Getting a massage is often filed under the category of prissy pampering, a luxury that’s reserved only for the occasional indulgence. I know plenty of women—including my mother—who think I’m high-maintenance for frequently booking one. Yet many of the same people don’t blink an eye when annually dropping hundreds of dollars on manis and pedis or haircuts and highlights.
While I’m all for pretty nails and hair, money is a finite resource. While massages don’t cause double-takes in the mirror, they do kindle a much more potent dose of feel good vibes. So this year, I tried something different. I forwent my beauty budget—yep, zero mani-pedis and expensive hair treatments—and replaced it with a wellness budget.
The results? Well, let’s just say I’m never going back, even if it means DIY manicures for the rest of my life. Here’s why.
There Are Psychological Benefits to Massage
Several massage therapists whom I corresponded with for this piece shared how they witness massages ease anxiety and depression. I've expressed my experience with managing general anxiety disorder, so I can attest that monthly massages are transformative for mental health. But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Psychologically speaking, massages can go way deeper than managing anxiety and depression.
Annette Poizer, MSSW, Ed.D., RSW, a Columbia-trained therapist in private practice and author, tells me that with some patients—particularly those who might have experienced trauma before they learned to speak as a child—massage therapy can be far more effective than psychotherapy.
Poizer says, “The language associated with younger phases is touch. Sometimes the psychological issues took root because there were deficiencies around touch or other forms of soothing contact. You can have [a patient] who has had umpteen therapy sessions with no discernible change or progress who then does six months of massage therapy on a weekly basis and experiences metamorphosis!”
Talk about the transformative benefits of physical touch! Dr. Gretchen Kubacky, Psy.D., Health Psychologist, summarizes, “Massage, carefully used, can be successful in helping reintegrate a traumatized person into their body if they are prone to dissociation.” Even if you’ve never suffered trauma, it goes without saying that human touch can be incredibly healing.
Massage Improves Your Posture
Admittedly, I am writing this hunched over my computer. If you’re like the average tech user—chances are you’re also reading this hunched over your desktop or cell phone, too. While we all know that poor posture is terrible for our health, but if you work a desk job, the odds are more or less stacked against you. Studies show that even if you manage to exercise, sedentary behavior is associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, a 49 percent increased risk of all-cause death (e.g., death caused by other health issues).
Of course, good posture is mostly developed by good habits and a strong core. But a massage can greatly help restore the damage caused by our sedentary lives. Janice Rosenthal, former owner of the Spa in Presidential Hotel in Cape Cod, South Africa, says that “[massaging] the erector spinae group of muscles, will straighten a person's posture rather remarkably, because this group of muscles is connected to both the thoracic and cervical spine.”
Rosenthal adds, “Similarly, tight hamstrings can cause a person to hunch over, but through deep effleurage massage, the back of the thigh receives a stretch...one often sees posture improve, just from massaging the hamstrings alone.”
Considering that good posture not only makes us look better, it also make us feel more confident. I’d say that these perks are much better than getting highlights.
Massage Detoxifies Your Body and Boosts Your Immune System
If you’re looking to help your body in its natural detoxification process—consider getting a lymphatic drainage massage. “It literally drains the lymph, which is designed to screen toxins, away from the area, which relieves swelling and discomfort,” Dr. Kubacky says. She notes that this is transformative for those patients who have lymphedema following a mastectomy, or even breast cancer or lymph node-related treatments.
Rosenthal explains that “the lymph system is our main method of fighting foreign invaders in the body. Lymphatics do not have a pump, like the circulatory system, and so, it relies entirely upon the circulatory pumping of blood for its ability to pump its contents around the body. The lymphocytes attack waste products and cellular debris, and fight off bacteria and viruses.” When someone is incapable of exercise (or simply doesn’t) the body's lymph system can stagnate. This is where regular massage can help “simulate exercise, and produce the powerful pumping and flushing motions which the lymph vessels require, in order to function efficiently.”
Rosenthal advocates, “People should stop thinking of massage as some kind of indulgent, luxury pastime, as thousands of books have been written about the scientific reasons that regular massage prevents injury and illness.”
So if you really want the most bang for your wellness buck, schedule a message for your next self-care date. As therapist and fellow Verily contributor Julia Hogan, LPC writes, "If the end result is a better you to share with your community, why not invest some time and energy into taking care of yourself?" There you have it: massages are a good investment.
Now, if only we could say the same thing about lacquered nails.
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock