Many people consider a massage to be an indulgence – a luxury that’s reserved only for special occasions. In reality, a regular massage can provide significant health benefits and improve both physical and mental health. Massage stimulates the systems of the body to operate in a more efficient manner that can take years off the appearance and provide a more youthful outlook on life. Massage is now recognized as a legitimate field of CAM, or complementary alternative medicine, and is used by professional athletic teams and individual athletes as well as office staff, construction workers, and those in all other walks of life.
Many health spas now offer massage for their human patients as well as their canine companions and many racehorse owners employ an equine massage therapist. Many chiropractic offices provide massage therapy in addition to chiropractic services. Historically, the ancient Greeks used massage to improve the health of their Olympians. The ancient Egyptian pharaohs used massage and reflexology. Ayurvedic medicine records the use of massage before 1500 B.C. and the ancient Chinese recorded the use of massage more than 5000 years ago. So what are some of the many health benefits of massage?
Studies have shown that a consistent regimen of massage will help lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings due to several factors. Massage stimulates the blood circulation which increases oxygenation to the cells and relaxes the capillaries. Relaxed capillaries facilitate the flow of blood through them and all of the body functions better when it has adequately oxygenated cells. Therapeutic massage promotes relaxation which will decrease stress levels and help to lower blood pressure. The endorphins released during a massage are similar to those released during exercise and can promote relaxation and reduce stress.
Massage uses several types of techniques that accomplish different goals. The first part of a massage is intended to loosen the fascia, which is a membrane that lies between the skin and the musculature. Age, injuries, activities, and other factors can cause the fascia to become sticky and stiff. Myofascial release, performed at the beginning of a massage, can help loosen the fascia and prepare the tissues for the relaxing strokes of a Swedish massage. Range of motion stretches can help stiff joints regain their flexibility and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching can restore flexibility to stiff muscles.
Although massage isn’t touted as a weight loss program, it can facilitate a person’s efforts to slim down. The effects of stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system will promote a relaxed feeling and the body will produce significantly less cortisol, which is a response to the fight-or-flight reaction of the sympathetic nervous system. The body makes cortisol in response to a stressful situation so that if energy is needed in order to flee a dangerous situation, it will be available. If the energy isn’t needed, it’s stored as fat and promotes weight gain. By reducing the level of stress, the amount of cortisol that the body makes and stores will be significantly lowered and when combined with a healthy lifestyle, it may be easier to remain at a healthy weight.
The long sweeping strokes of a therapeutic Swedish massage will stimulate the function of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is often referred to as the rest-and-digest system. When the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, the function of the intestinal system increases, the sphincter muscles relax, the pulse rate slows, breathing slows and becomes deeper, and the overall energy output of the body decreases. This promotes release of hormones in the body that are responsible for relaxation and sleep. A lowered stress level will result in more restful sleep and an increased ability to fall asleep easier without the need for prescription or over the counter drugs.
In response to pain, the body generates natural called endorphins and dynorphins. Massage stimulates the body’s production of natural endorphins which help alleviate pain. Blood flow is also increased throughout the body and increased blood flow to an injured area promotes healing. Since massage increases the function of the lymphatic system, metabolic waste that’s created by the healing process is removed more quickly thus facilitating the healing process. Even though an injured area isn’t massaged directly, massaging the surrounding area will provide the same benefits.
Part of youthfulness is moving easily and massage can improve mobility. Another part of youthfulness is the appearance of the body. All of life’s events, both good and bad, are stored in the tissues and can, over time, cause the tissues to become stiff and aged. Massage promotes blood flow and lymphatic flow to the tissues to help release the adverse effects of life’s experiences. An increase in blood flow and a decrease in the deleterious side effects of life can provide the glow that many equate to youthfulness and can improve the mental outlook, resulting in more smiles and fewer frown lines.
In today’s fast-paced society, many people feel that no one really cares about them and they connect with very few people. In a massage session, the therapist is solely focused on the client and his or her welfare. Even those who don’t feel disconnected from others can benefit from this type of attention as well as the physiological benefits of a therapeutic Swedish massage. It’s important for each person to feel that they matter and are appreciated. The atmosphere of the massage room, the endorphins released, the one-on-one attention of the therapist and the other physiological benefits can elevate the mood and improve the mental outlook.