It’s time to think of massage as more than just a luxury.
Massage therapy has a positive impact on almost every area of health, either directly or indirectly. I see remedial massage clients almost every day, and it’s been roughly three years since I had a client who didn’t actually need treatment. It’s rare enough that I remember him exactly.
Most of us will get some benefit from massage. It directly impacts our neuromuscular and musculoskeletal systems, and can have an indirect impact on overall physical and mental health. The most noticeable benefit is decreased pain and discomfort, either overall or in a specific area of the body. Researchers aren’t 100% certain about how massage decreases pain, but believe that it works through the gate control theory of pain. Basically, this theory says that you can override one nervous system signal, like pain, with another signal, like the pressure from massage.
So how does decreasing pain help? Of course, no one likes to be in pain, but less pain also leads to…
Decreased joint pain is one of the major benefits of massage. Joint pain often stems from poor joint alignment, which creates stress on certain areas of the joint. Massage therapy can improve joint alignment by decreasing tension in the muscle and soft tissues. When these tissues are tight or short, they can actually drag the joint out of alignment, creating perfect conditions for joint stress. Tensio in the muscle itself can also cause pain, either locally or as referred pain. Both muscle and joit pain make movement less pleasant, which often leads to avoiding exercise or oter physical actvity. And it’s pretty well established that less exercise means greater disease risk.
Massage therapy can also prevent injury from happening, provided you get regular treatment while you are still feeling good. In fact, most therapists recommend regular (but not necessarily frequent) treatment to help keep the soft tissues pliable and responsive. Your brain gets very good at relaxing the muscles with regular treatment. If your soft tissue is already in good shape, a massage every one to two months will usually be enough to keep your muscles happy.
Better cardiovascular and metabolic health
In addition to getting and keeping you moving better, massage can benefit your cardiovascular and metabolic health in a couple of ways. First, by decreasing muscle and joint pain, you’re better able to move. Any amount of movement or exercise has been repeatedly shown to decrease cardiovascular and metabolic disease risk and increase longevity. Massage can also help the long-term cardiovascular system, with regular treatment shown to decrease blood pressure and heart rate.
Improved rates of healing
Injuries cause pain, physical and mental stress increases, and can take a while to fully heal. Massage can help speed the process of returning to normal. The movement of the soft tissues increases circulation. This is a big help to the physical process as it can bring additional oxygen and nutrients to the healing tissues. Massage also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system – the part responsible for calming you down – which decreases both stress and pain hormones and enhancing immune function.
There are many other benefits that come from regular massage therapy. The most important one – even though it isn’t peer-reviewed – is that at the end, you feel really good! You don’t need a scientist to tell you that’s a benefit!