There’s a reason massage therapy was deemed an essential service during the widespread lockdowns we’ve experienced. Sure, it’s relaxing: the soft music, the low lighting, the feeling of tranquility… pure bliss. But what most people don’t know is that during a massage, your body goes into full activation mode. Massage stimulates your nervous system, wakes up your muscles, organs, and glands, moves blood and lymph fluid, and gets multitudes of cells to produce and release chemicals and hormones. And it’s not just for athletes or people with chronic health issues.
Sure, we may be aware of the better-known benefits of massage (see box). But what are some of the lesser-known benefits? You may be surprised!
The slight friction of your therapist’s hands along with the massage lotion and oil creates gentle exfoliation, allowing fresh skin cells to emerge.
Nervous System Relaxation
As you relax, your nervous system enters a “rest and digest” mode. If you have areas of pain and tension in your body, they may be the result of pressure on nerves caused by tight muscles, which massage may relieve. A relaxed nervous system means that hormone production will balance out. Production of stress hormones such as corticosteroids (LDL) decreases, as “feel good” hormones like endorphins increase. Hormones that regulate sleep/wake cycles, menstrual cycles, immune cells, blood sugar, and even how much food you eat, all react positively to the relaxation that accompanies a full-body massage.
When your muscles contract, blood and lymph fluid are squeezed out, and when they relax fresh blood enters bringing fresh nutrition, oxygen, and immune cells. Your therapist may also incorporate stretching and range of motion movements into the massage, which mobilizes the joints and places beneficial tension on your muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
The lymphatic system is crucial to balance the fluid and the function of your immune system. As your massage therapist works on flushing blood through muscle and tissue, they are also draining the lymphatic system, where the lymph nodes filter out dead cells, waste products, and possible pathogens. Sluggish lymph flow contributes to fluid retention and draining the lymphatic system may reduce edema in certain parts of the body.
Improved Bone Blood Supply
Did you know your bones also have a blood supply and receive the same advantages from massage as your muscles? Blood flow brings calcium and other minerals to your bones to support their strength and function, so your skeletal system receives a major boost.
A Healthy Heart
The vasodilation produced by massage increases your venous return which, in turn, increases blood flow and delivery of oxygen to all your organs. Your entire cardiovascular system relaxes and circulation throughout your body improves.
Stress takes a toll on our digestion, and a full-body massage can have a healthy effect on how your body process food and nutrients. The parasympathetic nervous system regulates your digestion, producing needed chemicals (like saliva, gastric juice, and insulin) and stimulates peristalsis, which moves food through your intestines.
So much tension accumulates in our shoulder, chest, and neck muscles! No wonder our breathing becomes restricted when we’re stressed. As you relax into your massage and your breathing deepens and evens out, your therapist can work into tense muscles to reduce tightness in muscles that assist respiration.
Next time you book a massage, think about incorporating the practice into your regular routine.