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The benefits of massage therapy

U-M patient experiences "life-altering" results

Massage therapy

Diane Holland, M.D., is a strong believer in the Massage Therapy Program offered to University of Michigan Health System patients, outpatients, families, staff and guests. In fact, you could say she’s one of the program’s biggest fans.The benefits Holland says she gets from her weekly massage session go well beyond the traditional muscle relaxation that many expect. The radiologist, a U-M Medical School alumna and former cancer patient, believes her weekly massage appointments with Massage Therapy Program Director Beth Miazga have been life altering.

Holland was diagnosed in 1998 with cancer of the tonsil and underwent surgery and radiation to treat her condition. Unexpectedly, the cancer returned 12 years later in her facial nerve and salivary gland, a diagnosis that was made by U-M surgical oncologist Dr. Carol Bradford after many other doctors attributed Diane’s facial paralysis to the scar tissue from her radiation and prior surgery.

But Dr. Bradford, according to Holland, was immediately concerned and performed a biopsy, confirming a cancer diagnosis that led to her second surgery.

“The outcome of my surgery (performed by Dr. Bradford) was very good,” says Holland, “but the extremely complicated procedure on my face and neck, compromised by the radiation 12 years prior, left me barely able to open my mouth or move my head from side to side.” To further complicate her condition, the skin on Holland’s neck was not healing properly due to radiation damage.

Massage therapy brings relief

Beth Miazga thumbnail

Beth Miazga, U-M Massage Therapy Program Director

Holland’s U-M occupational therapist referred her to the health system’s Massage Therapy Program for additional help with the extreme tightness in her neck and mouth. Here, Holland met program director Miazga, who she refers to as “a gifted person who provided great therapy.”

Holland says massage therapy has improved her neck and facial issues by increasing blood flow to the affected area, thereby enhancing oxygen and nutrients to promote healing. “Massage therapy is recognized as a complementary and therapeutic approach to treating pain, muscle tightness and fatigue,” she says, adding that myofascial release therapy, which involves applying gentle sustained pressure into the myofascial connective tissue to eliminate pain and restore motion, also helps her maintain good posture while other forms of massage increase flow of lymphatic fluid, which is important for cancer patients.

An interdisciplinary approach

“At U-M, we work with the patient’s healthcare team as well as with occupational therapists to ensure the most beneficial type of massage for each patient,” says Miazga.

“Oftentimes hospital patients are afraid, anxious and worried. Massage therapy or a technique known as compassionate touch helps them feel relaxed and nurtured. Just 20 minutes of touch therapy can benefit patients in so many ways,” Miazga says.

Benefits of massage

While more research is needed to confirm the benefits of massage, some studies have found massage therapy may:

  • Decrease anxiety
  • Relieve back pain
  • Improve sleep quality
  • Boost the immune system
  • Ease post-operative pain
  • Relieve tension headaches
  • Lower blood pressure

“Our services often include 30 to 45 minutes of touch therapy for adults as well as for kids,” says Miazga. “Patients in chronic pain comment that they forget about the pain during a massage session.

“It’s easy to get an appointment,” Miazga says. “We offer a variety of massage methods — whether to alleviate a person’s focus on a physical condition, to eliminate stress or to improve a physical condition, such as in Diane’s case.”

Take the next step:

  • For more information about the Massage Therapy Program call 734-232-5029 or visit med.umich.edu/massage.

U of M Health logoFor more than 160 years, the University of Michigan Health System has been a national leader in advanced patient care, innovative research to improve human health and comprehensive education of physicians and medical scientists. The three U-M hospitals have been recognized numerous times for excellence in patient care, including a #1 ranking in Michigan and national rankings in many specialty areas by U.S. News & World Report.