People employed in healthcare and the emergency services, such as nurses, firefighters and the police, often work long shifts in a high-performance, physically demanding and traumatic settings. They often suffer from a wide range of physical, mental and emotional issues including chronic pain, muscular tension, stress, headaches and insomnia. In some cases, particularly where their work has regularly taken them into traumatic situations, they can end up with full-blown posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Under normal circumstances, our bodies are adapted to cope with stress by producing hormones like cortisol, which fire up the body so that it can deal with a perceived threat, this is otherwise known as the ‘fight or flight’ response.
Wonderful though this was for us for many thousands of years ago when dealing with the threat of a rampaging lion or tiger, modern life has got so stressful that many of us feel constantly under threat. We easily end up in a state where our bodies are producing lots of stress hormones but the stress does not go away. This is essentially what happens to many people working within the healthcare and the emergency services sectors, as the dem
ands of their fast-paced, decision-driven work require them to respond quickly to situations where it really is ‘life or death’.
Research is showing what many bodyworkers and therapists have long understood, that many types of bodywork including myofascial release, massage, shiatsu, tui-na and acupressure, can all be very beneficial for combating the long-term effects of a stress. A researcher conducting a study for the Ohio Fire Executive Program found firefighters enjoyed reduced stress and increased well-being after receiving massage therapy treatments. A research group at Boston’s ‘Pathways to Complementary Medicine’ studied 47 first responders treated by massage therapists (including shiatsu, tui-na, and acupressure practitioners) and other CAM providers after 9/11. They pointed out the benefits of these alternative practices when combined with standard stress treatments such as therapy or counselling. A study following 66 intensive care unit nurses found massage therapy produced a significant reduction in the occupational stress they experienced and led to improved emotional well-being and quality of life in study participants.
Myofascial release and massage have a huge amount to offer professionals in high-performance, physically demanding and traumatic workplaces. Muscular tension, tight fascia and trigger points can be eased, allowing the body to bring itself back to balance and let go of patterns of tension. This can have a positive effect not just on a person’s overall sense of well-being but on issues such as headaches and insomnia too. Movement patterns can be improved by releasing tight fascia and mobilising joints. Psychologically, the power of touch to calm the nervous system, switching it from ‘fight or flight’ into ‘rest and relaxation’ cannot be understated in terms of allowing the body, mind and soul time for rest, repair and relaxation. For those employed in sectors where their main role is to care for others in challenging situations, massage is a wonderful way to take some time for you, where you can be nurtured and cared for, allowing your body and mind the space it needs to heal itself.
Delaney, J.P., Leong, K.S., Watkins, A., & Brodie, D. (2002). The short-term effects of myofascial trigger point massage therapy on cardiac autonomic tone in healthy subjects. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 37, 364-71.
Boone, T., Tanner, M., & Radosevich, A. (2001). Effects of a 10-minute back rub on cardiovascular responses in healthy subjects. American Journal of Chinese Medicine. 29, 47-52.
Brennan, M.K. & DeBate, R. (2004).The effect of chair massage on stress perception of hospital bedside nurses. Massage Therapy Journal 43, (1), 76-86.
Cady, S. H., & Jones, G. E. (1997). Massage therapy as a workplace intervention for reduction of stress. Perceptual & Motor Skills, 84, 157-158.
Field, T., Ironson, G., Scafidi, F., Nawrocki, T., Goncalves, A., Burman, I., Pickens, J., Fox, N., Schanberg, S., & Kuhn, C. (1996). Massage therapy reduces anxiety and enhances EEG pattern of alertness and math computations.
International Journal of Neuroscience, 86, 197-205.
Field, T., Quintino, O., Henteleff, T., Wells-Keife, L., & Delvecchio-Feinberg, G. (1997). Job stress reduction therapies. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 3, (4), 54-56.
MacDonald, G. (1998). Massage offers respite for primary caregivers. The American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Care, Jan/Feb, 43-47.
Nazari, F., Mirzamohamadi, M., & Yousefi, H. (2015). The effect of massage therapy on the occupational stress of intensive care unit nurses. Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, 20(4), 508–515.
Skogstad, L., Fjetland, A., & Ekeberg, Ø. (2015). Exposure and posttraumatic stress symptoms among first responders working in proximity to the terror sites in Norway on July 22, 2011 – A cross-sectional study. Scandinavian Journal of Trauma Resuscitation and Emergency Medicine, 23 (23).
Sommers, E., Porter, K., & DeGurski, S. (2002) Providers of complementary and alternative health services in Boston respond to September 11. American Journal of Public Health, 92(10), 1597–1598.