What’s in a Massage
Most people love to get massage. However, it’s often seen as an indulgence, at the bottom of the to-do list. Should it be seen as more of a priority, incorporated into our regular routine? Are there any real benefits from having regular massage? The answer is yes! Research has shown that massage can help restore the body, both physically and mentally.
The Power of Touch
Touch is one of our first senses to develop. We all know a hug, a pat on the arm or a rub on the back can make us feel better. In infant massage classes we talk a lot about the benefits of touch for babies. However, the healing power of touch is applicable to us all, at any stage of life. In our fast-paced world of isolated living many people do not receive human touch on a regular basis. This of course has only worsened recently with COVID and the separation from friends and family. Massage therapy is one form of therapeutic touch which has many more benefits than most of us realise.
What is massage?
Wikipedia defines massage as “the manipulation of the body’s soft tissues. Massage techniques are commonly applied with hands, fingers, elbows, knees, forearms, feet, or a device. The purpose of massage is generally for the treatment of body stress or pain”
There are many types of massage and each therapist will vary in their approach. We are all individual, and may feel differently from week to week depending on our work and exercise schedule and stress levels. A massage should be personalised for each client on each visit.
What are the benefits of massage?
There are the obvious physical benefits of reduced muscular tension, improved joint function and increased circulation. However, the relaxation and nurturing of a massage also produces significant positive effects on our mental health.
The Touch Research Institute and other organisations have done many studies into the benefits of massage on all age groups, with significant positive findings. Many of these positive effects appear to be associated with a reduction in stress hormones.
Let’s discuss some of the many benefits of massage.
🌸 Reduces stress and enhances relaxation
After a stressful event or prolonged mental strain, it can be difficult to switch off. Cortisol, our stress hormone, can contribute to weight gain, poor sleep, digestive issues, and headaches. A review of studies on the effects of massage in a variety of stressful situations “suggest the stress-alleviating effects (decreased cortisol) and the activating effects (increased serotonin and dopamine) of massage therapy on a variety of medical conditions and stressful experiences.”
Dopamine and serotonin are chemical messengers in the brain called neurotransmitters. Dopamine stimulates pleasure and alertness. Serotonin stimulates peacefulness and sleep.
🌸 Improves sleep
Aah, a good night’s sleep! So difficult to find for many people, and not just new parents. Good sleep is vital for our well-being. Lots of studies show massage to help improve sleep, in relation to babies, pain, pregnancy and post-surgery. So often I have clients tell me they have the best night’s sleep in ages after their massage treatment.
🌸 Increases circulation
Massage enhances circulation of the blood, increasing oxygen and nutrients to our tissues and vital organs. It also helps our lymphatic circulation and drainage, important for fluid balance and immunity.
🌸 Improves immune function
We all know how prolonged stress can make us prone to illness. Studies have indicated that regular massage sessions not only help reduce stress, but can also boost the immune system’s cytotoxic capacity (increased activity of the body’s natural “killer cells”) and enhance the body’s ability to deliver nourishment to the cells. Our ability to fight off infection is also going to be enhanced for all the reasons mentioned above.
🌸 Reduces pain
Massage releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, which also boost levels of dopamine and serotonin in the body. Massage can help reduce the perception of pain, and is used in a variety of settings for management of chronic pain, injuries and post-operative pain. One study “demonstrated not only significant reduction in pain levels, but also the interrelatedness of pain, relaxation, sleep, emotions, recovery, and finally, the healing process.”
🌸 Help improve mood and relieve anxiety and depression
“Oh I feel so much better!”. I hear this so often at the end of a client’s treatment. After a massage we may feel happy, rested, energised, freer. This can be due to the reduction of stress hormones and the increase in our feel-good neurotransmitters. A better night’s sleep and the ability to relax more easily can also contribute. Regular massage can also help to improve a person’s body image and self-esteem. One meta-analysis showed “Massage therapy is significantly associated with alleviated depressive symptoms.”
Stress is unavoidable in life, but we can counteract some of the effects of stress with nurturing touch and simply allowing ourselves the ‘time out’ a massage provides. Ongoing stress and negative thoughts can be stored in our muscles and nervous system. So often it’s the mental and emotional strain we feel that affects our physical health and vice versa.
The addition of appropriate essential oils to a massage treatment can enhance these effects greatly. And remember, it’s what you do on a regular basis, not just occasionally, that has the biggest impact on your health and well-being. As Dr. Maria Hernandez-Reif, from the Touch Research Institute says: The incredible benefits of massage are doubly powerful if taken in regular “doses.”
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