Physical and Psychological Benefits of Therapeutic Massage Massage therapy has a host of benefits to offer. Not only does it help relieve physical symptoms but it is also instrumental in relieving stress. Stress and Tense Muscles Almost all of us have experienced muscular aches, pains and spasms at some point. Physical and mental stress can both result in muscular tension. For example We may experience pain after a slip or a fall. Repetitive typing and constantly peering at a computer monitor all day long (all too common these days) can likewise lead to a sore shoulder, neck and back. Such muscular tensions are referred to as ‘repetitive stress injuries’ or RSIs. Similarly mental stress also leads to tense muscles. When we experience stress, the body reacts immediately with a ‘fight or flight’ response. The heart beats, faster, your breathing becomes shallower and your muscles become tenser. Your body is gearing you up either to run (as fast as possible) or fight.
Once the stress is over, your body’s physiological reactions return to normal. However, if you experience prolonged periods of stress, your muscles are subject to excessive ‘fight or flight’ responses repeatedly. These muscles then begin to experience permanent strain or tension. Even the frown or scowl from worrying over your tax returns can strain the facial muscles and result in a tension headache.
Feeling stressed over long traffic queues and craning your neck in the process often leads to neck stiffness. The skeletal muscular system is composed of more than four hundred muscles.
Prolonged stress can injure or fatigue any of these leading to pain, tension and stiffness over time. The underlying concept is that a muscle under sustained tension needs alternate relaxation phases in order to maintain its functionality. The lack of a relaxation phase leads to tightness and strain. Massage is extremely beneficial in helping to relieve muscular tension and reducing inflammation. Recent research indicates that massaging tired or injured muscles results in the suppression of chemicals called ‘cytokines’.
Massaging also stimulates ‘mitochondria’ or tiny hair-like structures found in cells that convert glucose into energy. The increase in mitochondrial stimulation and suppression of pain pathways helps ease muscular stress. As a matter of fact, massage techniques work in a way quite different from conventional drugs and painkillers. Painkillers suppress muscular pain but not promote internal healing.
On the other hand, massage helps relieve pain as well as promote cell recovery. A recent research study conducted by Cedars Sinai Medical Centre, Los Angeles, indicates that massage results in the decrease of cortisol, a stress hormone. This study actually shows that massage therapy is effective in mitigating the physiological effects of stress. There are several significant benefits associated with therapeutic massage beyond the instant feeling of relaxation and wellbeing. Here’s a look at the overall benefits associated with massage:
1. Massage helps relieve stress by easing muscular tension. If you’re sitting in an office chair all day, chances are that your back, neck, shoulders, arms etc are likely to feel sore and stiff. Massage therapy can help relax muscles.
2. Massage encourages relaxation and the effects of a massage last long after the session is over.
3. Massage helps reinforce correct posture and healthy movement. Poor posture causes some sets of muscles to work really hard while others become weak. Slumping, for example, not only looks unsightly but also increases pressure on internal organs and impacts the digestive system. Massage helps ease muscles that are strained due to poor posture. The body is then able to realign itself in a natural way.
4. It helps improve blood circulation and flow. The improved blood circula1tion helps improve body functions and provides tired muscles with the oxygen-rich blood that aids internal healing. The rubbing, kneading and pulling also helps blood to flow through congested areas and flushes out lactic acid from muscles.
5. Research indicates that a consistent massage therapy program can help reduce diastolic and systolic blood pressure. It also lowers urinary and salivary cortisol levels besides alleviating anxiety and stress levels.
6. Massage helps improve range of motion and flexibility. We are more prone to muscle injuries today than say 50 years ago. This is not because we are exercising but because we are leading sedentary lives. Massage therapy works on muscles, tendons, ligaments and connective tissues to improve natural joint lubrication. Regular massages can help keep stave off sports injuries as your flexibility levels improve.
7. Massage boosts deeper, complete and relaxed breathing. According to Ann Williams, Education program Director at Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals, regular massage can help improve breathing which in turn has a beneficial effect on respiratory conditions including bronchitis, sinus, allergies, and asthma. Massage works to loosen constricted respiratory tissues located at the front and back of the body. Massage techniques like ‘tapotement’ are known to loosen mucus and ease lung function by promoting airway clearance.
8. Massage helps ease headaches. More than 25 million people living in the UK report experiencing frequent headaches. About 8 million British individuals experience migraine. Consistent massage programs help relax trigger points and relax muscles. Massage also helps improve sleep quality and minimises distress symptoms which in turn reduce the occurrence of headaches. The Indian head massage is particularly known as an effective panacea for tension headaches.
9. Massage facilitates post-operative rehabilitation: The aftermath of surgery is an important period for recovery. This is the time when movement is re-learned and range of motion is gradually reinforced. Massage is an effective supplement to standard rehabilitation procedures and can help aid faster recovery. It helps break up scar tissue and keeps muscles supple and flexible. Massage helps increase body heat which in turn promotes internal healing of muscular tissue.
10. Massage therapy boosts the immune system: Regular massage stimulates the body’s natural cytotoxic capacity (this is action of the body’s natural ‘fighter cells’). Massage also helps boost the number of T-cells which act as a first line of defence against disease.