Benefits of Massage

Click below to learn the effects of massage on the body.

Effects of Massage on the Cardiovascular System

  • Dilates blood vessels – The body responds to massage by reflexively dilating the blood vessels. This is turn, aids in improving blood circulation and lowering blood pressure.
  • Improves blood circulation – Deep stroking improves blood circulation by mechanically assisting venous blood flow back to the heart. The increase of blood flow is comparable to that of exercise. It has been documented that during a massage local circulation increases up to 3 times more than circulation at rest
  • Decreases blood pressure – Blood pressure is decreased by dilation of blood vessels. Both diastolic and systolic readings decline and last approximately 40 minutes after the massage session.
  • Creates hyperemia – Increased blood flow creates a hyperemic effect, which is often visible on the surface of the skin.
  • Stimulates release of acetylcholine and histamine for sustained vasodilation. These two substances are released due to vasomotor activity, helping prolong vasodilation
  • Replenishes nutritive materials – Another benefit of increased circulation, products such as nutrients and oxygen are transported to the cells and tissues more efficiently
  • Promotes rapid removal of waste products – Not only are nutrients brought to cells and to tissues, but metabolic waste products are removed more rapidly through massage. It is often said that massage “dilutes the poisons.”
  • Reduces ischemia – Massage reduces ischemia and ischemic-related pain. Ischemia is also related to trigger point formation and associated pain referral patterns.
  • Reduces heart rate – Massage decreases heart rate through activation of the relaxation response.
  • Lowers pulse rate – As one would expect a reduced heart rate would lower the pulse rate
  • Increased stroke volume – Stroke volume is the amount of blood ejected from the left ventricle during each contraction. As the heart rate decreases, more time is available for the cardiac ventricles to fill with blood. The result is a larger volume of blood pushed through the heart with each ventricular contraction, thereby increasing stroke volume
  • Increases red blood cell (RBC) count – The number of functioning RBCs and their oxygen-carrying capacity are increased. It is speculated that this effect is achieved by (1) promoting the spleen’s discharge of RBCs; (2) recruiting excess blood from engorged internal organs into general circulation; (3) stimulating stagnant capillary beds and returning this blood into general circulation. All three events increase RBC count.
  • Increases oxygen saturation in blood – When RBC count rises, a greater oxygen saturation occurs in the blood
  • Increases white blood cell (WBC) count – The presence of WBCs increases after massage. The body may perceive massage as a mild stressor (an event to which the body must adapt) and recruits additional WBCs. The increase in WBC count enables the body to more effectively protect itself against disease.
  • Enhances the adhesion of migrating WBCs – The surfaces of WBCs become more “sticky” following a massage, increasing their adhesive quality and therefore their effectiveness.
  • Increase platelet count – Gentle but firm massage strokes increase the number of platelets in the blood.

Effects of Massage on the Lymphatic Immune Systems

  • Promotes lymph circulation – Lymph is a fluid that moves slowly within its own system of vessels. Lymphatic circulation depends entirely on pressure: from muscle contraction, pressure changes in the thorax and abdomen during breathing or applied pressure from a massage.
  • Reduces lymphedema – Massage reduces lymphedema (swelling) by promoting lymph circulation which helps remove waste from the system more effectively than either passive range of motion or electrical muscle stimulation
  • Decreases the circumference of an area affected with lymphedema – When an area swells, the diameter increases. When the swelling subsides circumference decreases.
  • Decreases weight in patients with lymphedema – Fluid retention adds weight to a patient. When lymphedema is addressed with massage, weight is consequently reduced.
  • Increases lymphocyte count – Lymphocytes are types of WBCs. This effect indicates that massage supports immune functions.
  • Increases the number and function (or cytotoxicity) of natural killer cells – Natural killer cells are also types of WBCs. This further suggests that massage strengthens immune functions and might help individuals with immune disorders.

