Massage therapy goes beyond just making us relax and ‘feel good’. There are many physiological situations that are occurring during massage therapy that bring the body into an improved state. These occur when the therapist has actual physical touches to the soft tissues of the body and therefore cause both physical and emotional effects.
The relaxation response is a natural body response when a safe and caring touch is added to the body. It produces an overall type of pain relief, as there is a slowing of the breath and heart rate as well as a reduction in blood pressure. Massage therapy, generating the relaxation response seems to increase the body chemical serotonin, which allows positive thoughts and emotions; also known as the ‘feel good’ hormone. Additional studies still need to be done for confirmation of the correlation between serotonin levels of the brain and massage therapy. The relaxation response does reduce the stress and anxiety levels and these are situations that are associated with insomnia, hypertension, cardiac arrhythmias, constant fatigue, digestive disorders and psychological issues.
The mechanical body responses are those that occur during massage therapy that result in the increased circulation of blood and lymph as well as the normalization or relaxing of the soft tissues. The soft tissues include connective tissues, ligaments, muscles, and tendons and the relaxation process allows a release of the deeper connective tissues and nerves.
The improved circulation through massage therapy brings a number of benefits including an enhancement of oxygen and nutrient deliveries to the muscle cells. When health improves at the cellular level, the tissues of the body have a higher function efficiency. This increased efficiency allows the body system to accomplish other functions in a better manner such as waste product removal, excess fluid absorption, and the reduction of the swelling of soft tissues.
Muscle tissues that experience painful spasms and contractions can be relaxed through massage therapy. It also reduces nerve compression which is a direct response of the muscle contraction. The relaxation of nerve compression is believed to allow a more efficient flow of proper nutrients to the area so that they can resume the normal ‘job’ of transmitting the messages from and to the brain for the improvement of muscle and organ functions.
The process of applying pressure and touching the skin through massage therapy relaxes tendons, muscles and ligaments. Although the deeper tissues, such as the spinal musculature may not be addressed by a massage therapist, these tissues may also be affected by the massage so that the combination of deep and superficial tissues have better balance.
Internal organs may also experience a benefit from massage as the neurological pain pathways are shared with muscles, nerves and bones. When the nerves, bones or muscles are in distress the organs can also sometimes reflect the same dysfunction and massage can improve both the symptoms associated with the original distress and any organ that is out of alignment due to the initial pain or problem.
Always confer with a primary care physician before making any changes or additions to your medical regiment.