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 Bodywork & Somatic Therapies: Scientific Support for Massage and Bodywork 

Other studies of Rolfing have found improvements in muscular efficiency,16 reductions in anxiety,17 decrease in pelvic tilt, and increase in vagal tone (amplitude of respiratory sinus arrhythmia, a heart rate function that corresponds with reduced stress in the body).18

Strengths and Limitations

Massage therapy and bodywork obviously have a very broad, diverse range of applications. Essentially, they can support any health condition that would benefit from greater blood circulation and the release of tension. Psychological conditions also are affected beneficially, as the physiological changes that occur with these kinds of intervention help harmonize and rebalance the nervous and hormonal systems.

There is great potential in using massage to reduce cumulative traumatic disorders in the workplace. For example, chicken cutters in chicken processing plants often develop carpal tunnel problems. Several companies in the chicken processing industry in Virginia have developed worksite massage programs that have shown impressive reductions in these problems. The most frequently used techniques include cross-fiber, deep tissue, and Swedish, concentrated on those muscle groups that are chronically stressed in the work (hands, arms, shoulders, and back). The programs also teach self-massage techniques and the results include better morale and reduced absenteeism.

Contraindications to massage or bodywork are few and may include transmittable skin diseases, unhealed wounds, postoperative conditions, and blood clots. In many cases, of course, such therapy can avoid problem areas in the body, assuming the practitioner is aware of the condition.

Many people wonder about whether massage or bodywork could cause a cancer to metastasize. According to Elliot Greene, "This is an area where research is needed to define the risk. Practitioners are generally taught to err on the side of conservatism. For example, massage is not recommended for someone immediately after chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

"Physiologically, it is not easy to metastasize a tumor from simple pressure and studies have shown that the body has a number of layers of defenses to prevent that from happening simply from touch. It is known, however, that certain kinds of chemotherapies in particular make the tissue fragile for a couple of days and massage immediately after such therapies might irritate the tissues. If there was any danger of metastasizing, it would be more likely to happen closer to the treatment. A conservative response would be to use much lighter forms of massage."19

In fact, massage therapy is increasingly being incorporated into complementary cancer therapy programs. At the Cancer Support and Education Center in Menlo Park, California, it has been an integral part of a program that resulted in significant improvement in quality of life, even for patients with metastatic disease.20

The ability of massage to reduce anxiety, depression, and stress is a logical counter to the strain a cancer patient must deal with in facing a life-threatening condition and traumatic treatment.

The Practitioner/Patient Relationship

Hands-on therapies naturally foster a kind of intimacy between the practitioner and patient. In many of the approaches, the recipient partially or fully disrobes and lies on a table (though they are draped with a sheet and are never fully exposed), which further contributes to the intimacy and vulnerability that may be felt when using this tradition. Normal boundaries of social interaction are crossed. Hence there is a special need for sensitivity and regard for the client on the part of the practitioner that matches and perhaps even exceeds that of many doctor-patient relationships.

(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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