We all know that massage is great for relaxing, unwinding and shaking off aches and pains. However, you may be wondering if this pampered experience has any science-backed, long-term benefits. The answer is that it does. Massage therapy truly is therapeutic! In fact, people are increasingly integrating massage therapy into larger plans for healing and thriving that include diet, exercise, supplements and physical therapy. Massage therapy may actually be the missing link if you’re not getting the pain relief and healing you’re seeking from other options. Take a look at what you need to know about how and why massage therapy works!

What Is Massage Therapy?

Massage therapy is a form of integrative medicine that uses touch and manipulation to stimulate healing and relaxation responses. Massage therapy is administered by a trained, certified massage therapist with a deep understanding of how to manipulate and stimulate soft tissue for relaxation and healing safely. While most people have enjoyed a casual massage at some point, the experience of professional massage therapy is very different from simply asking someone to rub your back to work out tightness or soreness. This is an immersive, thorough experience that often leaves recipients feeling renewed! In massage therapy, the following areas of the body are addressed:

  • Skin.
  • Muscles.
  • Tendons.
  • Connective tissue.
  • Ligaments.
  • Skin.

The massage experience can be tailored based on your specific needs. For example, some people seek out “sports” massage to help relieve pain and tension stemming from sports injuries. Others may be more interested in using massage to improve circulation as they heal from various health issues.

What Happens to Your Body During Massage Therapy?

A massage therapy session creates a whirlwind of physiological activity all throughout your body! That’s precisely why so many people feel relaxed down to the core during massage therapy. Here’s a look at the key responses that are triggered:

  • Your relaxation response. This is an involuntary response that is activated in your nervous system when specialized massage techniques are applied.
  • Your mechanical response. This creates specific physical effects as a result of pressure being applied to your body’s soft tissue.
  • When these two responses are activated together, your tissue and nervous system experience a wide variety of physical and emotional benefits.

How do these responses manifest during a massage experience? First, the relaxation response causes your heart to slow. You may begin to notice that your rate of breathing also slows down. As this happens, your blood pressure also begins to decrease. Your muscles may also feel like they are beginning to “melt.” On a biological level, the stress hormones that have been keeping you in an “alert” or “agitated” state that you may not have even been aware of begin to decrease within in your body. There’s actually evidence to suggest that serotonin levels increase in the brain during massage therapy.

The relaxation response that occurs during massage doesn’t just feel great in the moment. It has the potential to help insulate your brain and body from the effects of stress. For many people with high-stress lifestyles, massage is a gateway to fighting off anxiety, heart disease, hypertension, digestive distress and much more!

How Massage Therapy Helps With Circulation

Our cells need oxygen to survive. Poor circulation can make it difficult for the body to heal because it prevents cell regeneration. For people with tissue injuries, poor circulation can create an unending cycle of slow healing. It is believed that massage helps to improve blood flow and lymph circulation to deliver essential oxygen and nutrients.

Treating Pain Through Massage Therapy

While you don’t have to be in physical pain or distress to enjoy the benefits of massage therapy, this can be a very powerful treatment for pain. Many people seeking holistic pain treatments find massage therapy attractive because it is a gentle, medication-free way to stimulate the body’s own healing potential. Massage therapy can also be combined with treatments like physical therapy when treating injuries or pains stemming from accidents, sports injuries, poor posture, degenerative diseases and more.

Massage Therapy for Pain in the Low Back

Massage therapy can create incredible benefits for pain in the low back. In studies, massage therapy is linked with improvement in nine out of 10 measurements of self-reported pain and activities of daily living. What’s more the American College of Physicians has listed massage therapy as a therapy option for treating acute and subacute low-back pain in its clinical practice guidelines.

Massage Therapy for Neck and Shoulder Pain

Massage therapy has been cited as an effective intervention for providing immediate results for neck and shoulder pain. For many people, the psychological impact of massage therapy for neck and shoulder tension is important. People who hold tension in this area of the body can greatly benefit from both the techniques and accompanying “endorphin rush” delivered by massage.

Massage Therapy for Headaches

One of the most important breakthroughs for headache sufferers in recent times is the emerging connection between massage therapy and headache relief. The news is especially promising for migraine sufferers. According to one study examining the relationship between massage therapy and frequency of chronic tension headaches, massage therapy is effective for reducing the number of headaches per week among people suffering from chronic tension headaches. What’s more, headache frequency was notably reduced within one week of receiving a massage treatment.

Data is continually emerging regarding the benefits of massage therapy. What makes massage therapy different from the many invasive treatments for pain out there is that massage therapy is widely considered to be a safe, effective option that doesn’t produce negative side effects. It is something that can be used by pregnant women, sufferers of chronic conditions, athletes boosting recovery and everyday people seeking some natural wellness. In fact, it is commonly used to help relieve pain among cancer patients, treat myofascial pain syndrome, reduce fibromyalgia pain and help with anxiety. Many people also find that the massage therapy helps to reduce symptoms associated with painful digestive and gastrointestinal issues.

One of the most surprising benefits of massage therapy is tied to sleep. Yes, massage therapy has been shown to improve sleep quality and duration among people of virtually all ages. According to the National Institutes of Health, massage therapy can actually reduce fatigue and improve sleep in infants, children, adults and the elderly. This is extremely important information for anyone who is struggling with sleep because of the health dangers, dependency issues and fogginess often created by the use of sleep aids to treat sleep disorders.

It’s easy to get excited about all of the benefits of massage therapy! However, it is important to make sure you’re having conversations with your healthcare providers regarding the safety of using massage therapy based on your personal health history. While massage therapy is regarded as a very safe and noninvasive treatment, it may not be a good option for you if you suffer from a bleeding disorder, take blood-thinning medication, have burns, are dealing with infections, have broken bones, suffer from osteoporosis or live with thrombosis. Pregnant women should speak with their doctors before having a massage because this treatment isn’t always recommended for high-risk pregnancies.

What to Expect When You Book a Massage With a Massage Therapist

When you book a massage therapy appointment with a trained, certified massage therapist, the experience feels like a mix of a spa appointment and medical appointment. In fact, you should accept nothing less if your goal is to enjoy healing and health benefits from your massage experience. First, your massage therapist will go over any health concerns related to things like present injuries or your medical history. Next, your massage therapist will introduce the different types of professional massage available. The main forms of massage offered are the Swedish massage, the deep massage, the sports massage and the trigger-point massage.

Once you’ve selected the type of massage that fits your needs, your massage therapist will explain the techniques and movements that will be used in different areas of your body. You will be positioned on a table during the massage with your back exposed. While the massage experience is generally very soothing, there may be times when the therapist is working on a knot or sensitive spot. While slight discomfort is normal, you’ll be totally free to let your massage therapist know if you’re experiencing pain.

Experience the benefits of massage therapy! This is a great option to explore if you’re interested in natural, medication-free pain relief. It is one of the only “medical treatments” in the world that you’ll look forward to all week!