For the longest time, massage has been viewed as nothing more than just a luxury. After all, many people can get by without experiencing it even once. Plus, the main point of getting a massage is simply to relax, much like what recreational activities do. However, recent studies show that massage therapy may have a much bigger impact on the body than initially thought.
As a result, people are starting to believe that massage therapy is, in fact, a necessity rather than a luxury, unlike what they’re made to believe. But, due to its cost, some may think otherwise.
If you’re one of these individuals, you may find it hard to believe that a USD$100 service is much better than spending the same amount on dietary supplements or gym fees. To address your concern, this article will go over nine ways massage therapy affects overall health. But, first, here’s a refresher on massage therapy, in case you’re mistaking it with other treatment options.
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What Is Massage Therapy?
Massage therapy refers to a treatment wherein a certified medical professional operates on your body to manipulate its soft tissues, including your tendons, skin, muscles, and connective tissues.
If you’ve been to a massage therapy salon, you already know that they have several offerings. This is mainly because there are several types of massage therapy. Examples include:
- Deep tissue massage
- Reflexology massage
- Shiatsu massage
- Sports massage
- Swedish massage
Take note that not all salons have diverse offerings; some only offer basic massage therapy. But, if you’re on the lookout for such places, you may want to look into the likes of Modern MindBody Massage.
Regardless, most of these massage therapy methods have the benefit of relaxation, but as stated earlier, this treatment likely has more benefits than you might’ve thought. With that said, this article will go over five ways massage therapy can affect your overall health, starting with the benefit that you probably already know.
1. Reduces Stress And Induce Relaxation
The main purpose of massage therapy is to reduce stress and induce relaxation. It’s worth noting that this refers to both physical and mental relaxation. Here’s how it works:
- Physical relaxation
Stress on the body occurs when tension builds up within your muscles. This restricts your range of movement and may increase the feelings of pain. When you undergo massage therapy, the medical professional stretches and spreads your muscle tissues, which, in turn, reduces the accumulated stress in your body, thereby leading to physical relaxation. Deep tissue massage specializes in reducing stress accumulated in the body.
- Mental relaxation
As you may already know, the mental state of an individual largely depends on the electrical activities in the brain. When the production of cortisol, the stress hormone, is high, you’re likely to suffer from stress. Similarly, when the production of feel-good chemicals is high, you’re likely to experience relaxation.
A recent study shows that a massage can potentially decrease cortisol levels on your body, as well as boost the production of ‘feel good’ chemicals (e.g., dopamine and serotonin)
Since stress is directly related to sleep, some people associate massage with better sleep, which is actually yet another benefit of massage therapy that has long been established in the industry.
2. Minimizes Sleep Disturbances
One of the main types of massage therapy is acupressure, an ancient massage that has been a part of traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. While it’s been established that this type of massage therapy has several benefits, experts are starting to revaluate its worth as a medical treatment. In particular, they’re looking at its relationship with sleep.
To be precise, experts believe that certain pressure points in the body may greatly influence one’s sleep. Examples of these pressure points include the following:
- Wind pool
- Inner frontier gate
- Bubbling spring
- Three yin intersection
- Spirit gate
Further research is needed to tie acupressure to sleep directly, but the results are promising, as research participants show signs of experiencing better quality sleep after acupressure sessions.
3. Prevents Injuries And Improves Exercise Performance
If you look into massage therapy more thoroughly, you’ll notice that athletes make up the majority of its customer base. This is mainly because one of the main benefits of this treatment is that it can prevent injuries and boost your exercise performance. Of course, the massage therapy doesn’t do this directly. Rather, it provides these benefits in four ways:
- Improves blood flow
It’s a well-established fact that massage improves one’s blood flow, which often increases the amount of oxygen available for the body, or more specifically, the muscles, to use. Since there are larger amounts of oxygen to energize the muscles, it becomes easier to keep them healthy, therefore preventing or at least reducing the likelihood of injuries. Of course, more energy also means better physical performance.
- Boosts waste product removal
Waste products, such as lactic acid, are one of the main reasons why a body part can sustain an injury. These metabolic wastes can build up within the muscles, especially after or during an activity. That’s why the body has a built-in function to get rid of these waste products. This particular function is the responsibility of the lymphatic system.
Massage therapy stimulates the lymphatic system, which effectively improves the body’s ability to remove metabolic wastes, preventing different injuries.
- Increases tissue elasticity
Tissue elasticity refers to the ability to stretch your muscles and move with little to no restriction. When tissue elasticity is deficient, muscles become stiffer, which may increase their likelihood of getting into strains or pulls. On top of reducing muscle tension, a massage can also improve tissue elasticity, essentially preventing injuries.
This also improves exercise performance since tissue elasticity is directly related to flexibility, and flexibility is often a necessary component in various physical activities.
While one may think that the enthusiasm of athletes toward massage therapy is simply because they want to relax after their games, the reason is actually far more profound. Not only does it help them counteract preventable injuries, but massage therapy also allows them to get in the best shape for their match. Hence, many athletes get a massage before and after their games. But, of course, the relaxation effects, not to mention the pain relief benefits, are also one of the reasons.
4. Relieves Pain Throughout The Body
Many people view pain as the opposite of relaxation. That might be the reason why some experts believe that if massage therapy can induce relaxation, it should be able to relieve pain.
While that reasoning might be flawed, massage therapy can, indeed, relieve pain in several ways:
- Disrupts pain receptors
Much like relaxation, pain occurs whenever your brain receptors react to a stimulus. To further clarify, when receptors within your skin detect that something isn’t right, they’d send a signal to the brain. The brain then transmits this signal to your nerves, and your nerves are responsible for the pain you feel every time you receive a stimulus.
A massage aims to disrupt these signals. That’s why when you get a massage, you’ll find that things that normally cause absurd amounts of pain are now less effective.
- Loosens muscle pulls and knots
Whenever you engage in a rigorous activity, your muscles tend to get all messed up and twisted. As natural as it may be, this can cause a considerable amount of pain. But, seeing as how massage can loosen muscle knots and pulls, it’s no surprise that one would experience pain relief after a massage therapy session.
- Closes the pain gate
Although it hasn’t been established yet, there’s a possibility that massage, particularly acupressure, closes the pain gate, a pressure point that causes pain throughout the body.
Take note that massage therapy also has its limits. If you’re experiencing severe levels of pain, it might be best to incorporate massage with other treatment plans, like cryotherapy.
5. Strengthens Your Immune System
One of the main reasons massage therapy has become a prevalent topic in the medical industry is that it’s one of the very few treatment plans that can influence the immune system. In that regard, below are three ways a massage can strengthen your immune system:
- Improves circulation
Just like most of the body’s systems, the immune system requires nutrients to operate properly. The higher the quality and quantity of the nutrients, the greater their impact is on the immune system. And, as you may have guessed, massage therapy can help in this regard. To be precise, massage improves the circulation of the body, which then helps filter metabolic waste and move healthy nutrients, effectively increasing the quality and quantity of the nutrients your immune system receives.
- Increases lymphocytes
Research shows that several minutes of massage considerably increases the number of lymphocytes in the body. A lymphocyte is a form of white blood cell that operates within one’s lymphatic system. It includes the T cells, which help protect against infection, and B cells that are responsible for producing antibodies to attack invading viruses and toxins.
Naturally, an increase in lymphocytes would have a positive impact on your immune system, which is why experts are associating massage with a stronger immune system.
- Decreases stress
As stated earlier, massage therapy aims to keep stress to a minimum. Well, it turns out that stress, or more specifically, stress hormones like corticosteroids, compromises the immune system’s ability to protect against antigens by lowering the number of lymphocytes. Hence, the fact that massage therapy reduces stress alone links it to a stronger immune system.
The immune system has a lot to do with your health. Seeing how massage therapy can affect it, one may argue that massages have a major contribution to your overall health.
A massage therapy session may be a bit pricey, but its benefits are certainly worth the price. However, you must remember that it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution or a standalone treatment plan. If you want to make the most out of massage therapy, you might want to consult your doctor first. You can also incorporate this treatment option with other plans to maximize its efficiency.