There are a plethora of health benefits of massage therapy, for both your body and mind. Massage therapy obviously feels amazing, whether you’re a corporate workaholic, a remote worker or an athlete. People of all walks of life get sore necks, pain in their back, tension headaches, and chronic stress. We could all use the benefits of massage therapy in our lives.
Relaxation (Swedish) massage, for example, helps us to relieve stress and minor aches and pains. The stress-relieving aspect is perhaps more important than ever, as we emerge from the recent global crisis where we realized that people really do need people, after all. Nothing can substitute for human touch, and treating yourself to a massage (and human touch) can help shake off the stress of past isolation.
Beyond relaxation, we have remedial massage techniques. These have specific physical therapeutic effects and help to both prevent health conditions and treat injuries or conditions that are already there.
Deep tissue massages can be both relaxing and remedial. A deep tissue massage releases tense or tight muscles, relieves chronic muscle pain, and reduces anxiety. The pressure from a deep tissue massage can even help regulate your nervous system and calm your body and mind. During a deep tissue massage, deep pressure and gradual strokes are used to relieve that uncomfortable tension from the deepest layers of your muscles and tissues.
Improved flexibility, enhanced immunity, prevention of injuries and reduced pain from workouts are some of the many benefits of massage therapy. Below, we’ll explore some of these benefits of massage therapy in further detail:
Relaxation and Reduced Inflammation
Swedish massage is just for relaxation, but this relaxation effect can have significant health benefits all on its own. A single session of Swedish massage, compared to light touch only, was able to reduce inflammatory markers and boost immunity in a group of healthy volunteers. What happened here was that levels of inflammatory signalling chemicals fell, while counts of some immune cell types rose. This means the immune response could be improved in a positive, balanced way with regular massage. Resistance to infection can rise, without risking chronic inflammation.
Reduces Your Blood Pressure
One of the reasons why healthy stress management is so important is that it improves our cardiovascular health. With high blood pressure being the top cause of death worldwide, even just knowing how to keep it in the normal range can relieve us of a lot of stress!
Another study on women with high blood pressure compared Swedish massage, over the course of one month, to rest alone. After the set of four weekly sessions, systolic blood pressure fell by 12mmHg, while diastolic blood pressure dropped by 5mmHg.
Swedish massage is thought to work by boosting blood flow, which increases shear stress on the blood vessels. This then triggers dilation of the blood vessels, leading to a drop in blood pressure. The same mechanism also prevents immune cells from travelling to artery plaques, which would worsen them over time and contribute to atherosclerosis.
Reduce Muscle Soreness from Working Out
Recovery may be just as important as your actual training session. It’s where we consolidate the gains we made during the day, thanks to how our muscles actually grow. Increased strength and flexibility come from our muscles and connective tissue being dealt microscopic damage. Then, our bodies over-compensate for it by growing and repairing the tissue. This damage is why we feel sore after a workout, and why certain injuries can just sneak up on us over time.
A study on male bodybuilders tested the effect of Swedish massage on pain and recovery. Not only were pain scores significantly lower at the 24-hour mark compared to the control group, but they enjoyed a faster recovery of strength, too. Their creatine kinase levels, a marker of muscle damage, also fell from 24 hours after training. In the control group, these continued to rise and were much higher even after 72 hours.
Massage Could Improve Mental Health
Massage may have real mental health benefits in clinically diagnosed illnesses. For example, a review of 17 clinical trials found a significant effect of massage therapy on depression, compared to the control group. In another study of 82 people with anxiety, chair massage significantly relieved both state and trait anxiety. The difference in this trial was that all participants were also coming off of anti-anxiety drugs, a process that isn’t easy. Common withdrawal symptoms include insomnia, fatigue and, well, anxiety.
Many anxiety sufferers report feeling calmer, more regulated, and happier after getting a massage. This could be one of the most impactful health benefits of massage therapy since it’s difficult to find ways to reduce anxiety.
You don’t have to have a mental illness to enjoy similar benefits. As a student massage therapist, I even feel uplifted after I perform a massage on someone. There’s something about the human touch, outside of how rewarding performing a therapy is.
Ease Labor Pain
Ask almost any mother: childbirth isn’t easy. But could massage reduce the pain of childbirth, and the time it takes to deliver a baby? A trial of 120 mothers compared to massage, acupressure, the two treatments together, and no extra intervention to see which was the most effective.
So, what were the results? The massage-only group experienced lower average pain scores during the latent phase of labour, at 4.56/10 compared to 6.16/10. There was also significant relief during the active and transition phases. After birth, the combined treatment group had lower pain scores, at 2.3/10 compared to 2.96/10. Massage may work to relieve pain during childbirth through the gate control theory, where stimulating your touch and pressure receptors block pain signals from reaching the brain.
May Improve Brain Development
The benefits of massage therapy even extend to babies’ brain development. This is especially the case for premature babies, who are at a higher risk for developmental delays. Research on baby massage after premature birth shows us that it can speed up the maturation of vision, which starts off blurry. Massage can help by increasing insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) while decreasing cortisol, the main stress hormone that also impairs tissue growth and repair.
Relieve Spinal Cord Injury Symptoms
With one in 1,000 people affected, you may know someone who has a spinal cord injury. If so, you’ll know it’s more than just an inability to walk, with other symptoms including chronic pain. A trial of Swedish massage in 40 people with spinal cord injuries found that just 30 minutes a week could significantly relieve pain and fatigue. This was similar to the effect of guided imagery relaxation, but the best treatment of the two is the one you personally prefer.
Many spinal cord injuries are incomplete. They leave people with some movement below the injury site and may have a higher chance of regaining some motor function. For example, a case study on a man with a C5 (neck) incomplete spinal injury found benefits of massage in just three days. His walking speed increased by 24% and he could take longer steps, thanks to improvements in areas such as a hip extension. A relief of trigger points and increased flexibility are thought to be behind his new gains.
The benefits of massage therapy are both physical and psychological. Less anxiety, better immune function, improved post-workout recovery and more flexibility are just some reasons to try regular massage. For more information on what you need to boost your overall health and prevent injuries, consider a DNA testto get your comprehensive health report based on your unique DNA.