Effects of Massage on the Skin and Related Structures

  • Increases skin temperature – Warming of the skin indicates a reduction of stress and other benefits outlined below.
  • Improves skin condition – As superficial blood vessels dilute and circulation increases, the skin appears hyperemic. This brings added nutrients to the skin, improving the skin’s condition, texture, and tone. Clinical observations have determined that massage also improves the appearance (i.e., color and texture) of the skin.
  • Stimulates sebaceous glands – Stimulation of the sebaceous (oil) glands causes an increase in sebum production. This added sebum improves the skin’s condition and reduces skin dryness
  • Stimulates sudoriferous glands – Sudoriferous (sweat) gland stimulation increases insensible perspiration. Insensible perspiration is the constant evaporative cooling that occurs as microscopic beads of perspiration evaporate from the skin’s surface.
  • Improves skin pathologies – Unless a condition contraindicates massage, skin pathologies may improve by decreasing redness, reducing thickening/hardening of the skin, increasing healing of the skin abrasions, and reducing itching.
  • Reduces superficial keloid formation – Massage applied to scar tissue helps reduce the formation of superficial keloids in the skin and excessive scar formation in the soft tissues beneath the site of the massage applications
  • Smooth out Cellulite – Massage doesn’t get rid of cellulite, however it will help to smooth out the cellulite.

Effects of Massage on the Nervous and Endocrine Systems

  • Reduces stress – Stress is reduced by activation of the parasympathetic nervous system
  • Reduces anxiety – Interestingly, a reduction in anxiety is noted in both the person who received the massage and the person who gave the massage
  • Promotes relaxation – General relaxation is promoted through activation of the relaxation response. Relaxation also has a diminishing effect on pain
  • Decreases beta wave activity – Associated with relaxation, a decrease in beta brainwave activity occurred during and after the massage (confirmed by electroencephalogram (EEG])
  • Increase delta wave activity – Increases in delta brainwave activity are linked to sleep and to relaxation; both are promoted with massage (confirmed by EEG).
  • Increase in alpha waves – An increase in alpha brainwave during massage indicates relaxation (confirmed by EEG).
  • Increase dopamine levels – Increased levels of dopamine are linked to decreased stress levels and reduced depression
  • Increases serotonin levels – Increased levels of serotonin suggest a reduction of both stress and depression. It is believed that serotonin inhibits transmission of noxious signals to the brain, indicating that increased levels of serotonin may also reduce pain.
  • Reduces cortisol levels – Massage reduces cortisol levels by activating the relaxation response. Elevated levels of cortisol not only represent heightened stress but also inhibit  immune functions.
  • Reduces norepinephrine levels – Massage has been proven to reduce norepinephrine, a stress hormone; reduced norepinephrine levels are linked to the relaxation response.
  • Reduces epinephrine levels – Epinephrine, another stress hormone, is reduced with massage.
  • Reduces feelings of depression – Both chemical and electrophysiological changes from a negative to a positive mood were noted and may underline the decrease in depression after massage therapy.
  • Decreases pain – Massage relieves local and referred pain caused by hypersensitive trigger points, presumably by increasing circulation, thereby reducing ischemia. Massage also stimulates the release of endorphins (indogenous morphine), enkephalines, and other pain-reducing nerochemicals. General relaxation brought on by massage therapy also has a diminishing effect on pain. The pressure of a massage interferes with pain information entering the spinal cord by stimulating pressure receptors, further reducing pain (gate theory). Massage interrupts the pain cycle by relieving muscular spasms, increasing circulation, and promoting rapid disposal of waste products. Massage also improves sleep patterns. During deep sleep, a substance call somatostatin is normally released. Without this substance, pain is experienced.
  • Reduces analgesic use – Because pain is reduced with massage, so is the need for excessive use of pain medications.
  • Activates sensory receptors – Depending on factors such as stroke choice, direction, speed and pressure, massage can stimulate different sensory receptors, affecting the massage outcome. For example, cross-fiber tapotement stimulates muscle spindles, which activates muscular contraction, while a slow passive stretch and deep effleurage activate Golgi tendon organs, which inhibits muscular contraction. Activation of sensory pressure receptors reduces pain.
  • Faster and more elaborate development of the hippocampal region of the brain – Part of the limbic system, development of the hippocampal region is related to superior memory performance
  • Increase vagal activity – Increased activity of the vagal nerve lowers physiological arousal and stress hormones. A decrease in stress hormones leads to enhanced immune functions. One of the branches of the vagus nerve is known as the “smart branch.” Stimulation of this nerve branch increases facial expression and vocalization which reduces feelings of depression
  • Right front EEG activation shifted to left front EEG activation – Right front EEG activation is associated with a sad affect and left frontal EEG activation is associated with a happy affect. This implies, that the client experienced an improvement of mood during massage.
  • Decreases H-amplitude levels during massage – A decrease of 60% to 80% was noted. This reduction is crucial for the comfort of the patients with spinal cord inuuries because it signifies a decrease of muscle cramps and spasm activity

