Why This Indulgent Treat Is Actually So Good for Your Health
It might seem like a totally unnecessary, guilty-sort-of splurge, but it turns out massages are actually, like, really good for your physical and mental well-being. We spoke to a pain specialist and two mental health practitioners on all the ways they can help, so let’s dig in. (You can schedule your massage before or after you’re finished reading.)
The Key Physical Benefits of Getting Massages
You know massages feel dope, but have you ever wondered what’s happening physiologically that transforms your body from stiff to softened?
“Massage therapists are trained and licensed to detect tightness in muscles and relieve it by applying pressure, stretching, and other physical movements,” explains Dr. Hélène Bertrand, a Vancouver-based physician who specializes in pain relief and management.
Our bodies are subjected to stress-related tension, poor sitting or standing posture, and physical injuries both large and small. All the above can lead to knots, cramps, muscle spasms, and myofascial (connective tissue) pain and discomfort.
“Massage can help with a range of issues, from relaxing sore or tight muscles and improving circulation, to reducing stress, improving sleep and increasing relaxation, to contributing to overall wellness through the power of touch,” notes Dr. Bertrand.
Dr. Bertrand has been studying pain management for the last decade as part of her work as the clinical instructor at The University of British Columbia. Interestingly, her research has shown that massage therapy is more effective for relieving back pain than acupuncture, yoga, physiotherapy, core-strengthening exercises, and chiropractic care.
(That’s not to say you shouldn’t do all those things – a combination of modalities is optimal! But if you’ve just got the budget or time for one, then this research indicates that massage might be the best option.)
The Mental Health Benefits of Massages
One of the major benefits of getting a massage is that it helps improve your mental health. It does so in several ways. For starters, when you’re dealing with physical pain – such as headaches, fatigue, muscle tension, or a chronic issue – your mental health pays the toll. Any sort of improvement in your physical health is going to directly impact your mental wellbeing.
Not only that, but stress builds up inside of us, causing our bodies to tense up and form knots often from unconsciously clenching.
“Massage therapists kneed into pressure points to release this tension and send signals throughout our whole bodies to relax,” says psychotherapist Jennifer Tomko, owner of Clarity Health Solutions in Jupiter, Florida. “Massages [also] trigger sensory neurons on the skin’s surface that make us feel good.”
Having that serene, pampering moment to yourself is going to help you feel better, too. You know that post-bubble bath relaxation? Or that feeling of calmness after tucking away with a good book somewhere cozy? Same idea.
“Massages force you to set aside 30 to 90 minutes to completely unplug,” says Tomko. “There is no screen time during a massage. No phone, computer, tablet, television, or social media. Quiet ‘me-time’ is extremely important for self-care.”
Lastly, there’s research that points to a direct correlation between human touch (skin-to-skin contact) and a feeling of comfort, security, and human connection, says Tomko.
How Often Should You Get a Massage?
An ideal frequency for massages is once per month, though sometimes a therapist may suggest going weekly for the first month in more extreme cases. FYI: there’s no harm in asking for a combo pricing package. That said, not everyone’s got the bread for a monthly massage appointment.
In that case, Dr. Bertrand suggests going when you feel your body’s especially in need. “That could range from weekly to monthly to a couple of times a year,” she says. You can also supplement with free or inexpensive modalities, such as deep stretching, yoga, and back rollers. Try not to make routine massages feel like a chore, but rather a moment to treat yourself.
How to Find an Excellent Massage Therapist
Priority number one: your therapist should be licensed. Second, they should begin by asking you a series of questions, such as whether you have any specific areas that need attention, what sort of touch you prefer (e.g. deep tissue, gentle), and whether you have any injuries, allergies, or sensitivities.
The space should also be clean, comfortable, and provide you with a sense of serenity above all. There are on-demand massage companies – like Zeel or Soothe – that bring vetted therapists to your home. If you have a hard time relaxing in a new space, or simply like the idea of not having to commute post-massage, that’s also an option.
No Budget for Massages? We Gotchu.
Depending on where you live and who you see, massages generally run between $45 to $120 an hour. If you’re not digging that sort of financial commitment right now, we get it. Here are some low-cost (or free!) ways you can help work out those knots, de-stress, and treat yourself.
Hit up a Local Massage Therapy School
“Massage therapy school students have to complete [a certain number of] hours of hands-on training in a controlled environment with a supervisor monitoring their work. They need people to practice on and massages at the schools can run as little as $5 per visit,” notes Dr. Annabelle Bugatti, a counselor and therapist in Las Vegas.
Manifest Your Own Spa Moment
Get yourself a nice candle or some aromatherapy, dim the lights, and ask Alexa to play some relaxing, lyric-free jams, nature sounds, or sound bath music. Maybe you’re in the bathtub, a hot tub, lying in bed, or on the sofa in the living room. Wherever you’re at, lean into the moment.
Request a Massage as a Gift
The next time your family or friends ask what you want for your birthday or the holidays, let them know you’re craving a pro massage. Gift cards can really help offset the cost.
Try At-Home Massaging Devices
You’ve got lots of options out, including simple hand-held massagers like Wellgler’s Palm Urchin Massage Tool, $6.99, or Trigger Point Performance AcuCurve Massage Cane, $19.97. Zong’s Manual Massage Ball, $8.99, is another good one (some people also just use a tennis ball for a similar effect). For a slight upgrade, consider something like Renpho’s Rechargeable Hand-Held Deep Tissue Massager, $29.99, or the Damkee Professional Deep Tissue Massage Gun, $89.99.
Do you believe in the power of massages? Let’s talk about it in the comments!