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Massage is often regarded as a luxury or an indulgence. But in fact this form of treatment can have important and unique benefits.

Way back in the middle ages, medicine in the West was all about bleeding, cupping, purging (causing vomiting and defecation) and... well, actually, that's about it, apart from ingesting poisons and reading astrological charts. Renaissance medicine added some effective surgeries and a few drug treatments to the list, but it wasn't really until the early part of the twentieth century that seeing a doctor actually made you more likely to survive a serious illness. And as for optimising health? forget it. The very idea wasn't even addressed. 

Maybe that's why anything that's actually pleasurable tends to get dismissed as not serious. We feel, instinctively, that anything gentle, progressive and pleasant can't be good for us. Cold baths and bleeding all round, please!

As a result, massage is regarded as something for people with no real problems: a kind of physical homeopathy, designed to address non-existent health problems in a non-effective manner.

The reality is very different. Massage isn't a single method and it's not designed for treating a single problem.

A serious sports massage is unlikely to be all that comfortable, for instance, while deep tissue massage can be excruciating and is certainly not a luxurious, millionaire-on-a-yacht treatment. Massage is a broad tent covering treatments that are intended to help deal with joint problems, muscle injuries and circulation problems as well as others that are intended to help improve mobility, enhance recovery and even, yes, just feel more relaxed.

So, With That Said, What Benefits Does Massage Provide?

1: Relaxation

All too often, we forget the link between relaxation and alertness. They're not opposites, they go together. After a ten-minute chair massage, study participants didn't just have lower blood pressure and reduced heart rate; they also solved maths problems faster and with fewer errors. Muscles relax and postural problems caused by too much rigidity in the musculoskeletal system can be corrected by even quite light, simple massage. And the relaxing effects aren't just physical. Massage can have many of the same effects as running — mental relaxation and euphoria can begin after ten or fifteen minutes and continue for several hours, with a generally enhanced sense of wellbeing continuing for much longer.

2: Pain Management

Many of us suffer from musculoskeletal pain, ranging from back, neck and joint pain from bad posture or overuse through sports injuries to arthritis. Even in cases where massage can't treat the cause, like arthritis (arthritis is a bone disease, and you can't really massage bones), it can help with the pain, says Tiffany Field, PhD. "We found that fibromyalgia sufferers slept for nearly an hour longer" at the end of a study than at the beginning, says Dr Field, which is important because deep sleep reduces the amount of 'substance P,' a pain neurotransmitter. Pain means less sleep, more substance P and more pain: a vicious cycle. "We were trying to use massage to break that cycle, and it was very effective."

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