By Dr. Victor S. Sierpina

Now that the new year is here, give yourself or someone close to you a gift of healing — regular massage treatments.

Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said the essential elements of medicine were massage, music and gymnastic.

So, in addition to the healing power of the arts and the benefits of exercise, the importance of massage in medicine has been appreciated for millennia.

When did you last get a real massage, beyond a friendly back rub?

A professional massage is a proven way to relieve stress and is highly effective for many medical conditions, chronic pain, sports injuries, even the side effects of cancer treatment such as lymphedema.

Dr. Tiffany Field, of the Touch Research Institute in Florida, has been one of the leaders in the scientific study of massage.

Her research, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, has demonstrated the benefits of massage in multiple conditions — increasing weight gain in preterm infants, enhancing attentiveness, alleviating depressive symptoms, reducing pain, reducing stress hormones and improving immune function.

Licensed massage therapists are required to complete at least 500 hours of study and practice.

They also might acquire additional certifications in areas such as myofascial release, craniosacral, oncology massage, infant and pregnancy massage. There is even a certification for animal and pet massage.

For some people, a massage is a real luxury such as when they are on vacation, at a spa, hotel or on a cruise.

For others, such as professional athletes, regular massage is required to keep muscles and tendons loose, reduce soreness and keep them playing at their best.

For the rest of us, a massage once or twice a month can be part of a healthy lifestyle.

Think about how deeply relaxing a massage can be. The nurturance of human touch is something we all need from infancy on.

There is something truly soothing about leaving ourselves in the hands of a skilled professional masseuse or masseur for a stress-free hour or so with no demands on us at all.

Even a brief chair massage — now available at many airports, shopping malls and other public locations — can help release tight muscles and shoulder and neck tension built up from too many hours hunched over a computer or steering wheel in rush-hour traffic.

There are a number of skilled professional massage therapists in Galveston County.

Word-of-mouth referral from your doctor, chiropractor, nurse, trainer or trusted friend can help introduce you to someone with whom you feel comfortable.

Prices vary depending on location, time and type of services offered and ancillaries such as stone massage, aromatherapy or other specialized services.

Despite the many medical benefits of massage, most insurance companies do not cover it except sometimes with prior approval.

Flex plan benefits might be applied when your doctor recommends massage.

However, think about the minor investment in massage as an alternative to the personal and real costs of pain, physical dysfunction, anxiety and stress.

These can affect not only your work but also personal relationships.

If nothing else, learn some basic massage techniques by getting one yourself or reading a good book on massage.

Then practice with someone close to you. An offer to do a genuine, skillful massage always is in season.

Dr. Sierpina is the W.D. and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch.