Health Benefits of Massage
Do you feel like massage is a service only for pampering yourself or indulging in a bit of luxury? Massage can actually be a versatile method to improve your health and mental well-being. Generally considered part of complementary and integrative medicine, massage is being offered more and more often as a supplementary treatment for a broad range of health conditions.
What is Massage?
Massage is a general term for pressing, stroking, and rubbing the skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Massage techniques vary from light stroking to deep pressure. There are many different types of massage, including these common types. While some types of massage may leave you a bit sore the next day, massage shouldn’t generally be painful or uncomfortable.
Benefits of massage
Besides the obvious benefits of easing muscle pain and promoting deep relaxation, research studies are revealing that massage offers other significant health benefits:
Massage boosts your immune system.
According to a study published by The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (Vol. 18, No. 8), people who received a 45-minute massage had an increased number of lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are white blood cells that help defend the body from disease. A decrease in mitogen-stimulated cytokine production was also noted, which is a factor in the body’s inflammatory response. (Mark H. Rapaport, 2012) Inflammation is believed to play a role in conditions such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, periodontitis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, sinusitis, and many others.
“This research indicates that massage doesn’t only feel good, it also may be good for you.” – Dr. Mark Rapaport, chairman of the department of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences, at Cedars-Sinai.
Massage soothes anxiety and depression.
In the same study mentioned previously, increased levels of the “love hormone” oxytocin were noted, as well as decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol and arginine-vasopressin, a hormone believed to play a role in aggressive behavior. According to another study, participants with generalized anxiety disorder experienced more of a reduction in anxiety-related symptoms after massage therapy than those who were given only light touch therapy. (Mark Hyman Rapaport, et al., 2016)
Low levels of serotonin and dopamine are associated with anxiety and depression. Dopamine and serotonin are neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers responsible for regulating many important functions and processes in your body. To save time, we’ll mention only these neurotransmitters’ involvement in processes related to depression and anxiety here. Serotonin plays a role in regulating mood, sleep, and having a general sense of well-being. Dopamine is also involved in sleep, as well as learning, motivation, attention, and pain management. A study on the effect of massage therapy on biochemistry revealed in an increase in both neurotransmitters as a result. An average increase of 28% was noted for serotonin and an average increase of 31% was noted for dopamine in participants. (Tiffany Field, 2005)
These studies have produced encouraging evidence that people may experience relief from symptoms of depression and anxiety due to changes in their body’s biochemistry produced by massage. Massage alone won’t cure depression. However, it shows significant promise as an effective addition to other kinds of treatment.
Massage improves sleep quality.
Insufficient sleep is indicated in a number of health conditions and diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control. “Notably, insufficient sleep is associated with the onset of these diseases and also poses important implications for their management and outcome.” While melatonin is the hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle of your body, both serotonin and dopamine play important roles in this process. Within the pineal gland, serotonin is acetylated and then methylated to yield melatonin. When dopamine receptors appear, the pineal gland makes and releases less melatonin, causing wakefulness. Adequate levels of both neurotransmitters are necessary for quality sleep.
Because studies have demonstrated an increase in serotonin and dopamine as a result of massage therapy, it’s evident that massage is a treatment conducive to improved sleep quality. The American Massage Therapy Association cites a number of studies conducted on a variety of conditions that demonstrate an improvement in sleep as a result of massage therapy.
While more research is needed to confirm other suspected health benefits of massage, some studies suggest massage may also be beneficial in treating other disorders, including:
• Digestive disorders
• Insomnia related to stress
• Myofascial pain syndrome
• Sports injuries
• Temporomandibular joint pain
Risks of massage
The vast majority of people can safely receive a massage. However, massage may not be appropriate if you have:
• Bleeding disorders or take blood-thinning medication
• Burns or healing wounds
• Deep vein thrombosis
• Severe osteoporosis
• Severe thrombocytopenia
Mark H. Rapaport, P. S. (2012). A Preliminary Study of the Effects of Repeated Massage on Hypothalamic–Pituitary–Adrenal and Immune Function in Healthy Individuals: A Study of Mechanisms of Action and Dosage. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 18(8).
Mark Hyman Rapaport, M., Pamela Schettler, P., Erika R. Larson, M., Sherry A. Edwards, B., Boadie W. Dunlop, M., Jeffrey J. Rakofsky, M., & and Becky Kinkead, P. (2016). Acute Swedish Massage Monotherapy Successfully Remediates Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Proof-of-Concept, Randomized Controlled Study. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 77(7), e883-91. Retrieved from https://europepmc.org/abstract/med/27464321
Tiffany Field, M. H.-R. (2005). Cortisol Decreases and Serotonin And Dopamine Increase Following Massage Therapy. International Journal Of Neuroscience, 115:10, Doi: 10.1080/00207450590956459, 1397-1413.