The audacity! Johnson & Johnson, one of the largest drug companies in the world, has launched a television ad that touts the “healing power of touch” then goes on to shill their latest Tylenol product. Talk about bait and switch!

The ad draws the viewer’s attention by using the appeal of a natural, safe and effective way to relieve pain that has been known for millennia: human touch. But within a few seconds, we realize touch has nothing to do with what the new Tylenol product is about. They’re trying to sell you a cream containing methyl salicylate, C12-15 alkyl benzoate, carbomer, cocoglycerides, distearyl ether, edetate disodium, ethylparaben, fragrance, glyceryl laurate, glyceryl stearate, methylparaben, myristlyl alcohol, phenoxyethanol, propylparaben, sodium hydroxide, steareth-2, steareth-21, stearyl alcohol. It’s just another bald attempt by a drug company to jump on the natural healing bandwagon. The only information of value in the commercial is reminding viewers of the healing power of touch. In most cases that means therapeutic massage.

Back pain? Rub it out. In Western culture, what we commonly call massage is derived from a form of Swedish massage taught by Per Hendrik Ling in the 19th century. Swedish massage is mostly long, stroking movements that manipulate the soft tissue and muscles. Until the late 1970s, it was by far the most common. Its therapeutic values are understood and include improved circulation, both vascular and lymphatic, relief of pain and the reduction of stress.

A number of studies have been released that prove the medical value of massage. Recently one was revealed regarding back pain. Researchers at Group Health Research Institute in Seattle studied 401 people with chronic low back pain who were randomly assigned to one of three treatments. One group received full-body relaxation massage. A second received targeted deep tissue massage. The third group got the usual care — medication and physical therapy.

After 10 weeks, the results were dramatic: Nearly two-thirds of patients who received either type of weekly massage reported back pain was significantly reduced or gone altogether. Only about one-third of patients receiving the usual care experienced similar relief. Massage was twice as effective as drugs!

Massage therapy can also be quite specialized. Techniques such as Rolfing, myofascial release, craniosacral therapy, acupressure, Feldenkrais, Hellerwork, orthobionomy and many more have specific uses and require advanced training. Incorporating these techniques helps the massage therapist offer more to the client. But the style of massage that is the basic is still a derivative of Swedish massage.

Of course massage therapy feels good, relaxes and relieves stress. But there is much more. Massage therapy helps stimulate circulation. With massage, the actual physical manipulation of the muscles and tissues improves circulation. Healthy blood flow is essential. But remember, blood isn’t all that flows through the body. Keeping energy moving through the body is a major tenet of all traditional therapies. Whether we call it chi or ki or prana, energy must flow freely for optimum health.

The seemingly simple action of massage can result in slower and deeper respirations as we relax. Oxygen intake can increase and the circulation of air in the lungs is better. Phlegm and mucous is loosened in the lungs and congestion can be relieved. With easier breathing, our blood pressure can lower as we relax. The flow of blood to all the tissues and organs is improved. Body temperature regulates and toxins are released from tissues.

Our body uses a complex lymphatic system to move lymph through the body. Part of a healthy immune system, the lymphatic system helps remove pathogens and toxins. Massage improves that flow and helps alleviate blockages. Many of today’s professional massage therapists take additional training to learn how to improve lymphatic flow for their clients. Usually, lymphatic massage is gentler and accompanies the deeper, tissue massage we are accustomed to.

What side effects? Massage can also increase mobility in chronically disabled patients. Many causes of decreased mobility are linked to connective tissue problems such as arthritis. Connective tissue massage focuses on the tissue that connects the muscles to the skeleton and each other. Some massage therapists incorporate it into their practice. Once again, the improved circulation affords healing and better flexibility.

The most common massage experience is a full-body massage at home, a chiropractor’s office, health club or massage therapist’s facility. In that setting, the client can be fully or partially disrobed, though always covered modestly with a sheet or gown that is discarded after each client. Therapists give the client the option of disrobing. Therapists use a specially designed padded table that is easy to lie on, with a special section for the face to rest upon. Some therapists, especially those who practice pregnancy massage for expectant mothers, have tables with adjustable sections for a mother’s breasts or stomach to rest comfortably.

An hour massage is typical and may also include music therapy, aromatherapy, use of crystals, essential oils or other therapies that the individual therapist is trained in and are agreeable to the client. With a good massage therapist, the client is always consulted and informed. In a quiet, restful setting such as a therapist’s office, a massage can have tremendous physical, emotional and mental benefits.

All drugs have side effects. In fact, acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, causes three times as many cases of liver failure as all other drugs combined and is the most common cause of acute liver failure in the United States, accounting for 39% of cases. It’s difficult to imagine anyone ever experiencing a massage-induced liver failure. So if you’re looking for the healing power of touch, as the makers of Tylenol call it, look no further than a licensed massage therapist. They’ll rub you the right way.

Be well.

Heartland Healing examines various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information, not as medical advice, and it is not an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or The Reader. Access past columns at

Leave a comment