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 Bodywork & Somatic Therapies: Scientific Support for Massage and Bodywork 


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.

He also gained more flexibility and balance to all the segments of his body. He reported greater ease of movement, more vitality, and reduction in hip joint pain to where he was able to return to sports activity. At one point he asked if he might be misusing the Rolfing by becoming so active again.

A study of the effects of massage therapy on HIV patients found that those who received a massage five times a week for one month had higher numbers of natural killer (NK) cells, which were also more potent. They also had less anxiety and lower serotonin (stress hormone) levels.13

A third study involved giving massage therapy to fifty-two hospitalized depressed and adjustment disordered children and adolescents. A separate comparison group viewed relaxation videotapes. Those receiving the massage therapy were less depressed and anxious and had lower saliva cortisol levels, which is an indicator of less depression.14

Following is a list of other applications of massage therapy currently being studied at TRI:

  • Newborns of cocaine-addicted mothers
  • HlV-exposed newborns
  • Infants of depressed mothers
  • Infant colic
  • Infant sleep disorders
  • Infants with cancer
  • Preschool children
  • Neglected children
  • Abused children
  • Autistic children
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder after Hurricane Andrew
  • Pediatric skin disorders
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
  • Depressed teenage mothers
  • Teenage mothers' childbirth labor
  • Eating disorders
  • Job performance/stress
  • Pregnancy
  • Hypertension
  • HIV and improved immune function
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Fibromyalgia syndrome
  • Rape and spouse abuse
  • Couples' sex therapy
  • Volunteer foster grandparents
  • Arthritis
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome

Bodywork Research
Little research has been conducted on the various forms of bodywork. One exception is Rolfing, for which several studies have found interesting effects.

In one controlled study, forty-eight participants were randomly assigned to either the experimental group (Rolfing) or a control group (no Rolfing). A significant decrease in anxiety was found in those who received the treatment over a five-week period. The researchers explained these findings in terms of the theory that the Rolfing caused a release of emotional tension that had been stored up in the muscles, which in turn resulted in lower anxiety scores on a psychological test of state anxiety.15

(Excerpted from The American Holistic Health Associations 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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