Healing Hands: Massage Therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress

Healing Hands: Massage Therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress

In its vast scope of important and useful applications, massage therapy continues to gain credibility as a physical treatment in new medical territories. Interestingly, these include both physical and mental traumas and disorders, making massage a very uniquely positioned practice with highly diverse patient outcome goals. While manual therapy is certainly no replacement for the demanding and essential work of psychology, recent studies suggest it’s an effective complementary therapy for certain mental illnesses.

In both the United States and Canada, massage therapy has been used to help returning soldiers target both the physical and mental after-effects of war. In fact, massage has a history of being taught and practiced as a therapy for nerve damage, muscle pain, certain injuries, and “shell shock.” Massage can help to reduce scar tissue, break down adhesions, encourage the release of toxins in the body, and improve insomnia.

But as this article argues, massage can also help to reduce mental anguish, anxiety and trauma by regulating stress hormones. Regular massage therapy reduces cortisol and stimulates the release of endorphins like serotonin and dopamine. This makes it easier for a veteran with PTSD to feel more balanced mentally. In turn, this form of therapy has been shown to ease the transition back into domestic, professional life, and help to minimize nervous tension. Additionally, as many RMTs understand, there’s something to be said about the reassurance of touch. After several deployments without compassionate human interaction or care, touch can be a soothing way for any individual to undergo a holistic sense of change, healing, recovery and humanity.

An article in Massage Today also cites research studies examining the outcomes that massage can have for PTSD, noting that a “revolutionary change” is underway at certain treatment sites, in how we approach post-traumatic stress. A combination of group, individual and alternative therapies like massage is becoming the favoured strategy and producing measurable outcomes. For example, decreasing cortisol levels as a result of massage therapy have lowered feelings of hyperarousal and threat. This is giving credibility to more holistic modes of healing.

A study cited on victims of sexual violence has seen similar success, wherein victims of sexual abuse fared well with “body-oriented therapy” like massage. It’s interesting that taking an alternative or complementary treatment approach often achieves much more holistic healing. What’s the reason for this? As Massage Today aptly puts it, these therapies “help to restore the most basic human needs of safety, trust, control, self-worth and intimacy.”

This is work to be proud of, as massage therapists continue to brave new and medically crucial territory.


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