6 Surprising Benefits of Massage Therapy

Brianna Clark
May 28, 2018

Benefits of Massage Therapy

Although typically associated with relaxation, there are many surprising benefits to massage therapy that you might not expect. Oftentimes, when people hear “massage” they immediately think of a private massage session that’s geared towards relaxation, or an indulgence in self-pampering. While this association is neither negative nor incorrect, there is a whole other world of different types of massage therapy techniques that have varying effects and benefits other than just relaxation.

Other than helping you to relax, massage therapy can also greatly improve certain psychical ailments (injuries, chronic pain, etc.) and can aid in the body’s natural processes to promote better overall health and healing. Massage therapy can also help to reduce stress, anxiety and even help with hormone regulation.

1. Massage Therapy Helps Relieve Depression & Anxiety

Anxiety and depression don’t just exist in and affect your mind, they also exist in and affect your body. When your fight or flight response turns on during times of stress, hormones are released in your body that enables quick movement of muscles, improves reaction times and divert blood flow to critical areas of the body. Massage therapy can benefit you in helping to alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety by working with your parasympathetic system or “rest and recoup” system. It does this by stimulating the release of hormones such as dopamine and serotonin or the “feel good” hormones. These hormones help to balance the effects of stress and (your “fight or flight” or “stress” hormones) such as cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.

Studies have shown that massage therapy can lower cortisol levels, increase dopamine and serotonin, and lower excitatory hormones like norepinephrine and epinephrine. If you have too much norepinephrine and epinephrine, it can lead to feelings of anxiety. And having too little dopamine and serotonin can cause depression and other psychological problems.

  • Decreases tightness, achiness, and heaviness
  • Increases function of the immune system
  • Decreases fibrotic scar tissue from surgical procedures
  • Preventative treatment for lymphedema as well as curative
  • Bring clarity and understanding to your condition
picture of person experiencing chronic pain on their shoulder

2. Massage Therapy Boosts Immunity in Partnership with the Circulatory System

A primary benefit of massage is the stimulation of the circulatory system, which is comprised of two parts: the cardiovascular (or vascular) system and the lymphatic system. Blood is pushed through your body by pressure the heart creates with each pump. The lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump, so lymph fluid movement is reliant on body movement. But in both cases, massage therapy benefits these systems by helping to improve blood and lymph flow. Lymph fluid is one of your body’s waste clearing systems.

There is an entire network of lymph nodes and pathways that form the lymphatic system. Lymph and blood work together to fill new tissues with new cells and to “flush out” metabolic wastes. Lymphatic fluid is filled with cells called lymphocytes which are a type of white blood cell. The function of lymphocytes is to fend off foreign invaders (like viruses, bacteria, etc.) and promote healthy immune function by clearing away cellular debris. The lymph system will take all that is not needed back to the lymph nodes where they can be processed and released back into the body. Massage therapy benefits the lymphatic fluid system the same way it benefits your blood flow: Through manual pressure and the warming of tissues, it helps lymphatic fluid to flow through their natural pathways and into the tissues that need it most.

Because of this, as a massage therapist, I warn my clients who are sick and want to get massaged that it can often make symptoms worse before they get better. If you have a head cold and receive a lymphatic massage, the foreign invaders attacking your body may be spread as the lymph fluid moves through your body. This can sometimes cause your muscles to feel achy and worse than before, and can sometimes worsen or spread an infection.

3. Massage Therapy Can Improve Sleep

Massage therapy can also benefit your sleep by stimulating your parasympathetic system, which is your “rest and digest” system. Stimulating this system can cause the blood and cellular muscle activation messengers that were in your limbs and muscle tissue to find a mission that does not expend so much energy, such as working on digestion. This process aids in removing the conscious thought of doing, moving, and going onto more subtle and restful things. The effect is very palpable, such as when you take a minute to quiet your mind and focus on your breath. You notice your muscle tension release or heart rate to slow and your inner rhythm to calm. This is the parasympathetic system. Massage, along with relaxation and breathing techniques allows you to take a moment away from all the stressors of life that may be distracting you from getting a good night's rest.

