The Scientific Benefits of Massage: Why Massages Work

What are the scientific benefits of massage? Many! Read about how massage can improve health and well-being.

Benefits of Massage: How Massages Promote Health and Relaxation

When we think about a massage, the first thing that may come to mind are pampering spa-days where we spend some time treating ourselves with mud masks, steam baths, and beauty regimens. But is there more to a massage than just a day spent devoted to beauty and relaxation? Many studies indicate that massage has many benefits to both the body and the mind that go far beyond relaxation and pampering.

What is a Massage?

Massage has a very long history in medicine, with references appearing throughout ancient history in many cultures. In fact, massage is part of the built-in basic instincts of humans, clearly manifested through our instinctual reaction of rubbing a sore or painful area of our own bodies. Today’s massage therapists use several methods including Swedish massage, Deep massage, Sports massage, and Trigger-point massage, and others.

Massage is an important tool in aiding and enhancing the general wellness of human beings. There are many different techniques involved in massage therapy, but basically, a massage therapist will rub, press, knead, adjust and manipulate the muscles and soft tissues of the body while the patient lies on a table or rests in a specially designed chair. In the US, massage therapy is generally considered to be part of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)

How are Massages Beneficial?

Two of the most important benefits of massage according to Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, are pain management and depression relief. According to Field, MRI studies show that massage increases blood flow to key areas of the brain where mood and stress regulation are located. The Vagus nerve, which is critical to the body’s nervous system, is stimulated through pressure points below the skin. Increased stimulation of the vagus nerve can have a calming effect which lowers levels of cortisol and other stress-related hormones.

Physical Benefits of Massage Therapy

Massage has been shown to have benefits for a large number of physical conditions. An Australian study found that a 10-minute massage after a workout can reduce soreness by 30 percent. While used primarily for pain relief or management, research has shown that massage can also lower blood pressure, reduce heart rate, and aid in blood flow and circulation. Additional research has shown that massage can have significant benefits to those who suffer from sports injuries, joint pain, fibromyalgia, headaches, digestive disorders, insomnia, and anxiety.

According to a study by the Oncology Nurses Association, cancer patients have benefited from massage to address a variety of chemotherapy-related symptoms such as pain, fatigue, nausea, and anxiety. In addition, research by the Touch Research Institute of the University of Miami also shows benefits to the immune systems of patients with leukemia and breast cancer, possibly promoting improved outcomes.

Psychological and Emotional Benefits of Massage

Humans have a basic need for touch. Many clients benefit from the feelings of caring, connection, nurturing and human comfort naturally brought forth through massage. Studies have shown that besides lowering cortisol (stress hormone) levels, massage can increase serotonin levels. In fact, according to the International Journal of Neuroscience, Cortisol levels decreased as much as 31 percent with significant increases of around 30 percent in both serotonin and dopamine levels in subjects post-massage.

According to EveryDay Health, massage can offer relief from depression, anxiety, and even anger after as little as 15 minutes of moderate pressure massage. It can also improve concentration and promote more restorative sleep.

Does Massage Pose any Health Risks?

Benefits and potential risks of massage should be discussed with your doctor if you have any diagnosed medical conditions. However, most medical experts agree that massage may not be appropriate if you have certain conditions such as healing wounds or burns, deep vein thrombosis, and severe osteoporosis or bone fractures. Although massage therapy is generally approved for cancer patients, this should always be addressed first with a doctor. Deep tissue massage may not be recommended near tumor sites. Pregnant women should also discuss massage treatments with their doctors.

It’s important to let your massage therapist know your medical history and to tell your therapist immediately if you experience any pain or discomfort. Some mild discomfort is normal during work on a sensitive muscle area or knot, but tell your therapist if it goes beyond mild discomfort.

Most states regulate massage therapists through licensing and certification requirements, and it’s important to ask your massage therapist for their qualifications prior to booking appointments.

Resources— Mayo Clinic, Time, Taylor Francis Online, MedicineNet, Oncology Nursing Society