Massage is a general term for pressing, rubbing and manipulating your skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments with the hands. There are many different types of massage, which can range from light stroking or kneading to deep pressure. Regardless of technique, regular massage can improve your quality of life.
Stress is universal, and it’s not always bad. When you lunge to catch a falling glass, feel especially energetic before an important meeting, or swerve in time to avoid a car accident, stress is doing its job. The adrenaline and cortisol released during moments of stress boosts your heart rate and blood sugar, while diverting energy away from your digestive system and immune responses. These prehistoric reactions are part of human survival.
However, when there’s never any relief from stress, the sustained response leaves the body with a wide-ranging host of problems. It can trigger negative mood, behavioral and body changes, resulting in physical symptoms including headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, insomnia, anger, drug and alcohol abuse, and depression – to name a few.
Massage triggers a host of brain chemistry responses that can result in lasting feelings of relaxation, lowered stress, mental alertness and improved mood. During a massage, your body increases its production of endorphins, your body’s natural “feel good” chemicals. Serotonin and dopamine are released, and the resulting feeling of calm relaxation can make chronic or habitual stress, as well as acute or short-term stress, much easier to overcome. Massage also decreases the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, allowing your body to enter a relaxing rest-and-recovery mode. This immediate stress relief can improve your vitality and state of mind, and massage also improves your overall health profile by keeping stress hormones at bay over the long-term.
The most common reason for absence from work in the UK is musculoskeletal problems, including back pain, followed closely by stress. And the number one culprit for sore necks and backs is poor posture. When you hunch forward while sitting at a desk, driving acar, or looking at your phone, your body is not properly aligned. Poor posture might look bad – but that’s the least of your problems when it comes to this issue! Hunching forward forces some muscles to work incredibly hard all day long, while others get weaker and ‘shorter.’Massage can relieve pain and loosen tight muscles made sore by bad alignment, allowing your body to position itself in its natural and pain free posture.
One of the telltale signs of anxiety and stress is constricted, shallow breathing. Massage plays an important role in training the body how to relax and improve breathing. Respiratory issues, such as allergies, sinus problems, asthma and bronchitis, can all benefit from massage therapy. Improved posture through massage also indirectly improves deep breathing by allowing better lung and rib cage expansion. Plus, when the parasympathetic nervous system responds to massage, your breathing rate slows and becomes deep and regular.
What Other Studies Have Concluded
Other studies have shown that massage can:
- Reduce muscle tension and spasm
- Help athletes monitor muscle tone
- Promote relaxation
- Increase range of motion around a joint or within a muscle
- Improve soft tissue function
- Support recovery after exercise
- Decrease muscle stiffness and fatigue after exercise
- Reduce inflammation and swelling
- Enhance athletic performance
- Prevent injuries
We’ve all suffered from the soreness associated with an overly exuberant exercise session. Whether you’ve run a marathon or just finished your first Zumba class, muscle pain and stiffness is common. Vigorous exercise causes micro-tears in muscle fibres, leading to an immune reaction called inflammation, which is the body’s way of repairing the injured cells.
Research has shown that massage reduces the production of compounds called cytokines, which play a critical role in inflammation. Massage also stimulates mitochondria, the tiny powerhouses inside cells that convert glucose into the energy essential for cell function and repair. This shows that massage can reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines, which may be involved in pain, and why massage has been proven to reduce the duration and intensity of delayed onset muscle soreness.