By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
It was used after the attacks of Sept. 11.
It was used after Hurricane Katrina.
Now, Cindy Carlson-Wilson is seeing it used in the wake of the May 22 Joplin tornado.
And a new study by Seattle’s Group Health Research Institute reinforces that it actually provides significant relief. Massage therapy, when coupled with traditional medical treatment, relieves back pain and calms the central nervous system.
“After a disaster, people react differently,” said Carlson-Wilson from her business, Massage for Health Center on West Third Street, earlier this week. “Some people hold emotions in, which causes them to tense up and creates stress. That leads to muscles that are sore and painful.”
Carlson-Wilson, a licensed massage therapist for 17 years, knows about stress people have endured as a result of the tornado: Not only has it brought more clients to her business, her two children lost their homes and everything they owned.
“They lived in a duplex on Byers. Our daughter and her fiance were in one half, and our son and his wife were in the other half,” Carlson-Wilson said. “They went through a lot, and although they’re physically OK, they are faced with rebuilding their lives.”
Others, she said, face mental and emotional stress because they lost a church or place of employment.
“And still others are carrying stress because they have people living with them who have no place else to go,” she said. “Then there are those who didn’t lose anything, but were impacted because they lost their town, or there may be a sense of guilt because others are hurting.”
Her clients have included a woman who spent days digging through the rubble trying to save what she could and experienced aches and pain and anxiety as a result, and a man who is helping to rebuild his church and pulled a muscle in his back.
But the feel-good feeling clients had after their massages weren’t so much about luxurious pampering, but the biological changes that occur as a result.
Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles found that adults who received deep tissue and light massage showed significant decreases in the stress hormone cortisol, among other things. The Seattle study, published recently by the Annals of Internal Medicine, showed massage recipients spent fewer days in bed, were more active and took fewer medications.
The latest survey from the American Hospital Association indicates the medical community is on board: The number of hospitals offering massage increased by more than one-third from 2004 to 2006.
While more Americans than ever are seeking massages Ñ one in six last year, or 25 million more than 10 years ago, according to the American Massage Therapy Association Ñ Carlson-Wilson emphasized that there is no blanket approach to reducing soreness or stress.
“I treat people when they come in, as they come in. We find what we find, and then we decide how to treat it,” she said. “If they come in and we find a lot, it’s their choice on whether to do it once or continue.”
How quickly a person feels better also varies.
“If they’ve had it for weeks or months, it’s likely not going to go away with one session,” said Carlson-Wilson. “It all depends on age, length of time they’ve had it, whether it’s just an overall tightness, the area of body and the specific muscles involved.”