Massage is the manipulation of the skin and its underlying structures: circulation, lymph, muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and central nervous system. Each body system gets treated with massage, either directly or indirectly. For example, in sports injuries massage can provide support to the body's own healing process, while lymphatic drainage massage can offer indirect health benefits like improving sleep quality.
Releasing Endorphins and Lowering Back Pain
Massage for back pain can reduce the need to take painkillers and can speed up the healing and repair process. Studies found that regular massage therapy can significantly reduce back pain, in some cases removing pain completely.
Endorphins are the body's natural painkillers and they elevate your mood. During a massage, more endorphins are produced than average.
Lowering Blood Pressure
High blood pressure or hypertension affects one in three people in the United States. High pressure is related to a higher risk of developing heart conditions and strokes. Studies found that massage therapy can help lower blood pressure.
While the effects of massage on blood pressure are temporary, it is still worth considering massage as a useful tool to help regulate blood pressure naturally and safely in a controlled environment.
Lowering Stress and Improving Sleep
Massage works directly on the production of hormones: studies found that, after massage therapy, levels of stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol were reduced in the body, while raising the levels of oxytocin, the feel-good hormone.
The quality of sleep is much higher after a massage: studies found that massage therapy has a beneficial influence on sleep and is particularly useful to people suffering from sleeping disorders like insomnia.
Between 10% and 30% of Americans suffer from insomnia, and something as simple as receiving regular massage can significantly reduce the healthcare problems connected to lack of sleep.
Sleep is regulated by a number of chemicals including serotonin, a neurotransmitter that controls moods, body temperature, sleep and appetite. Serotonin is converted into melatonin, the sleep hormone, by the brain.
Strengthening the Immune System and Supporting the Body's Detoxification Process
Our bodies are wonderful self-balancing machines: they function and detoxify automatically without our intervention. However, massage techniques such as lymphatic drainage can support the body's own functions and detoxification. It's like hitting the “reset” button on a machine: the lymph flows more freely, carrying metabolic waste and excess fluid to be removed from the body. Not carrying excess waste means that our immune system can be strong and more resilient from attacks.
Support and Nurturing for Cancer Patients
This health benefit of massage is particularly appreciated by cancer patients: massage can do wonders to help cancer survivors and people going through chemotherapy feel better about themselves, feel safe and accepted, feel less anxious and depressed, and experience less pain. The most important thing when facing cancer is to avoid being isolated: seeing a massage therapist regularly can boost morale and make you feel more comfortable.
Studies found that massage therapy can reduce the side effects of cancer treatments like nausea while also reducing swelling from removed lymph nodes. In other words, massage can increase the quality of life for cancer patients.
Massage as a Way for Mothers to Bond with their Baby
Massage can be extremely beneficial for mothers both before and after the birth of the baby. Prenatal massage can alleviate back pain and swollen legs; massaging newborn babies can help mothers (and fathers) bond with their child and release feel-good hormones. Massage can even improve weight gain in preterm babies.
Violet Johnson PhD
Expert Opinion: Violet Johnson PhD
Violet Johnson PhD, founder of Violet J Spa in San Jose California, is a great believer in the therapeutic effects of massage. A keen spa goer herself, she started visiting spas at age nine with her mother, who was also a health care practitioner and regularly had spa treatments. Mother and daughter would go to spas together to get mini facials, massage, steam treatments while sipping on healthy fruit and vegetable juices as they travelled across the world. Violet's father was a health care practitioner from the Caribbean and the whole family would enjoy simple rituals like having herbal scrubs. This tradition continued as they travelled to India where they enjoyed juicing and massage and Thailand with Thai massage. This wealth of knowledge and experience was put to good use when Violet started her spa in California.
As a qualified midwife nurse, non practising psychologist, massage therapist and facialist, Violet has witnessed first hand the benefits of massage with her clients. This is particularly true for her prenatal massage clients and oncology facial clients.
Violet explains: “taking care of your skin and body is not a luxury but a necessity. When you enter the spa and meet a great practitioner with a strong therapeutic background, massage should be a part of your health care plan because your body is your best asset. When you are healthy and vibrant you can do anything; when your skin feels great it gives your confidence a boost.”
Violet is a great believer in prenatal massage, having practised nursing and midwifery in England, Saudi Arabia and at the World Health Organization, and is an advocate of the wonderful bonding technique of baby massage.
Massage for Health and Well-being
As you can see, massage is a great way to improve health and well-being naturally. It is recommended to see a professional therapist with all the relevant qualifications and licences, particularly if you suffer from specific medical conditions. To make the most of a massage therapy treatment, open communication is essential: talk about your current issues and past medical history so your therapist can tailor the session according to your needs. Massage can be contraindicated in some conditions so speak to your doctor first.
Paola Bassanese (author) from Ireland on January 11, 2016:
Thank you so much for your lovely comment, I appreciate it!
Angela Joseph from Florida on January 01, 2016:
This is an excellent article. You covered the various therapeutic benefits very well and remind me that's something I need to do for myself in the new year.