For some, massage is more than an enjoyable indulgence—it’s medicine.
Massage therapist Christine Perry of Bristol became interested in her profession the way many people do: as a satisfied consumer. “I was diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of 14,” she says. “It was very painful. Massage helped so much with pain relief, it was remarkable.”
Christine attended Fordham University in the Bronx, New York, earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and entered social work. But her curiosity about the power of massage therapy stayed with her. So she made a substantial career course-correction, moved to the west coast and attended the East West College of the Healing Arts. She specializes in traditional Swedish massage, as well as deep tissue and Reiki, a skill Perry added to her repertoire in the past couple of years.
Deep tissue massage therapy is similar to Swedish massage, but with increased focused pressure on the deepest layers of muscle tissue, tendons and fascia. While perhaps not as soothing for the client in the moment, the procedure effectively relaxes knotted muscles, eliminating associated pain. Both Swedish and deep-tissue techniques are often recommended for management of conditions ranging from fibromyalgia and TMJ to chronic headaches.
A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine clearly showed a drop in patients’ blood pressure following a single deep tissue massage of about 45 minutes’ duration. And in 2010, The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reported that massage reduced both heart rate and stress hormone levels, while triggering the release of mood-elevating hormones oxytocin and serotonin.
Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction based on the idea that there is a life force around us which can be manipulated into a state of balance. It is particularly beneficial in cases of emotional upset. Rather than a full session of Reiki, Perry will more typically add it to a massage service, if the client is interested. Success stories include a client who found that Reiki increased her peace and sense of well-being as she tried to come to terms with the loss of her father.
Despite documented benefits and rumors to the contrary, it does not appear that The Affordable Care Act will change the infrequency with which patients are able avoid out-of-pocket massage therapy expenses. According to the Rhode Island chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association, massage in Rhode Island is “still regulated as a business and service and is not recognized as a health care modality.”
Practitioners and devotees hope that will change, and the trend is in their favor, as more and more emphasis is placed on both preventative medicine and the acknowledgment of the negative impact of stress on health.
Perry looks forward to increased acceptance of massage as an important part of any health and wellness regimen. “Someday medicine will come to realize that dealing with stress before it becomes a health problem is the right approach,” she says. “That’s a pretty powerful thing.”