Why Massages Really Do Keep You Healthy: A Cardiologist Explains

We've all seen it on TV or in a movie. The scene is tense and the patient is doing poorly. The doctor calls out urgently. Retractor! Scalpel! Suction! Massage Table!

Wait a minute .... Massage table?

Did Dr. House ever scream for body oil?

The good news is this: if you enjoy a massage, you just might be helping your heart and arteries stay healthy and youthful.

Scientific studies have shown benefits of massage therapy for insomnia, multiple sclerosis, anxiety, cancer pain, post-operative recovery and other conditions.

Several recent studies point to benefits of massage therapy that help heal the heart.

In 2008, researchers studied 263 volunteers who had a massage for 45 to 60 minutes. Average blood pressure fell by 10 mg Hg and heart rate by 10 beats per minute after one treatment. That's about as much as you might get from prescribing a new blood pressure medication for life!

Earlier this year, 50 people with mildly elevated blood pressure received a 15-minute massage, three times a week for 10 sessions, while a similar group just relaxed for the same amount of time. Blood pressure fell at the end of the sessions and remained lower for several days—but only in the massage group.

Another study this year examined 8 women with high blood pressure who'd had an hourlong massage each week for four weeks. At the end of that period, their blood pressure fell by 12 mm Hg systolic (top number) and measurements in the blood reflecting inflammation (specifically VCAM-1 if you like science) fell significantly. A control group just rested for the same amount of time and had smaller improvements in the same measurements. The drop in markers of inflammation is intriguing and suggests massage therapy may have a body-wide healing effect.

Why might massage therapy result in improvements in measurements of cardiovascular function?

Reductions in salivary and urinary levels of the stress hormone cortisol have been observed in several experiments in humans. In contrast, urinary levels of the stress hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine were not seen to fall during several studies.

Bottom line: not yet completely known and studies remain to clarify these pathways.

Is it time to chuck your blood pressure medication? Throw away your magnesium, CoQ10 and taurine blood pressure lowering supplements? Forgo your plant-based diets full of phytonutrient-rich leafy green vegetables and arginine rich pine nuts, arugula and watermelon?

No, it's clearly premature to consider massage therapy on par with those approaches. Furthermore, there are no studies showing a reduction in heart attack, strokes, and heart related deaths—and likely never will be due to the costs of such research projects.

However, given that tens of millions of people in the US alone grapple with high blood pressure, massage therapy can join acupuncture, yoga, meditation, and Tai Chi as complimentary approaches to maintaining optimal vascular health.

Buddha said that “to keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”

Maybe this is the week to schedule a massage treatment to move toward that goal?

This article originally appeared on mindbodygreen.com and was written by by Joel Kahn, M.D.

How Acupuncture Helps You To Control Blood Pressure

People have known for centuries that acupuncture helps with a number of conditions, including high blood pressure and pain, and now advances in modern science can help explain exactly why this ancient Chinese treatment is so effective.

According to research carried out by the University of California Irvine's Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine, regular electroacupuncture treatment boosts the release of an opioid in the brain stem. This particular opioid controls blood pressure, which explains why the treatment is so helpful in reducing hypertension.

Electroacupuncture entails sending pulsating electrical currents through acupuncture needles to stimulate acupoints. It does not require the super-precise needle placement that is so crucial to traditional acupuncture, because the electrical current can reach a wider area. While it offers a lot of the same benefits as traditional acupuncture, it seems to work particularly well on pain.

Rats that underwent electroacupuncture noted a drop in blood pressure that persisted for three days after the treatment. This came about as the result of a boost in the gene expression of one of the body's major opioid peptides known as enkephalins.

This is the first time that research has proven the molecular activity responsible for the hypertension-reducing effects of electroacupuncture. The landmark study was published in Scientific Reports.

Hypertension affects a third of the world's adults

In the U.S., more than $30 billion is spent each year unnecessarily to treat hypertension, which equates to more than 1 percent of the nation's annual healthcare costs. Many patients are being prescribed strong blood pressure medications despite only having mild hypertension, putting them at risk for a number of side effects, including digestive disorders, anxiety, kidney damage and cholesterol problems.

Untreated hypertension can cause serious problems, including heart and kidney damage, stroke, the buildup of fluid in the lungs, and vision loss, so alternative treatments could help make significant inroads in this major health problem. Lifestyle changes such as improving one's diet and getting more exercise should always be the first line of defense, and for many people, acupuncture could also make a big difference.

With hypertension affecting around a third of the world's adult population, this could lead to much better treatment than the current medication, which has a host of unpleasant side effects. The UCI team found that acupuncture at particular places on the wrist brings about the drop in blood pressure, illustrating its promise as a simple treatment for clinical hypertension.

