thought to "reflex" through neurological pathways to distant parts of the body. The pressure on these reflex points (also called "cuteneo-organ reflex points") is used to relieve stress and tension, to improve blood supply, to promote the unblocking of nerve impulses, and to help restore homeostasis or balance in the body.4

Zero Balancing. This is a painless, hands-on method of aligning body energy with body structure. It is done through clothes and involves the practitioner in using gentle pressure at key areas of the skeleton in order to balance the energy body with the structural body.

The theory holds that each of us has an unseen energy body that exists like a glove surrounding the physical body. When injury or trauma occurs, healing of these two bodies does not necessarily occur simultaneously. "Balancing" refers to balancing the relationship between energy and structure. Zero Balancing seeks to bridge the gap between those methods that work with structure and those working with energy.

Scientific Support

Prior to the advent of pharmaceutical medicine earlier in this century, references to massage therapy and research were not uncommon in the mainstream medical literature. There were over six hundred articles in various journals such as the Journal of the American Medical Association, British Medical Journal, and others from 1813 to 1939. A great deal of research was also conducted in Eastern Bloc countries and China. In this country after World War I, there was a precipitous decline in focus on this field as drugs and other allopathic interventions gained the foreground.

With the renewed interest in natural forms of treatment, research activity in massage and bodywork has again gained momentum. Studies have documented benefits for amputations, arthritis, cerebral palsy, cerebral vascular accident, fibrositis syndrome, menstrual cramps, paraplegia/quadriplegia, scoliosis, acute and chronic pain, acute and chronic inflammation, chronic lymphedema, nausea, muscle spasm, soft tissue dysfunctions, grand mal epileptic seizures, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and psychoemotional stress, which may aggravate significant mental illness. Following are a few examples of recent studies.

Massage in the Elderly. A controlled study showed massage therapy produced relaxation in eighteen elderly subjects. This study demonstrated physiological signs of relaxation in terms of decreased blood pressure and heart rate and increased skin temperature.5

OAM-Funded Studies

When the Office of Alternative Medicine at NIH invited applications for its initial wave of research grants, eighty-five of the 450 applications were for massage related studies, the largest number of any modality. Of the first thirty grants awarded, the following four dealt with massage therapy:

Thomas Burk,Ph.D., of the Morse Physical Health Research Center in Toledo, Ohio, was awarded a grant to study whether immune functioning could be improved in AIDS patients when massage therapy was used in combination with antiviral drugs.

Denise Matt Tope, Ph.D., of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, was awarded funds to study whether massage therapy can reduce anxiety and depression in bone marrow transplant patients.

Douglas DeGood, Ph.D., at the University of Virginia was funded to study the degree to which massage therapy can reduce anxiety and the need for follow-up care in women undergoing surgery for uterine cancer.

Frank Scafidi, Ph.D., at the University of Miami's Touch Research Institute is studying the effects of daily massage on growth, cognitive development, and immune function in premature infants born to HIV infected mothers.

A fifth study involves Therapeutic Touch. Melodie Olson of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston is using a controlled experiment to examine the effects of Therapeutic Touch on the immune functioning of highly stressed students preparing for professional board exams. Positive findings would have implications for other highly stressed populations including cancer and AIDS patients.

Spinal Pain. A study of the combination of various types of massage in fifty-two patients with traumatically induced spinal pain led to significant reductions in acute and chronic pain and increased muscle flexibility and tone. This study also found massage to be extremely cost-effective in comparison with other pain therapies, with cost savings ranging from 15 to 50 percent.6

Pain Control. Massage has also been shown to stimulate the body's ability to control pain naturally. One study showed that massage stimulates the brain to produce endorphins, chemicals that control pain.7

Lymphedema. Lymph drainage massage has been found to be more effective than mechanized methods or diuretic drugs to control lymphedema (a form of swelling) caused by radical mastectomy. It can be expected that using massage to control lymphedema will significantly lower treatment costs. This is based on a study comparing massage with the use of sleeve-like pressure cuffs often worn by women with lymphedema.8

Inflammatory Bowel Disease. A study found that massage therapy can have a powerful effect on psychoemotional distress in patients with chronic inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Stress can worsen the symptoms of these conditions, which can lead to great pain, bleeding, and hospitalization or death. Massage therapy was effective in reducing the frequency of episodes of pain and disability in these patients.9

Therapeutic Touch and Wound Healing. A controlled trial examined the effects of Therapeutic Touch on healing identical surgically inflicted minor wounds in the shoulders of forty-four male college students. Twenty-three received Therapeutic Touch treatments and twenty-one did not. Neither group was aware of the purpose of the experiment and those treated were not aware they were being treated. After eight days, the treated group's wounds had shrunk an average of 93.5 percent compared to 67.3 percent for those untreated. After sixteen days the figures were 99.3 percent and 90.9 percent.10

Reflexology and PMS. A controlled clinical study of thirty-eight women with premenstrual syndrome examined the effects of a thirty-minute reflexology treatment weekly for eight weeks. Those receiving the treatment were treated by ear, hand, and foot reflexology. Those in the control group were given placebo or sham reflexology. Based on a daily diary that monitored the severity of thirty-eight premenstrual symptoms, the treated group had a 46-percent reduction, which was a significantly greater reduction than the 19-percent reduction of the control group.

Unlike some of the hormone-altering drugs and antidepressant medications that are often used, the treatment produced no side effects. The researchers concluded that reflexology might work by softening adrenocortical reactivity to stress, which is known to exacerbate symptoms in PMS.11

Touch Research Institute, University of Miami
The most comprehensive program of massage-related research is the University of Miami's Touch Research Institute. Created in 1991 by the school of medicine, it is the world's first center for basic and applied research in the use of touch in human health and development. Directed by Tiffany Field, Ph.D., a professor of psychology, pediatrics, and psychiatry, the TRI has a multidisciplinary staff of forty scientists from the fields of medicine, biology, and psychology and another thirty visiting scientists from other universities participating in collaborative studies.

A plethora of studies have demonstrated impressive benefits for integrating massage therapy into medical care. In one study, premature infants treated with daily massage therapy gained 47 percent more weight per day and had shorter hospital stays by six days than those that were not massaged, resulting in cost savings of approximately $3000 per infant.12


Jason, fifty-five, was suffering from pain in both hips, which had become arthritic. He had been very athletic most of his life, running and playing basketball and tennis. He had been told by a physician that he may be facing a hip replacement as his condition had been degenerating over several years—particularly in the right hip.

He sought the help of Bridget Beck, a Rolfer in Santa Rosa, California, who gave him the standard series of ten Rolfing sessions. Beck observed that he had an external rotation of the right leg (turning outward), a rotation of the pelvis, and an unequal distribution of weight on his legs. The rotator muscles in his buttocks were chronically tight in order to support this pattern and all of this resulted in more stress to the hip joints.

The Rolfing balanced the pelvis and brought the right leg back into alignment with the hip joint to allow more proper tracking through the motion of the joint. His weight became properly distributed over both legs.

(Excerpted from American Holistic Health Association Complete Guide to Alternative Medicine ISBN: 0446518174)
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 About The Author
William Collinge MPH, PhDWilliam Collinge, PhD, MPH is a consultant, author, speaker and researcher in the field of integrative health care. He has served as a scientific review panelist for the National Institutes of Health in mind/body......more
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