February 26, 2003

Students Turn to Massages for Therapy

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Massage therapy can provide relief for students experiencing stress, anxiety and muscle tightness due to their daily activities — sitting at length at a computer, standing through labs, overexerting during exercise and juggling extracurricular activities with a typical Cornell workload.

If left untreated, tension may cause unwanted stiffness, backache, insomnia, stomach tightness and jaw tightness, which are the warning signs of stress. However, massage therapy can serve as a muscle and stress reliever and boost the immune system, according to Beth McKinney, director of the Cornell University Wellness Program.

Massage is the manual application of pressure and movement of soft body tissues — skin, muscle, tendons and ligaments.

“When expertly applied, these techniques can eliminate muscle tension by increasing the circulation of blood in the body,” said Matty Termotto, licensed massage therapist at the Wellness Program. Massage naturally increases the body’s production of serotonin and dopamine, mood-enhancing neurotransmitters, and also reduces the body’s production of cortisol, a steroid hormone the body produces during stress that weakens the immune system, according to Termotto.

“Massage has proven to lower blood pressure, wear away scar tissue, relieve the pain of arthritis and actually reduce the effects of stress on the body in a chemical way,” she said.

The benefits of getting a massage are not only tangible and immediate but also engage the recipient and masseuse in an “equal exchange of giving and receiving” that can be very relaxing for both people, according to Amit Kalra ’03, personal trainer at Cornell Fitness Centers.

“When you’re giving a massage, you’re in contact with a person by helping them, so in that way you are helping yourself at the same time,” Kalra explained about his experience of practicing Swedish massage.

“If everyone got a massage once a month, everyone would definitely notice a great change in his or her life,” he said.

The holistic approach to healing has become more popularized among Western doctors who are now incorporating massage therapy into their practices and “realizing the connections between the mental, emotional, physical aspects of their patients’ ailments,” Termotto said.

She noted that Eastern modalities have always approached the body as an integrated unit.

“Relieving the body of physical discomfort simultaneously relieves anxiety,” she said.

The practice of giving massage can help a person understand ways to manage stress, which in turn “empowers them to take the good care they need to of themselves, fortifying them to be whole and balanced people,” Termotto added.

“Grad students, law and MBA students and office personnel are consistently my toughest clients, as they deal with the highest levels of measurable tension in their bodies,” Termotto said, referring to neck and muscle tightness.

Termotto helps her clients cultivate “an awareness of when stress is taking control of their bodies” and assists them in managing that stress in a positive way.

During difficult or demanding times, a weekly massage can counter the chemical effects of stress and allow the body to function better.

“Everyone needs to be kneaded,” Termotto said.

Cornell Physical and Massage Therapy (CPMT) at Schoellkopf Hall offers 30-minute massages for $30 and full-hour massages for $50, according to CPMT supervisor Linda Warner.

Termotto offers group clinics as well as 15-minute massages for $10 through the Wellness Program on Thursday evenings from 4 to 6:30 p.m. at Helen Newman Hall.

Archived article by Janet Liao