October 22nd, 2008
03:34 PM ET

Just what the doctor ordered: a massage

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/22/art.massage.jpg]
Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

I'm not a big fan of massages. As a neurosurgeon, I've never been completely convinced that the science behind them is all that sound. Yet there's no denying that they're popular — particularly among baby boomers and others who try to get active and stay fit with bodies that seem to grow achier all the time. But increasingly, research is showing that all those boomers may be onto something — that there are solid reasons for just about everyone to consider getting a good rubdown.

Investigators at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine recently took a close look at the effect of massage on a very specific group of people who might be most in need of pampering: cancer patients. In a study of 380 adults with advanced-stage cancer and at least moderate pain, the researchers found that those who received massage therapy had greater improvement in pain and mood than patients who were touched in a manner similar to massage but without the precise motion and pressure a trained therapist uses.

For these patients, even a little relief can mean a lot. Generally, about a third of cancer patients experience significant pain. As for mood, according to the National Cancer Institute, 15% to 25% of cancer patients become clinically depressed at some point during their illness. And the very nature of treatment for a serious illness often makes things worse.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • Dr. Sanjay Gupta • Medical News
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX

    hey Dr. Gupta!
    Long time no hear! I love massages! I believe they are part of a good health regiment. Let me explain. Stress causes lots of diseases. I work out therefore, I need muscle relief.
    Regular massage therapy keeps good circulation, helps stress, and makes me feel like a million bucks!
    That has got to be healthy! I have low blood pressure, low colesterol, and am in perfect health.
    It is not that this is an isolated reason, but a culmination of good health habits.
    My physician,counselor, and physical theaipist recommend regular massages. So, kudos for the blog!
    It is a very good thing. 😉
    You are the best!

    October 22, 2008 at 9:52 pm |
  2. Kim

    Dear Dr. Gupta:
    As a critical care nurse, I am surrounded daily by the stress of caring/monitoring the critically ill, as well as caring for their loved ones. All of this being done on hard surfaced floors on a 12-14 hour shift three times weekly. I find massage therapy twice monthly to be a therapeutic release for my body, mind, and spirit. It provides me release and relaxation that renews me. Such renewal give me strength in both my personal and professional life. Of course, as with any alternative therapy, benefits are often within the eyes of the beholder. For me, massage therapy is extremely beneficial.

    October 22, 2008 at 9:08 pm |
  3. Rebecca

    Over the course of my life, I have been in 3 car accidents. I love getting a massage for the pampering of it but in these cases when I was prescribed massages they were for loosening the muscles so that my doctor or chiropractor could move my bones and joints better. The licensed massage therapist was usually in-house so just after a massage the muscles loosen up and the adjustment would then follow. As the muscles would tighten up the spinal adjustment would hold longer and the muscles would heal better. Must have worked, my last accident was 3 years ago. I was hit from behind stopped in traffic and the car was going 60 mph. I have not needed to see a doctor in a year. Still two years is a long time for therapy.

    It was very interesting to read the full article. I'm thrilled to know that it may have more benefits.

    October 22, 2008 at 8:35 pm |
  4. Judy Opial

    After my husband died, I had no physical contact, with anyone, except for an occcassional hug from my son and daughter. After about 4 years, I was given a gift certificate to have a theraputic assage. By the time, it was over, I was crying. Not from pain but just from having someone touch me.
    No, it has nothing to do with sex. It has everything to do with the human touch.
    Now, as a hospice nurse, our patient's are given massages, for pain control, relaxation and because, others are less likely to hug or touch them.
    Massge is a wonderful, relaxing welcome escape. If I were rich, I would have one at least once a week.

    October 22, 2008 at 6:12 pm |
  5. Sophie MN

    I think this is a perfect example of why the eagerness of MD's to discount anything "anecdotal" from the people they are actually treating needs to be re-examined. Dietary, complimentary, and bodywork proponents are not merely delusional people who want to spend money on mass delusions – a lot of these approaches *work.* Science should spend more time examining why, rather than insisting there's no empirical basis for those who have benefitted to benefit.

    October 22, 2008 at 5:55 pm |
  6. Pamina

    When my mother was going through her Chemo and radiation treatment, one of the services provided to her through her clinic was weekly massages. Now, after three years, she still goes bi-weekly. It has been wonderful for her anxiety and she really relies on it to help her. I wonder what other research is out there on the power of touch.

    October 22, 2008 at 5:49 pm |
  7. Vegas

    Upon returning from a one year tour in Iraq I had my first one at a high class place.

    I must say it was very nice... relaxing... and I left feeling wonderful, loose, strong, and stress free.... I had a couple beers after and a long nap.... I highly suggest it for anyone needing to relax.

    October 22, 2008 at 5:25 pm |
  8. DH Haralson

    As a licensed massage therapist for the last 25 years, I am pleased to read that Dr. Gupta did his research and had a massage. When I began my career and would tell people that I did massage, the response was often "Oh yeah?" (wink wink). A few years later the response became "Wow, I wish I was rich so I could get one of those". Now, when I tell people that I am a Massage Therapist, almost everyone will say something like, "You know, I've got this pain in my shoulder (neck, back). Do you think you could help with that?"

    Massage does not have to be a luxury. If more people would invest a little time and money on their wellness through regular massage therapy, the would not have to invest so much in medical care, accident recovery, alcohol consumption and pain medication.

    October 22, 2008 at 4:03 pm |
  9. Tita

    IMessages feel good. I had one ONCE (a gift from a friend) and it was a-0k. But I can't afford to do it on a regular basis and I think that's going to include lots of other people now. Gotta buy groceries and gas before getting a message (luxury). I wanted to tell you what I did to help myself feel better, and it's FREE and every citizen of a certain age can do this too!!!!!!
    I voted yesterday (mail in Ballot in ORegon) and I FEEL so much better. I think my outlook on life, along with my general outlook on the world is much improved. I think voting helps a person 'feel' they are in some kind of control over what is obviously not controlable. So I happily voted for Obama, smiled and then went to post it. I FELT GREAT. The fog is starting to lift, and all I needed was a pen, and stamp. I feel brighter, lighter and HEALTHIER. Go figure!!!
    Kindest Regards,
    Tita in Oregon

    October 22, 2008 at 3:50 pm |
  10. Melissa, Los Angeles

    If massages weren't so expensive, I'd get one every week but for now I only indulge in one twice a year at most.

    October 22, 2008 at 3:42 pm |