You may have come across massage as part of a relaxing spa treatment package, but massage therapy has health benefits that go beyond a day of luxurious pampering. Over the past decade, there has been more research into how massage enhances wellness. Evidence points to major benefits for pain reduction, mood enhancement, stress management and improved sleep. Now let’s get a little more hands-on with the details. What is massage therapy? Massage has been around for thousands of years and is practiced all over the world. Massage therapists stimulate and soothe muscles, joints and other soft tissue with their hands, feet, elbows or whatever body part they can leverage the best. Types of massage range from light, long strokes in Swedish massage to deep tissue sports massage that releases muscle tension. Research shows all styles of massage provide a benefit, even self-massage. What are the benefits of massage? Massage has been shown to work well alongside traditional medical treatments and many doctors are including it in their complementary therapy plans. Some insurance companies have even added massage therapy to their coverage for various conditions. The physical and mental benefits of massage are beneficial on so many levels that this alternative therapy can improve conditions of all kinds. General benefits include: Stress Reduction: In 2010, an analysis of 17 clinical trials showed massage therapy might reduce anxiety and depression because it reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The relaxation benefits of massage can also help improve sleep. Pain Relief: Several studies have shown regular massage, 1 to 2 times a week for eight weeks, can reduce chronic pain that commonly occurs with low-back problems, arthritis, and fibromyalgia. Lowered Blood Pressure: One study on pre-hypertensive women recorded lowered blood pressure immediately after a massage and up to 72 hours later. Enhanced Immune System: Research on patients with conditions like cancer and HIV/AIDS showed an increase in Natural Killer (NK) cells, a type of white blood cell that attacks tumors and virally infected cells. Frequent massages can help boost NK numbers to improve overall health, mood and quality of life. Precautions When you start any new wellness therapy, it’s important to talk with your doctor to make sure there aren’t any potential issues. Massage therapy isn’t right for everyone. You might want to avoid this alternative treatment if your condition involves: Pregnancy A bleeding disorder or taking blood-thinning medication Open wounds or burns Fractures Severe osteoporosis Damaged or eroded joints Varicose veins What to Expect If you’ve never had a massage or you’re curious about massage for a specific condition, here are some tips for choosing the right massage therapist and what to expect during your first visit. Always work with a well-trained massage therapist and ask for recommendations from your doctor or people you trust. Look for a practitioner who has experience working with your health condition or limitations. Be prepared to complete a medical history form and discuss your health with your massage therapist before your first session. Also, expect him or her to check in with how you’re feeling before each massage treatment. Typically massage takes place on a table or chair and you’ll be undressed and covered by a sheet. You also can wear loose-fitting clothing. Remember that you only need to remove as much clothing as you feel is comfortable. During your massage your therapist should ask if you are experiencing any pain and how much pressure to apply. Don’t hesitate to speak up and ask them to make adjustments until the massage feels good. You may feel a little sore after a deep tissue massage, but the soreness should fade after a day or two. If not, let your therapist know so they can adjust your next treatment. You’ll get the most benefit from massage if you do it weekly for several weeks or months. This is true for self-massage, too. Finally, get ready to relax and feel great!