Electroacupuncture also helps relieve stress, pain

The benefits of electroacupuncture don't stop at hypertension. Georgetown University Medical Center researchers have found that the treatment can block the release of the body's stress hormones, helping to protect people from the impact of stress.

It has also been shown to reduce pain and the need for painkillers following operations like Cesarean sections. In a study published in the Chinese Medical Journal, researchers found that women who had been administered acupuncture or electroacupuncture for pain relief had significantly lower levels of pain than the placebo group in the two hours after surgery. They also asked for morphine 10 minutes later on average, and used about a third less of it in the first 24 hours following the surgery. As such, they also noted fewer opioid-related side effects.

Another study out of Duke University, meanwhile, found that acupuncture resulted in significantly lower levels of pain and painkiller use in patients post-surgery, regardless of whether it had been administered before the operation or afterward.

While some people claim that acupuncture's benefits come from a placebo effect, the research shows that changes do occur in the brain during electroacupuncture. This treatment, along with other ancient Chinese remedies like cupping therapy, is growing in popularity as people increasingly seek alternative treatments that do not have harmful side effects.

This article originally appeared on naturalnews.com

How Float Therapy Benefits Mental Health

Credited for helping with anxiety, depression, chronic pain and other health problems, float therapy has been evolving as a wellness treatment since the 1950s. Similar to meditation, floating in a salt tank or pod may hold an advantage over other methods of mindfulness because of how it affects the human brain.

What is Float Therapy?

It’s simple. Strip down. Hop into a float tank or “pod.” The high concentration of salt in the float tank has impressive buoyancy. You will peacefully float on soothing, body-temperature water.

There is no light in the float tank, so you get a sensory deprivation experience as well. It’s like you’re in the womb. How can this not be healing?

The evidence is mounting that float therapy does have healing properties.

In an ongoing study, doctors used fMRI technology to scan the brains of 40 healthy, non-depressed people. Half the group floated in salt water for 90 minutes, the other half spent the time in another type of restricted stimulation experience, such as meditation.

When all participants received a second fMRI brain scan afterward, they also completed tasks to assess attention span, reward processing, and emotional reactions. One key takeaway from the second scan was a higher level of “interoceptivity,” or awareness of internal sensations such as heartbeat and breath, among the float group.

Float therapy candidates should know:

Multiple sessions are usually required to gain a benefit. With commitment, mental health professionals and patients may find that regular floatation sessions can open up new roads to recovery for the following conditions:

Eating Disorders

Float therapy can help patients with eating disorders, including overeating, because deep mental relaxation may calm triggers, past traumas, and clarify habits affecting food habits. Research on float therapy will soon specifically study those suffering with anorexia, some of whom have documented that consistent visits to the flotation pod have aided recovery.


Float therapy can not only help anxious people sleep, but also understand how an absence of environmental stimuli such as light and sound can improve sleep at home. Many sleep-challenged floaters use recorded guided meditations, visualizations, counting and other sleep-inducing techniques while in the pod.


Panic attacks, self-mutilation, and other stress-related conditions may be aided by float sessions that soothe the patient and invite him or her to gently consider actions and events leading to episodes. The solitary experience of floating alone in darkness inevitably leads to curiosity and — in some cases — epiphanies about how to solve personal problems.


The inability to concentrate or focus can also be addressed by float therapy. By committing to an hour or more in the pod, a patient with ADHD may benefit from the lack of distractions and enjoy a purer level of concentration and thought than normally possible. Ideally, an improved ability to concentrate will slowly begin to emerge in daily life.

Curious? Go to a float therapy center and sink into a pod of warm, briny water for an hour or more of REST (restricted environmental stimulation therapy) and decide for yourself.

This article originally appeared on blogs.psychcentral.com and was written by Mike Bundrant 


Approach to Low Back Pain – Osteopathy


A man aged 42 years, who works as a police officer, presented with severe lower back pain, which he had experienced for 24 hours after spending the previous day helping his brother to move house. He had difficulty ambulating and most movements aggravated the pain. There were no lower limb symptoms and no red flags present on history or examination. He was otherwise well and was not taking any regular medications.

Osteopaths are registered health professionals who work mainly in private clinics and manage various musculoskeletal complaints.1 ..with major studies in anatomy, physiology, pathology, research methods, and osteopathic philosophy and technique. There are similarities with other manual therapies, such as chiropractic and manipulative physiotherapy, but the differences in underlying philosophy, approach to diagnosis, and frequency and duration of consultations provide distinctive practice styles to each discipline.