Effects of Massage on Muscles

  • Relieves muscular tension – Massage relieves muscular restrictions, tightness, stiffness, and spasms. These effects are achieved by direction pressure and by increasing circulation, resulting in more flexible, supple, and resilient muscle tissues
  • Relaxes muscles – Muscles relax as massage reduces excitability in the sympathetic nervous system.
  • Reduces muscle soreness and fatigue – Massage enhances blood circulation, thus increasing the amount of oxygen and nutrients available to muscles. Increased oxygen and nutrients reduce muscle fatigue and post-exercise soreness. Massage promotes rapid disposal of waste products, further reducing muscle fatigue and soreness. A fatigued muscle recuperates 20% after 5 minutes of rest and 100% after 5 minutes of massage. A reduction in post-exercise recovery time was indicated by a decline in pulse rate and an increase muscle “work” capacity.
  • Reduces trigger point formation – Trigger point formation is greatly reduced by the pressure applied during a massage, affecting trigger points in both muscle and fascia.
  • Manually separates muscle fibers – Compressive strokes and cross-fiber friction strokes separate muscle fibers, reducing muscle spasms.
  • Increases range of motion – When muscular tension is reduced, range of motion is improved. The freedom of the joints is dictated by the freedom of the muscles.
  • Improves performance (balance and posture) – Many postural distortions are removed when trigger points are released and when muscle tension is reduced. Range of motion increases, gait becomes more efficient, the posture is more aligned and balanced, and improved performance is the net result.
  • Improves motor skills – Not surprisingly, if a massage was found to improve performance, balance, and posture, motor skills are also enhanced.
  • Lengthens muscles – Massage mechanically stretches and broadens tissue, especially when combined with Swedish gymnastics (joint mobilization and stretches). These changes are detected by Golgi tendon organs, which inhibit contraction signals, further lengthening muscles. Massage retrains the tissue from a contracted state to an elongated state, increasing resting length. This is one of the principles behind neuromuscular reeducation.
  • Increased flexibility – By lengthening muscles and promoting muscular relaxation, massage has also been shown to increase muscle flexibility.
  • Tones week muscles – Muscle spindle activity is increased during massage strokes (e.g., tapotement, vibration). An increase in muscle spindle activity creates muscle contractions, helping tone weak muscles. This effect is particularly beneficial in cases of prolonged bed rest, flaccidity, and atrophy.
  • Reduces creatine kinase activity in the blood – Creatine kinase is an enzyme that helps ensure enough adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is available for muscle contraction. By reducing the activity of creatine kinase in the blood, massage indirectly helps decrease muscle contraction and therefore increase muscle relaxation.
  • Improves muscular nutrition – As a result of an increase in blood-transported nutrients, massage improves muscular nutrition. This hastens muscle recovery and enables muscles to function at maximum capacity after recovery.
  • Decrease electromyography (EMG) readings – This signifies a decrease in neuromuscular activity and reduction of neuromuscular complaints.

