The past year has taught us the importance of wellbeing.
The Department of Health says individual wellbeing can add years to your life and improve recovery from illness, while it is also associated with positive health behaviours and may ultimately reduce the healthcare burden.
However, the year to the end of March last year saw average life satisfaction and happiness levels in the UK down, with anxiety levels up – the first time the Office For National Statistics has reported seeing all three measures worsen significantly when compared with the year before.
Fast forward to today, after 17 months of Covid restrictions including closed beauty rooms and spas, and we’re craving human connection.
So, how better to boost your wellbeing than with a form of touch therapy?
This type of therapeutic treatment involves the therapist physically touching you in a specific way. Broadly defined as the manual manipulation of muscles and soft tissue in the body, massage is a form of touch therapy. There is also craniofacial massage, of the head and face, as the name suggests.
Any kind of touch stimulates the vagus nerve, which has branches running throughout the body. It’s designed to regulate internal organ functions and counteract your fight/flight system.
The levels of four key chemicals have been shown to change significantly with physical touch.
Oxytocin – the ‘love hormone’ – increases and this reaction has been shown to lower stress and anxiety, while the body’s feel-good chemicals serotonin and dopamine also rise and cortisol levels decrease, which can lower blood pressure and heart rate.
‘Since the reopening of the spa, wellness and beauty sector we have seen a record in the demand for touch treatments,’ says Yvonne Ebdon, general manager of the UK Spa Association.
‘Spas are fully booked far in advance as people are desperate for the rewards that a touch treatment can bring. People are starting to take responsibility for their own wellbeing, both physically and mentally and touch treatments are something that people are willing to pay for in order to look after themselves.’
Spa expert Yvonne recommends the best massage treatments
Swedish Massage: ‘This massage is great for everyday touch therapy and helps with sleep.’
Craniofacial Massage: ‘This can assist in many ways including pre- and post-menopausal problems’
Thai Massage: ‘This type of massage is great for a anyone wanting a more stimulating therapy.’
The British Beauty Council has collated a report to show how touch therapy can have a positive impact on mental and physical wellbeing, citing significant global evidence.
‘In order to qualify to be a spa therapist, the rigorous training in anatomy and physiology that is required is exceptional,’ adds Yvonne, one of the authors of the study.
‘All therapists holding a nationally recognised qualification are trained in contraindications of treatments, meaning should a guest have anything which requires attention or avoidance due to medical requirements, they are then able to adapt the treatment accordingly.
‘In addition to this, they then go on to undertake additional training in various aspects, which can assist individuals, such as stress management and cancer touch training, all of which is vital for today’s society.
‘Today, when we feel ill, have pain or suffer with anxieties and stress our number one thing to do is to see a doctor, who typically prescribes a pharmaceutical drug. Often this drug comes with varying side effects. Global research has proven on many accounts that touch therapy has incredible results, some of which are instant. I would love to see touch therapy prescribed within the NHS.’
According to the British Beauty Council report, the NHS is under huge pressure, with 1.7 million people waiting longer than 18 weeks for hospital treatment in June.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) currently credits a number of uses for massage therapy including back, neck and shoulder pain, osteoporosis, cancer symptoms and treatment side effects, fibromyalgia, HIV/Aids and premature infant care.
Studies have also shown it can help with fatigue and stress and pre and post-menopausal symptoms.
Prescribing touch therapy on the NHS could potentially save the system £10.5 billion a year, reduce sick days by 1.76 million and days off work relating to menopause by 1.4 million, it is claimed.
‘The industry now needs to change’
‘Therapists need to be trained to higher qualifications, equivalent to degree or a Masters, if they are going to be recognised for the job they do,’ says Dr Neil Carpenter, who has been supporting the British Beauty Council and UK Spa Association with their response to Covid-19 and is an author on the touch therapy report.
‘I also don’t think the Government takes the industry seriously, or recognises the invaluable function it already does, supporting people’s mental health and wellbeing.
‘With mental health now the biggest cause of sickness in the UK, the industry has the ability to deliver massive reductions in sick days and resultant improved productivity if supported. We hope that in providing this report we can start to change this mindset and recognise that the wellbeing industry has a massive amount to offer and stands ready to provide it.’
‘There is more and more evidence being gathered globally demonstrating the positive effects of touch therapy on our physical and mental health and wellbeing,’ says British Beauty Council chief operating officer, Helena Grzesk. ‘Nice is yet to be satisfied that massage can be used to address mental health issues.
‘However, recent research repeated by the BBC working with Professor Fulvio D’Acquisto, an immunologist from the University of Roehampton, and the Bodyology Massage School, demonstrated a 70% boost in white blood cell count from massage.’
Scepticism around holistic therapies remains, despite the personal care industry being worth £30 billion.
‘The UK has made huge strides over recent years in recognising the links between mind and body and the importance of maintaining good mental health for overall wellbeing,’ adds Helena.
‘There is much wider acceptance that mental health issues and other ailments cannot be fixed solely with what has been offered historically in standard medicine… Our objective is for the industry to be recognised as a legitimate and reputable sector. By doing so, we can complement the fantastic work of our NHS and relieve some of its ongoing strain.’