Some people think that massage therapy is only for relaxation and that it’s really just a luxury, but that is not entirely true. Massage therapy will definitely relax you, but there is so much going on physiologically during a massage you’ll really be surprised at the many benefits you receive.
During massage therapy, your parasympathetic nervous system is activated. The parasympathetic nervous system is the counterpart to your sympathetic nervous system, your fight or flight response. When your parasympathetic nervous system is active, your body goes into a relaxed state, your heart rate, respiration, and blood flow to the muscles slows down. This gives the body a chance to de-stress on the physical level. When the body stays in a state of constant stress (you may not realize it, even just daily work stress can activate the body’s sympathetic nervous system), eventually the body will break down. Stress related diseases are common and massage therapy combined with a good diet and exercise will definitely decrease your chances of developing those diseases.
One of the many health benefits you receive through massage is the elimination of toxins. This occurs through the movement of blood and lymph during the massage. Although the blood flow to the muscles slows during a massage, while the therapist is working on a specific muscle, blood flow is increased in the area of contact, and ultimately circulation does increase in the body after a massage. When blood circulation increases, it increases the oxygen to the cells and thus increases elimination of toxins. If you already get massages, have you ever noticed that during your massage your nose gets stuffy? This may seem to be because your head is face down in the face cradle, but it’s more than that. The congestion you feel is due to the toxins building up and looking for a way to get out of the body. That is why it is very important to drink a lot of water after a massage to flush out the built up toxins, especially if you receive a deep tissue massage.
Another benefit of massage is that it can relieve chronic pain or muscle tension. A weekly massage can help to retrain the muscles to relax. Our nerves and muscles have memory. When we experience stress or trauma even though we may not think about it after a while, our nerves and muscles will remember the experience. This can often lead to muscles staying contracted or spasming in an effort to guard the body against the stress or trauma. If you’ve ever broken a bone, you might have noticed that one of the first things to happen is that the muscles near the bone contract and stay contracted for several days. This is to protect the bone that broke against any further damage and to hold it in place so that it can begin to heal. When you experience stress, the contraction is not as extreme, but a similar concept is going on and in some cases the body will experience chronic pain or just feel tight and uncomfortable. When the muscles are contracting they can pull on the bones, especially in the back, and you can wind up with pain due to a pinched nerve. When you receive a massage for this type of problem, the muscles begin to relax and over time they release the ‘memory’ and the pain or tightness dissolves.
There are so many benefits to receiving massage therapy, too many to go into in just one article, but you can see that just by taking the time to enjoy a relaxing therapeutic massage you are truly allowing your body to rejuvenate and detoxify. In the environment that we live and work in, any little thing that we can do to improve our health will help our body to serve us better and longer.
Laura Sadler is a Certified Massage Therapist and Reiki Master in Los Angeles. She also has a B.A. in Psychology from UC Irvine. Laura became a healing arts practitioner after living with chronic pain due to sports injuries. It was through her experiences in healing herself that she learned she has a special gift and true compassion for those dealing with pain or stress.