There is more to massage therapy than feeling relaxed and reducing muscle tension. The circulatory system, immune system, endocrine system and mental health all benefit from myofascial treatment through massage therapy.
1. It affects endocrine system and hormones
The endocrine system controls hormones, which deal with every body function you can imagine from sex drive to sleep to appetite and emotion. A literature review examining the effect of massage therapy on stress showed a consistent finding of a reduction in salivary cortisol (a stress hormone), heart rate and blood pressure within a single session of between 20 to 30 minutes (Moraska, Pollini, Boulanger, Brooks, & Teitlebaum, 2010). Pain associated with stress was also reduced in patients treated with Thai massage according to a study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies (Buttagat, Eungpinichpong, Chatchawan, & Kharmwan, 2011).
There are many more studies in which massage is found to counteract mild and moderate depression and anxiety. The authors postulate that it is a combination of the relief of stress and human touch that elevates mood as it encourages the release of dopamine and serotonin into the system (Hatayama, Kitamura, Tamura, Nagano, & Ohnuki, 2008).
2. It can help your body detoxify
Everything comes down to circulation… Massage encourages blood to circulate better, improving oxygen delivery and in-turn, aiding in removing waste, lymph and swelling.
3. It counteracts the effect of sitting
Sitting all day is the new normal, but a seated position forces your body to create tension in the shoulders, back and neck. While exercise is a great way to counteract a desk job, the neck, head and shoulders require a little help to remove myofascial tension that exercise and stretches aren’t able to target.
4. It boosts immunity
The body is always busy fighting infection from foreign invaders but when the system is overwhelmed in cases such as cancer, research shows that a measurable boost in immunity occurs following regular massage therapy. In a 2005 study, breast cancer patients showed a marked increase in lymphocytes, natural killer cells and dopamine levels following a 5-week massage therapy program (Hernandez-Reif et al., 2005). Several more studies in adults and children diagnosed with leukemia, diabetes and fibromyalgia all saw improved health measures.
5. It can improve sleep
Insomnia is common among many age groups, but according to research by Hachul, et al (2011), postmenopausal women suffering from insomnia who were treated with therapeutic massage showed better quality of sleep with fewer interruptions.
People in critical care or who are undergoing radiation therapy and chemo therapy may also experience difficulty sleeping. Several studies with these patients have shown that poor sleep quality can be improved with massage therapy.
6. It can counteract headaches
Tension headaches and migraines have long been treated with massage therapy. Muscles and the fascia that surround them attach to the upper neck and base of the skull are often tight and tense, aggravating a headache. A headache induced or exacerbated by stress may be a result of tight jaw or temporal muscles. One of the first randomized control trial published in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine showed a clear improvement in migraine frequency, sleep quality, and perceived stress and coping efficacy in patients who received a weekly massage over a 13-week study (Lawler & Cameron, 2006).
Buttagat, V., Eungpinichpong, W., Chatchawan, U., & Kharmwan, S. (2011). The immediate effects of traditional Thai massage on heart rate variability and stress-related parameters in patients with back pain associated with myofascial trigger points. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 15(1), 15–23. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbmt.2009.06.005
Hatayama, T., Kitamura, S., Tamura, C., Nagano, M., & Ohnuki, K. (2008). The facial massage reduced anxiety and negative mood status, and increased sympathetic nervous activity. Biomedical Research, 29(6), 317–320. https://doi.org/10.2220/biomedres.29.317
HERNANDEZ-REIF, M., FIELD, T., IRONSON, G., BEUTLER, J., VERA, Y., HURLEY, J., … FRASER, M. (2005). NATURAL KILLER CELLS AND LYMPHOCYTES INCREASE IN WOMEN WITH BREAST CANCER FOLLOWING MASSAGE THERAPY. International Journal of Neuroscience, 115(4), 495–510. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207450590523080
Lawler, S. P., & Cameron, L. D. (2006). A randomized, controlled trial of massage therapy as a treatment for migraine. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 32(1), 50–59. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15324796abm3201_6
Moraska, A., Pollini, R. A., Boulanger, K., Brooks, M. Z., & Teitlebaum, L. (2010). Physiological adjustments to stress measures following massage therapy: a review of the literature. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 7(4), 409–18. https://doi.org/10.1093/ecam/nen029