4. Massage Therapy Can Improve & Help Preventive Headaches & Migraines

Did you know that many types of headaches can originate from muscle tension? There are many muscles of the face, jaw and neck that all contribute to the onset of headaches. People who suffer from TMJ disorders can experience extreme pain in their jaw and forehead area that often leads to headaches caused by the joint of the jaw and the muscles tightening around it. A massage therapist can use trigger point therapy or another means of releasing knots in these areas to reduce the tightening of muscles and the overall cause of tension headaches. For headaches from light sensitivity or over stimulation (such as migraines), massage therapy can provide a place that is shut off from the stimulus of the outside world and its noises and stressors. Massage therapy can help to drastically reduce sensory input by a) putting you in a dark room away from the sounds and stimulus of the outside world and B) work with your comfort to provide a place where you can relax and address the tension brought on by a migraine attack. Migraines are especially difficult to deal with as they can take up all your attention, make daily life almost unbearable and can be very painful.

Peter Goadsby, M.D., who is a neurologist and headache specialist at the University of California San Francisco, describes the disease as: “an inherited tendency to have headaches with sensory disturbance. It’s an instability in the way the brain deals with incoming sensory information, and that instability can become influenced by physiological changes like sleep, exercise and hunger.”

When suffering from a migraine, sometimes the only thing you can do is curl up in a ball in bed and wait for it to subside. Talk to your massage therapist about your migraines, the benefits of massage and together make an effective treatment plan. Whether it be scheduling a treatment when you feel a migraine coming on, or seeing them after the major wave of pain has passed to ease some of the after-effects, plan ahead. Here at The Anatomy of Wellness, we can design an approach that works for you to help get you through it.

5. Massage Therapy Aids in Digestion & Nutrient Absorption

Relaxation massage especially encourages your body to switch from your sympathetic nervous system (the “fight or flight” system) to your parasympathetic system or (the “rest and digest” system). When the purpose of movement is taken away your body’s energy can be spent or focused on digestion. The effects of stress effectively halt digestion in order to expend as much energy as possible on the effort of running away from or fighting perceived danger. In today’s world, we are faced with the stressors of everyday modern life such as traffic jams and being late for work, but our body’s hormonal response and physical assessment of that stress is still that of the animal in the wild. Cortisol will spike and epinephrine and norepinephrine, our “energizing” or “bracing for impact” hormones will flood our limbs and muscles and fire into our motor neurons. All while our bodies are holding still, sitting in a car in traffic. When we are able to turn on our parasympathetic system and stimulate our relaxation hormones, our energy is able to work elsewhere like on processing and digesting our food and delivering nutrients to where they are most needed in the body.

There is a process that occurs regularly in massage when our clients begin to relax and embrace their parasympathetic system. The loud grumble and gurgling of their stomach! To us, that means we are doing a good job and your body is allowed the time and space to give you what you most need. Just another reason the benefits of massage are so amazing!

picture of person getting massage therapy

6. Massage Therapy Improves Muscle Function

Massage helps to promote the muscle tone through the delivery of oxygen and the necessary materials needed to repair muscle cells by improving blood flow and lymph. This will help to “clean out” and repair your muscle tissues so you can jump back into training faster and reduce muscle soreness. It also helps maintain muscle tone between workouts by manually stimulating a process that is usually self-activated.

As this article points out: “The constant contraction of muscles that causes high muscle tone can result in muscle tightness increasing. Muscle tightness can further restrict movement, increase pain and cause poor posture. A massage for high muscle tone helps to reduce tight muscles by encouraging blood flow to increase. An increase in blood flow encourages a rise in muscle temperature. Tissue elasticity and flexibility are increased when the temperature of muscles rises. An increase in tissue elasticity and flexibility increases muscle range of movement, allowing them to stretch to their full length. Increased tissue elasticity and flexibility also promote the relaxation of muscles, allowing them to loosen. Increased range of movement/motion and relaxed and loosened muscles contribute to a reduction in muscle tightness”

There is something very powerful that happens within the body when you are relaxed and your muscles are still being “worked”. The process encourages muscle health to last on its own and tells the muscles that even when they’re sore they can relax and release.

The Best Massage Therapists in Salt Lake City

As you now know, massage therapy can be tailored to every person’s individual needs and specifications. And our massage therapists here at The Anatomy of Wellness are the best in the business at doing this. Each is experienced and skilled in their craft and can help guide you in any direction that you need to ensure that your specific needs best. So, what are you waiting for? Make an appointment with us to see how we can help you today!

Happy healing!

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