The benefits of touch have long been associated with relaxation and a sense of well-being. Increasing numbers of people are seeking massage as a way to relax.
Some 40 percent of women and 29 percent of men reported having a massage in the past five years, according to a 2010 Massage Therapy Industry Fact Sheet, compiled by the American Massage Therapy Association.
Health care providers and hospitals, too, are embracing massage therapy with growing appreciation for its effectiveness in helping patients. The AMTA's 2010 Industry Fact Sheet shows that 76 percent of massage therapists received referrals from health care professionals, up from 69 percent in 2008.
Why? An increasing number of studies indicate that massage therapy produces beneficial results in relieving pain, lowering blood pressure, and improving circulation, among other benefits.
"Massage therapy has moved mainstream, but it's rooted in medicine," says Susan Zolvinski, allied health chairperson at Brown Mackie College in Michigan City, Mich.
"I learned the basics of massage therapy in nursing school 30 years ago. A simple back rub can reduce the heart rate, lower blood pressure and destress a patient. It's a good complement to the wonderful treatments we have."
Today, the field has expanded dramatically, with many different sub-specialties within the more than 300 different types of massage.
Nearly every age group is represented in the use of massage therapy. It is used in treating the elderly, athletes and people with specific diseases like cancer or muscular dystrophy; infants; and individuals who suffer from chronic pain.
Even with the buzz generated by this up-and-coming profession, many people don't realize just what massage therapy entails. For instance, massage therapy is commonly used in treating breast cancer "to help redirect fluid past an area where lymph nodes have been removed. Creating a 'detour' helps to move fluid along, thereby reducing swelling," continues Zolvinski.
Massage therapy appeals to many people because of the flexibility it allows. Often pursued as a second career, a qualified massage therapist can seek work at salons and spas, fitness centers, medical facilities, hotels, airports and cruise ships. The majority are self-employed, working independently.