Osteopathic approach and philosophy

The osteopathic approach to patient care is characterised by holism and places emphasis on the reciprocal relationship between anatomical and physiological structures. The holistic approach also acknowledges psychosocial, environmental and ergonomic factors2 that influence pain and disability. To reach a diagnosis, osteopaths assess symptomatic tissues and other related areas of the body that may influence optimal biomechanical function. Treatment includes manual techniques and patient education.

Research and osteopathy

Although there is a paucity of high-quality research investigating the effectiveness of osteopathic management for many conditions, limited but growing evidence offers support for treatment of low back pain (LBP).37 Isolated manual techniques, such as spinal manipulation, have been most thoroughly examined by researchers, but seem to have only a modest benefit for LBP.8 An integrated treatment approach using an eclectic set of manual techniques and advice – as commonly used in osteopathic practice – may be of greater benefit in LBP and a number of randomised controlled trials (RCT) have found improvements in LBP after osteopathic treatment.37 Recent RCTs reported that osteopathic treatment was more effective than placebo for chronic LBP interventions,5 more effective than usual medical care for acute LBP,3 and helpful for LBP in pregnant women.4

Initial assessment

Initial osteopathic consultations are up to 60 minutes in duration. The consultation includes obtaining a case history and other relevant medical and health information,9 assessment of red flags10 and gaining patient consent for treatment. If a red flag is identified, patients are immediately referred to their GP for assessment, and in more urgent cases (eg. cauda equina syndrome) referred directly to hospital emergency units. The patient completes a self-report pain questionnaire (eg. visual analogue pain scale) and assessment of changes in activities of daily living (ADLs) to assess pain and functional disability.

The information provided in this case scenario suggests differential diagnoses of lumbar facet joint sprain, lumbar disc pathology or sacroiliac joint (SIJ) sprain. The osteopathic physical examination is informed by the case history and aims to support or exclude differential diagnoses.

Physical examination for the case presented

A physical examination would include the following:

  • observation of standing posture
  • active and passive range of motion of lumbopelvic, hip and thoracic regions
  • occupation and ADL-oriented functional movement testing
  • assessment of lumbar and thoracic segmental mobility and tenderness
  • palpation of lumbar spine, abdomen and hip soft tissues
  • orthopedic tests, including straight leg raise, active straight leg raise test and SIJ pain provocation tests.

Management strategies

Immediate (at initial presentation as stated in the case scenario)

For the case presented here, the osteopath would address restricted and painful areas identified in the examination. Treatment may involve mobilisation or articulation of lumbar and thoracic facet joints, soft tissue massage and stretching of lumbar and hip musculature, and the use of gentle isometric contraction techniques (‘muscle energy’) to encourage better motion, muscle recruitment and decrease pain.11,12 Gentle application of spinal manipulation may be used for the lumbar and/or thoracic spine,13 but suspected intervertebral disc pathology would be a contraindication. The patient would be advised to consult their general practitioner (GP) or pharmacist for appropriate short-term pain relief medications and advised to keep moving within pain limits.

An advantage of the osteopathic consultation is the time available to educate patients and discuss concerns. In this case, the osteopath would explain the likely cause and prognosis, and offer reassurance to the patient that nothing serious was evident, that most acute back pain resolves without the need for ongoing treatment or surgery, and that the patient should aim to be active and return to work as soon as possible.14 The osteopath would discuss sick leave for 2–3 days and schedule a review consultation.

Short term (days to weeks)

Some improvement in symptoms would be expected due to the natural history of acute musculoskeletal conditions. Further manual therapy would be provided, advice given on ADLs, and approaches to return to work within a short period of time would be encouraged. Recommendations for alternative work duties may also be appropriate.

Medium term (up to 6 months)

It is unlikely that this patient would need treatment for more than a few weeks. In the case of other factors being present (ie. yellow, black or blue flags) or re-injury, treatment may include manual therapy, the focus being directed towards active treatment approaches, such as rehabilitation exercises. The implementation of additional outcome measures may be helpful for identification of patients requiring psychological intervention.

Long term (years, including prevention and maintenance strategies)

It is highly unlikely that the patient in this case would require long-term osteopathic treatment. Osteopaths encourage patients to invest time and effort into keeping muscles strong and joints mobile, either though occasional osteopathic manual treatment, ergonomic awareness, their own exercise and rehabilitation program, or a combination of all.

Conflict of interests: None
Provenance and peer reviewed: Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.


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This article originally appeared on racgp.org.au and was written by Brett Vaughan, Tracy Morrison, Della Buttigieg, Chris Macfarlane and Gary Fryer.