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Massage Therapy: Why It Works

If you are looking for the best place to provide you with a recovery plan from alcohol or substance abuse, choose a rehab center that offers a variety of complementary therapies. Even though your therapy must include individual, group, and family counseling, there are reasons why yoga, acupuncture, movement classes, and massage therapy make up such an important component of the treatment regimen.

In other articles on this website we’ve discussed Rosen Method classes, acupuncture, and yoga. Let’s take a specific look at the benefits of massage therapy for addiction recovery.

Why are the counseling sessions that you undertake only the beginning of treatment? Many people cannot recognize or identify the issues that brought them to addiction until they find a way to reconnect with the thinking part of the brain. It’s not as easy as it sounds, because if someone is bothered by some past trauma or by negative relationships, his subconscious mind will try to block him from actively recognizing and working on those problems.

Those very issues may be at the root of addiction. Some people have a biological propensity toward addiction, and others live in an environment where substance use is rampant, but they may be able to resist addiction initially—until emotional issues push them over the edge. Massage therapy takes a person beyond the limits of the cognitive mind and allows him to relax so that he can explore his feelings. He begins to understand why he feels pain, agitation, stress, or anxiety.

There is also a connection between massage therapy and the brain’s ability to produce those feel-good neurotransmitters we’ve all heard about, like dopamine and serotonin. Drugs and alcohol stimulate the brain to produce those neurotransmitters, and so the brain stops its own production of those important biochemical substances. The person suffering from addiction does not experience the same level of reward satisfaction as a non-addict. Massage therapy provides an experience that stimulates production of those neurotransmitters without drugs. Its significance is not a direct connection of touch between the massage therapist and the patient, but rather the person’s improved ability to get in touch with himself and with his inner feelings.

Just as movement classes will help a person to open up—as his body learns to move, so does his mind—massage therapy allows a person to once again reach deep into his inner mind for the answers that will help him control his addiction. The pressure applied during massage can also stimulate the brain’s vagus nerve, which results in lowered blood pressure and heart rate. Stress hormones like cortisol are reduced.

Massage also helps the body to relax naturally at bedtime. Many people in recovery have difficulty sleeping, because they keep thinking about their substance of choice and because the first stages of recovery can bring physiologic changes that cause insomnia. With massage, the person finds himself better able to relax and sleep. Even 24 hours after a massage, he continues to feel its benefits.

Recovery is much more than just withdrawing from drugs or alcohol. It means that you’re going to make yourself whole once again. Many medical doctors don’t get that, and they tell their patients to just stop using. Massage therapists understand the connection between the mind and the spirit. That’s why it’s best to seek treatment at a residential treatment facility that understands the importance of massage therapy for addiction recovery

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