Sure, massage feels good. But how does it actually work? What happens in the body when we experience massage? The easy explanation that massage reduces stress needs further examination. How does massage reduce stress?
- Naturally, massage therapy targets the source of the body’s pain by eliminating tense muscles, increasing flexibility, and providing relaxation to the affected muscles as well as other tissues and organs. Massage also promotes circulation to the affected or injured muscles, which increases nutrients and oxygen to the damaged tissues. We experience physical relief—we feel good, less stressed. These effects also translate to a reduction in stress in other ways.
- First of all, there are biochemical aspects. When our bodies are under stress, they produce unhealthy levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, a culprit in weight gain, sleeplessness, digestive problems, and headaches. Massage therapy decreases cortisol levels in the body, enabling the body to recover.
- As it reduces cortisol, massage therapy also releases endorphins—so-called “well-being” hormones that boost our oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin levels. These hormones assist our bodies physically as well as emotionally. On both levels, therefore, massage promotes healing and pain management, as it helps calm the nerves. In some, they even create feelings of euphoria.
- In addition to these hormonal benefits, massage addresses emotional distress. Experiencing the caring attention of another human helps us feel more connected, loved. The calming that massage produces lasts beyond the session. Rather, massage has long-term psychological benefits for both our bodies and our brains.
- Finally, researchers working with patients with compromised immune systems have found massage therapy can improve immune system function. According to Jeff Smoot, 2015 President of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), “Those benefits can translate to people seeking to fight off the common cold, flu and other seasonal illnesses.” And according to research from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, participants in a Swedish massage group experienced significant changes in lymphocytes, one of the three subtypes of white blood cells in the immune system which defend the body from disease. These immune-system changes also included increased white blood cells knowns as natural killer (NK) cells, which provide rapid responses to viral-infected cells.
Whether from a quality massage chair or a certified massage technician, it’s clear massage is good for us. We’re happy to provide more information upon request.
“Massage Therapy May Boost Immune System | American Massage Therapy Association.” American Massage Therapy Association, www.amtamassage.org/research/Massage-Therapy-Research-Roundup/Research-Roundup0.html.
“7 Benefits of Massage Therapy.” Body and Mind Therapeutic Massage, 12 Oct. 2016, www.body-mindmassage.com/7-benefits-of-massage-therapy/.
Narvaez, Darcia. “Are You or Your Child on a (Touch) Starvation Diet?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 26 Sept. 2010, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/moral-landscapes/201009/are-you-or-your-child-touch-starvation-diet