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PMS and Massage

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Massages can be relaxing and rejuvenating but are they any good in the management of premenstrual syndrome? It is hard to determine the effectiveness of massage for PMS from past studies. This is due to the difficulty in conducting unbiased research into this form of treatment. Therefore, it is best to experience massage for PMS before determining its effectiveness. Anecdotal evidences suggest that massage works wonders for women with PMS. This article identifies the possible ways that massage can provide relief for PMS symptoms and also discusses the commonly used forms of massage for PMS.

The Many Types of Massage

Massage involves the manipulation by the touch of surface and deep layers of muscles and connective tissues to reduce fatigue, improve muscular function and promote healing. In simple terms, massage promotes relaxation.

There are different massage techniques but in every case, some degree of pressure is involved.

The parts of the body targeted by massage techniques are usually muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, skins, and connective tissues. However, organs of the gastrointestinal system and vessels of the lymphatic system may also be massaged.

Although massage is usually given by hands and fingers, it can also be delivered by forearms, elbows, knees and even feet.

Different Types of Massages
  • Acupressure massage
  • Lymphatic breast massage
  • Lymphatic drainage massage
  • Ayurveda massage
  • Deep tissue massage
  • Foot massage
  • Reflexology massage
  • Self-massage
  • Shiatsu
  • Sports massage
  • Tantric massage
  • Thai massage
  • Traditional Chinese massage

Benefits of Massage

It is rather difficult to conduct clinical trials to investigate the benefits of massage. This is because there is no appropriate control to compare to massage treatments.

Ideally, a placebo-controlled, double-blind study will require a treatment that appears (and in this case, feels) similar to massage even though it is not massage. In addition, both the massage therapist and the person receiving the massage should not know the difference between the real massage and the “fake” massage (double-blind).

Unfortunately, there is no “fake” or placebo massage and there is no effective way to blind both the receiver and giver of the massage to the placebo massage.

Therefore, most of the evidence to support massage treatments come from subjective rather than objective measures of their outcomes.

However, a 2004 meta-analyses published in Psychological Bulletin reviewed the body of work done in massage therapy research to conclude that massage helped reduce pain, anxiety, depression, blood pressure, and heart rate.

A lot of theories are currently put forward to explain the efficacy of massage for promoting physical, physiological and psychological relaxation. Some of these are mentioned in the table below.

How Massage May Help You Relax
  • By stimulating the release of serotonin (neurotransmitter involved in mood, sleep, and memory) and endorphins (natural pain relievers)
  • By increasing blood circulation in the area massaged
  • By activating the parasympathetic nervous system
  • By increasing lymph flow in the lymphatic system
  • By blocking response to pain or raising the threshold of pain
  • By preventing the formation of scar tissue
  • By promoting sedation

PMS and Massage

Massage is good for managing the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) for all of the reasons listed in the table above.

While it should not be the sole therapy to manage your PMS, massage can help considerably.

Besides its therapeutic benefits, the mere feeling of touch can provide needed intimacy for women who are going through the emotional rollercoaster of PMS. Massage for PMS does not have to be given by a trained massage therapist; your partner can gradually develop the right skills and help you relax when PMS hits the hardest.

By promoting blood circulation and lymph flow, massage can stimulate renewed energy and restore hormonal balance.

Lymphatic massage is especially effective for addressing PMS-related bloating. By massaging the swollen areas of your body upwards and towards the nearest lymph nodes, you can prevent the accumulation of fluid in the body and relieve abdominal bloating and edematous swelling.

The same is also true of breast tenderness. By helping with fluid emptying into the lymph nodes, massage can also reduce breast pain.

Pain, aches, and cramps are major physical symptoms of PMS. Because massage relaxes the body, promotes blood flow and releases endorphins, it can significantly reduce all these PMS symptoms.

Lastly, deep tissue massage can leave you both spent and relaxed enough to improve your sleep.

Sleep has its own benefits. It helps the body repair and renew itself. In addition, it improves memory, mental focus, and cognitive performance.

Therefore, sleep can help quiet you down and reset the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain.

All of these benefits indicate that sleep is important for women with PMS who, unfortunately, are affected by depression, irritability, and insomnia.

The Touch Institute Study

While it is difficult to measure the effect of massage on PMS (for reasons discussed above), at least one group of researchers tried to.

In a 2000 study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers from the Touch Research Institute in the University of Miami School of Medicine investigated the efficacy of massage therapy for PMS symptoms.

For this study, they recruited 24 women aged 19 – 45 years and suffering from PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder, a more severe form of PMS).

These women were randomly assigned to either massage therapy or relaxation techniques (breathing, stretching and yoga-like exercises, etc.). The massage group received massage therapy twice a week for 5 weeks. Each massage session took 30 minutes.

In half of that time, the massage techniques used included kneading the feet and thighs; stroking the forehead, hands, arms, shoulders, and feet; pressing down on the shoulders; and circular stroking of the abdomen while lying face upward.

In the other half, the women lay face down while they were massaged on the low back, neck, and shoulders. Furthermore, their ankles were stretched, calf muscles compressed, thigh muscles kneaded and legs stroked.

The relaxation group was also given a roughly equivalent muscle relaxation therapy for the same duration.

The results of the study showed that the massage group experienced immediate relief from pain, anxiety, and depression following each session.

In addition, they experienced long-term improvements in pain, fluid retention, and overall menstrual distress.

While this study is flawed, it is hard to come by a better-designed study investigating the use of massage for PMS. In spite of its flaws, the results of this study are still good enough to conclude that massage has some benefits for improving PMS symptoms.

Abdominal Massage for PMS

Abdominal massage involves kneading and stroking the abdominal area. It is believed to help with PMS symptoms such as cramping and abdominal bloating.

An abdominal massage is also a form of self-message. Because you can do it yourself, it can be done regularly and consistently. This is important because the benefits of this massage are cumulative and it may take 3 – 4 months before you see results.

Abdominal massage should be started 4 days before your period and a minimum daily session of 5 minutes is advised.

However, you should avoid this PMS massage if you suffer from acid reflux, irritable bowel disease or if you are pregnant. Women with fibroids should massage gently.

First, you need to lie down in a semi-reclining position on your bed and set a heating pad underneath your lower back. This means that you should set up a sloping wall of pillows to support your back and your head and a single pillow placed beneath your knees.

Thereafter, apply 1 teaspoon of fragrant massage oil or essential oil used in aromatherapy to your belly. Spread the oil and massage your abdomen in a clockwise direction with your right hand.

Repeat with your left hand and also in a clockwise direction. Repeat these movements on your lower abdomen over the area where your uterus should be.

Move the heating pad from your lower back to rest on your belly.

Aromatherapy Massage for PMS

Aromatherapy is another useful alternative medicine therapy for PMS. It involves the use of soothing and healing essential oils.

Commonly used aromatherapy oils include rose oil, geranium oil, clary sage oil, lavender oil, and bergamot oil. These oils can be used in PMS therapy by inhalation, bath or massage.

Aromatherapy oils can provide relief for PMS pains and muscle aches. They can also promote relaxation and sleep while improving mood. Lastly, these oils are useful for getting rid of PMS-related acne and other skin conditions.

Aromatherapy oils can be directly massaged onto the skin. But to improve their penetration into the skin tissues, a base or carrier oil may be added. Examples of base oils are almond oil and jojoba oil.

To address various PMS symptoms, aromatherapy oils can be massaged on the temples to relieve headache, on the breast to reduce breast pain and soreness, on the stomach to reduce bloating and cramps, on the back to reduce backaches and on the face to relieve acne.

Reflexology for PMS

Reflexology or zone therapy is a system of alternative medicine based on the principle that various points in the feet, lower leg, hand, face, and ear correspond to different parts of the body.

Therefore, a reflexologist applies pressure on these points with specific fingers, thumbs and hand movements to stimulate healing in a distant part of the body through the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.

In the treatment of PMS, reflexologists usually massage the ankle and big toe because these points are used to calm the reproductive systems and achieve hormonal balance.

Unlike some other forms of massages, reflexology does not require the use of oil or lotion.

But is reflexology any good? A 2009 review of past studies found little clinical evidence to support its use for any medical condition.

However, a 1993 study published in the journal, Obstetrics and Gynecology, found the technique effective in the treatment of PMS symptoms. In that study, the researchers recruited 35 women with PMS. These women were randomly assigned to receive either placebo reflexology or reflexology of the ear, hand, and foot.

The researchers measured PMS symptoms for 2 months before the study, 2 months during the treatment and 2 months after the treatment.

Both the real and placebo reflexology sessions were conducted by a trained reflexologist. Each session lasted for 30 minutes and was given once every week for 8 weeks.

The results of the study showed that the women who received real reflexology experienced significantly greater improvements in their PMS symptoms compared to those who received placebo reflexology.

Yet another study found that receiving reflexology before and during PMS was more effective than ibuprofen for reducing the severity and duration of menstrual pain.

Given the lack of scientific evidence to support the link between reflexology points and other parts of the body, the effectiveness of reflexology massage may be due to the massage rather than reflexology claims. However, there is no denying that reflexology massage works for some women with PMS.

Reflexology Massage and PMS Symptoms
  • Massage the top of the ankle to reduce bloating
  • Massage the instep of your feet to relieve back pain
  • Massage the inner ankles to relieve cramps
  • Massage the ear to boost your mood

Acupressure for PMS

Acupressure is similar to reflexology because its basic principle also involves the application of pressure on certain points of the body to effect a therapeutic response in a distant part of the body.

However, the points needed to be stimulated in acupressure are acupuncture points and they are situated on the meridian lines through which qi (or “energy”) flows.

The efficacy of acupressure is also contested but it enjoys better acceptance than reflexology. The table below identifies the key acupressure points for relieving PMS symptoms.

Acupressure Points for PMS

  • CV 4 and CV 6 – also called Sea of Energy and Gate Origin. They are located below the navel and in the lower abdomen. They are stimulated to relieve cramp and abdominal discomforts
  • SP 12 and SP 13 – also called Rushing Door and located in the pelvic area where legs join the trunk. They are also used to relieve cramp and abdominal discomforts
  • B 27 – 34 – also called Sacral Points. They are located at the base of the spine and a little above the tail bone. They are stimulated to relieve cramps, pain in the lower back and to relax the uterus
  • B 48 – also known as Womb and Vitals. Located on both sides of the buttocks and found on the top of the hip bone outside the sacrum. They are stimulated to relieve cramp and pelvic tension
  • SP 6 – also known as Three Yin Crossing. Located above the ankle on the inner leg and close to the back of the shin. It is stimulated to relieve cramp and swelling due to fluid retention
  • SP 4 – also known as Grandfather Grandson. It is located in the upper arch of the foot and close to the ball of the foot. Once stimulated it provides relief from cramp, bloating and other PMS symptoms

Shiatsu massage also uses these acupressure points to relieve PMS symptoms. However, shiatsu massage also includes other techniques besides pressure. Additional shiatsu techniques include stretching, rolling, brushing, grasping and vibrating.





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