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Could Massage Therapy Help Ease Your Eating Disorder Symptoms?

Experts estimate that around 15 to 20 percent of Canadian women show many of the symptoms of an eating disorder. These disorders can affect your mental and physical health in potentially life-threatening ways, so a doctor may recommend multiple treatment methods to help you get back to a healthier weight. Treatment plans can include psychotherapy, medical care, counselling and medication, but doctors can also add massage therapy to these plans. Find out more about the benefits of massage therapy, and learn how this treatment could ease the symptoms of your eating disorder.

How eating disorders affect your health

Of any mental illness, eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia have the highest mortality rate. Studies show that 5 to 10 percent of anorexics will die within ten years of developing the condition and only 30 to 40 percent of these people ever recover. The debilitating effects of an eating disorder can quickly take their toll on your body.

People with anorexia can suffer from many serious health problems. These include:

  • Heart failure because blood pressure and heart rate drop dangerously low
  • Osteoporosis (dry and brittle bones)
  • Severe dehydration, which can lead to kidney failure
  • Peptic ulcers and pancreatitis

People with eating disorders often fail to get the treatment they need. Experts estimate that only 10 percent of sufferers get treatment, and only 20 percent of the women who receive care get the treatment intensity they need. The cost of care can quickly become expensive, so it's important to consider different treatment methods.

Research into massage therapy

There are not yet a lot of studies into the benefits of massage therapy for people with eating disorders, but new research suggests that this treatment method could become invaluable to many patients. The University Of Western Sydney, Australia published a report early in 2015 that suggests further research could save many lives.

To understand more about the benefits of this treatment, researchers compared the effects of acupuncture and massage therapy in a controlled sample of anorexic inpatients. Participants in the trial were all aged 15 or older and had a confirmed anorexia diagnosis. The two groups were mostly female, single and lived with their parents. About 25 percent of all the people involved had already used complementary medicine.

One group received acupuncture treatment, while the other participants received acupressure and light massage. The participants received treatment twice a week for the first three weeks. The patients then received weekly treatment for a further three weeks. The acupressure group received massage to the back and shoulders using Swedish massage techniques, and participants were able to choose between superficial and deep effleurage. Therapists used a range of motions.

The researchers measured outcomes based on the patients' body-mass index (BMI) and other secondary outcomes like anxiety and depression. The acupressure group highlighted the benefit of the patients' interaction with a massage therapist, prompting the researchers to conclude that a larger trial could yield stronger statistical evidence of the benefits of massage therapy.

Why massage therapy can help

Eating disorders can often lead to depression and anxiety because sufferers become distressed about the condition. Bulimia and anorexia can easily become 'all-consuming', and patients soon find themselves in a state of distress about their weight.

Massage therapy can help ease this distress. During a stress-relieving massage, the body starts to produce more dopamine and serotonin. Sufferers also experience lower levels of stress hormones, helping the patients to feel calmer and happier. In turn, this state of mind helps people with the disorder cope with the demands of an ongoing treatment plan.

The Australian research also showed that massage therapy improved the patients' self-image. The women became more satisfied with their bodies, slowing the need to become thinner. Indeed, the massage helped the women change the way they viewed their bodies for some time after the therapy ended.

Research has shown a connection between eating disorders and touch deprivation. Researchers believe that you stand a higher chance of developing an eating disorder if your parents were less tactile as you were growing up. Similarly, people with the disorder often have a greater longing for personal contact. Massage therapy helps these people close this gap.

Eating disorders affect millions of people in Canada, but evidence now shows that massage therapy could help ease the symptoms of these conditions. If you want to explore the benefits of this treatment method, talk to your doctor or contact a massage therapist in your area.