The basic goal of massage therapy is to help the body heal itself and to increase health and well-being. Through touch a therapist will know the right amount of pressure to apply and locate areas of tension and other soft-tissues problems. Touch also conveys a sense of caring, an important component in the healing relationship – producing feelings of caring, comfort and connection.
Massage is considered part of the complementary and alternative medicine and is increasingly being offered alongside standard treatments for varying medical conditions, such as reducing stress, pain and muscle tension. It can also be helpful for:
- Digestive disorders
- Insomnia related to stress
- Myofascial pain syndrome
- Soft tissues strains, or injuries
- Sports injuries
- Temporomandibular joint pain
When muscles are overworked, waste products such as lactic acid can accumulate in the muscle, causing soreness, stiffness, and even muscle spasm. Stress has a lot to do with the tension felt in the shoulders, it can also affect the heart and blood pressure. Working out muscle tension during a massage makes chronic pain, as well as acute or short-term stress, much easier to overcome.
Massage improves circulation, which increases blood flow, bringing fresh oxygen to body tissues. This can assist the elimination of waste products, speed healing after injury, and enhance recovery from disease.
Therapeutic massage can be used to promote general well-being and enhance self-esteem, while boosting the circulatory and immune systems to benefit blood pressure, circulation, muscle tone, digestion, and skin tone. It has been incorporated into many health systems, and different massage techniques have been developed and integrated into various complementary therapies.
Despite its benefits, massage is not meant as a replacement for regular medical care and any client should let their doctor know that they are also ‘trying’ massage.
Massage also has a number of benefits to all of the systems of the body – there is a ‘domino’ effect, which also brings about a state of homeostasis, which is a place of balance so the body can repair and renew itself.
The Muscular System
Muscles are obviously the part of the body to benefit from massage. Muscles are made up of fibres that slide over each other, but through over use muscles can stay in a contracted state causing imbalance in the body – causing the body’s posture to be out of alignment and constrict blood flow.
Massaging muscles will;
- Increase flexibility by stretching and relaxing the muscle, encouraging it to return to its normal relaxed length
- Remove waste products. By using the muscles in the body they can produce lactic acid, burn oxygen and glucose which can build up in the muscles creating soreness
- Reduce the formation of adhesions caused by overuse and wear and tear
- Improve muscle tone – healthy muscles are in a constant state of contraction and relaxation, however in somebody who is inactive, bed ridden or paralyzed they will have poor muscle tone and massage can help improve the tone of the muscle
- Reduce cramps. By increasing flexibility and tone this would reduce waste products, therefore it may reduce cramps
The Skeletal System
- Improves posture. Once the muscles are relaxed, posture will improve otherwise poor posture will impact other systems of the body
- Improves mobility. By massaging and warming the fluid within the joint this will cause less friction and pain for somebody who suffers with a poor range of movement within their joints
- An indirect result of massage is to cause a release of red blood cells from bone marrow, which can only enhance health and energy as they carry oxygen
- Increases circulation of blood to the bones
The Cardio-Vascular System
- Massage encourages blood flow to the extremities, organs and superficial blood vessels, and this can be noticed on the skin when redness can be seen
- Improves the return of blood through the veins – blood must work against gravity to return to the heart but through massage, particularly on the limbs, it assists the return of blood
- Lowers blood pressure. Massage can help the client relax and their heart rate decrease
The Respiratory System
- Encourages deep breathing. When somebody is stressed they breathe rapidly and take shallow breath and by not breathing out enough carbon dioxide it makes the blood acidic. Massage will stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system which slows and deepens breathing.
The Lymphatic System
- Massage assists with the drainage of lymph from cells to the lymph nodes. It improves the circulation and removal of toxins from the body
It boosts the immunity by stimulating the production of lymphocytes (antibodies)
- Reduces swelling – from an injury or inactivity for example – can be reduced by careful effleurage towards the lymph nodes
The Nervous System
- Stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. This has the effect of slowing down the systems of the body, (except digestion) and encouraging the body to repair and renew. It also switches on immunity
- Improves transmission of nerve impulses. The overall stimulating effect of massage will stimulate the neurons, (nerve cells), improving the efficiency of the transmission of messages
- Pain control. We have different nerve receptors to take different messages back to the brain. Some of these messages travel quicker than others. Pleasurable messages travel quicker than painful ones. We can therefore mask pain by giving a pleasurable massage
- Massage gives us a feeling of well being. Research has shown that babies who are not given loving touch may wither and even die
- It allows us to switch off, unwind and be at peace for a while
- Stilling the body and calming the mind allows us to get in touch with our spiritual side
The Endocrine System
- By balancing the body, and bringing it back to a state of homeostasis, the release of hormones may become more balanced
- Relaxation and massage counteracts the negative effects of adrenaline, the hormone released to cause the fight and flight response
- Production of endorphins. The body’s natural opiates, to give us a high feeling
- Production of oxytocin, which is associated with breast feeding mothers, but is actually released by everyone and gives us a nurturing and loving feeling. It will be released by the massage therapist as well as the recipient of the massage
The Reproductive System
- Balances the release of reproductive hormones
- Relaxes people and has a role in enhancing love making, fertility etc
The Urinary System
- Improves elimination of urine
The Digestive System
- Due to the stress response, our digestion systems can be upset or switched off. Massage will stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system to switch digestion back on
- The mechanical action of massage conducted in a clockwise direction will stimulate and assist the process of digestion
- Massage speeds up the elimination of waste products from the body, reducing their toxicity and alleviating constipation
- Massage increases the blood supply, which carries nutrients to the skin and may be seen as a redness
- Massage can have an exfoliating effect and removes dead skin cells
- The skin will be fed with the nutrients in the oils. The oil goes directly into the blood stream and feeds all the organs of the body
- Improves the condition of the skin
- Can reduce cellulite with diet and exercise
- Improves the elasticity of the skin, particularly scarred skin