We all know taking time out for self care is a wonderful mood booster, but today I wanted to delve a little deeper into the multitude of therapeutic benefits of massage for our overall health and wellbeing.
Massage therapy is one of the oldest healing traditions dating back many thousands of years. The practice of using touch as a healing method can be seen throughout history, with the therapeutic effects of massage being embraced to prevent and treat illness and alleviate pain. Archaeological evidence of massage has been found in many ancient civilisations including China, India, Japan, Egypt, Rome and Greece.
Massage therapy is based on our instinct to rub areas that hurt. Therapeutic touch has a calming effect and brings about a slowing of the nervous system. The physiological effects of this include a decrease in heart rate, lowered blood pressure and a slower rate of breathing. Massage can improve poor sleep patterns and insomnia. Sleep is related to how much activity there is in the nervous system, so this physiological slowing down into “rest-&-digest” mode can actually help you sleep more deeply too. From easing muscle soreness to reducing stress, studies have consistently linked massage with real physical and psychological benefits.
As humans we have two main states of being - “fight-or-flight” and “rest-&-digest”. Our sympathetic nervous system is responsible for stimulating our fight-or-flight response. When we are under stress our bodies can end up in a continuous state of fight-or-flight, this has a negative impact our immune system, resulting in fatigue and burn out. Long-term activation of this physiological stress response and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones is, over time, extremely detrimental to our health. During massage therapy our parasympathetic nervous system is activated, reducing feelings of stress and bringing us out of fight-or-flight mode and into our calming rest-&-digest state, enabling our body to fully relax and recharge. Massage can help to relieve anxiety, with regular massage significantly reducing symptoms and improving mood. Studies have shown that the positive effects of massage therapy in decreasing symptoms of depression and anxiety can be long-lasting.
Massage prompts the release of endorphins, the brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that produce feelings of happiness and wellbeing. Levels of stress hormones, such as adrenalin, cortisol and norepinephrine are also reduced. Studies have shown that massage increases blood flow in areas of the brain associated with mood and stress regulation, with levels of the stress hormone cortisol dropping by around 30% following a massage and levels of feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin increasing by around 30%.
Pain relief is another area that research has most consistently linked to massage. When stimulated, pressure receptors under the skin increase vagal activity. The vagus nerve, a key component of the nervous system, has a role in autonomic functions like heart rate, breathing and digestion. Increased activity in the vagus nerve could, among other benefits, have a meditation like calming effect, which would explain the drop in cortisol and other stress-related symptoms.
And if all that wasn’t enough, there is so much more. I could write about the benefits of massage for weeks! (for the time being here is a lovely little list…!)
The wonderful benefits of massage therapy, in a nutshell:
o Reduced muscle tension
o Improved circulation
o Stimulation of the lymphatic system
o Boosts immune function
o Reduction of stress hormones
o Relaxation and calming response
o Stimulates release of endorphins
o Increased joint mobility and flexibility
o Improved skin tone
o Improved recovery of soft tissue injuries
o Improved sleep quality
o Eases chronic pain
o Heightened mental alertness
o Reduced anxiety and depression
So there we have it! A regular massage treatment is exceptionally good for your overall health & wellbeing! AND it feels amazing too….what’s not to love!!!
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