The wide-ranging therapeutic benefits of massage help many people function better:
- An athlete recovers from exertion sooner, enhancing his performance, with massage.
- A child with ADD focuses better and employees are more attentive after 15-minute chair massages.
- A surgical patient who receives massage recovers more quickly as a result of increased circulation, less pain, better sleep and improved ability to fight infection.
- A dieter or a smoker trying to quit has reduced cravings after a massage.
Let’s take a look at how these benefits occur. As the massage therapist strokes, kneads, stretches and rubs, tight or partially contracted muscle fibers relax to their normal resting position. Muscles perform their functions better and pain subsides without medication or with less medication.
The massage therapist also manipulates soft tissue and joints to increase your range of motion (ROM), that is, how much movement you have in a joint. Regular massage enables an athlete to improve his golf swing or softball throw as a result of better ROM. If you aren’t an athlete, better ROM means being able to put the cereal box on the top pantry shelf or reach a yoga pose.
In addition, massage enables you to recover more quickly from injury or infection. Your body produces more white blood cells during massage, speeding healing and fighting infection. The massage also increases your body’s circulation, delivering more nutrients to tissues and promoting healing.
Several studies by the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine have focused on changes massage causes in the balance of dopamine, serotonin and endorphins in the blood. The changed balance encourages the production of natural killer cells, which fight pathogens. The balance also affects mood and emotions.
A brief massage – for example, a 15-minute chair massage – increases levels of dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine, thus encouraging alertness, focus and attentiveness. Many companies offer chair massage to employees occasionally or on a regular schedule because of this. The employees appreciate how the brief massage relieves aches and pains.
A longer massage relaxes the person by raising the level of serotonin, which subdues anxiety and stress, creates pleasurable sensations and promotes feelings of satiety. It reduces irritability and symptoms of depression, and has a calming, comforting effect. It also helps control hunger and cravings.
The level of endorphins, which alleviate pain, also rises with massage.
Conversely, massage lowers the level of cortisol, a stress hormone that is involved in stress-related diseases, suppressed immunity, inappropriate inflammatory responses and sleep disturbances.
Massage isn’t simply about pampering yourself; its therapeutic aspects enable your body to function better. The fact that is feels really, really good is a wonderful bonus.