Effects of Massage on Connective Tissue

  • Reduces keloid formation – Massage applied to scar tissue helps reduce keloid formation in scar tissue.
  • Reduces excessive scar formation – Deep massage reduces excessive scar formation, helping create an appropriate scar that is strong yet does not interfere with thee muscle’s ability to broaden as it contracts.
  • Decreases adhesion formation – The displacement of scar tissue during massage helps reduce formation of adhesions. This, in turn, facilitates normal, pain-free motion of the affected muscles and joints.
  • Release fascial restrictions – Pressure and the heat it produces converts fascia from a gel-state to a sol-state (thixotropy), reducing hyperplasia. Fascia loosens and melts, becoming more flexible and elastic. Softening of the fascia surrounding muscles allows them to be stretched to their fullest resting length, increasing joint range of motion, and freeing the body of restricted movements.
  • Increases mineral retention in bone – Massage increases the retention of nutrients such as nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorus in bones.
  • Promotes fracture healing – When a bone is fractured, the body forms a network of new blood vessels at the break site. Massage increases circulation around the fracture, promoting fracture healing. Increased circulation around a fracture leads to increased deposition of callus to the bone. Callus in formed between and around the broken ends of a fractured bone during healing, and is ultimately replaced by compact bone.
  • Improves connective tissue healing – Occurring only with deep pressure massage, proliferation and activation of fibroblasts was noted. Fibroblasts generate connective tissue matrix, which promotes tissue healing by increasing collagen production and increasing the tensile strength of healed tissue.
  • Reduces surface dimpling of cellulite – Massage flattens out adipose globules located under the skin and makes the skin seem smoother. Cellulite, a type of adipose tissue, appears as groups of small dimples or depressions under the skin, caused by an uneven separation of fat globules below the skin’s surface. Massage does not reduce the amount of cellulite below the skin; instead, it temporarily alters the shape and appearance of cellulite.

Effects of Massage on the Respiratory System

  • Reduces respiration rate – Massage slows down the rate of respiration because of activation of the relaxation response.
  • Strengthens respiratory muscles – The muscles of respiration have a greater capacity to contract, helping improve pulmonary functions.
  • Decreases the sensation of dyspnea – Dyspnea is shortness of breath or difficult breathing, and is lessened as a result of massage.
  • Decreases asthma attacks – Through increased relaxation and improved pulmonary functions, the client experiences fewer asthma attacks.
  • Reduces laryngeal tension – Laryngeal tension may occur from excessive public speaking or singing. Massage reduces the stress on the larynx and tension on the muscles of the throat.
  • Increases fluid discharge from the lungs – The mechanical loosening and discharge of phlegm in the respiratory tract increases with rhythmic alternating pressures. Tapotement (cupping) and vibration on the rib cage are often used to enhance this effect. Phlegm loosening and discharge is further enhanced when combined with postural drainage (promoting fluid drainage of the respiratory tract through certain body positions) and when the client is encouraged to cough.
  • Improves pulmonary functions – Relaxation plays a big role in how massage improves pulmonary function, but massage also loosens tight respiratory muscles and fascia. The affected pulmonary functions are as follows:
  • Increased vital capacity – This is the amount of air that can be expelled at the normal rate of exhalation after a maximum inhalation, representing the greatest possible breathing capacity.
  • Increased forced vital capacity – This is the amount of air that can be forcibly expelled after a forced inhalation.
  • Increased forced expiratory volume – This is the volume of air that can be forcibly expelled after a full exhalation.
  • Increased forced expiratory flow – This is the volume of air that can be forcibly expelled after a full inhalation.
  • Improved peak expiratory flow – This is the greatest rate of airflow that can be achieved during forced expiration beginning with the lungs fully inflated.

Effects of Massage on the Digestive System

  • Promotes evacuation of the colon – By increasing peristaltic activity in the colon through massage, bowel contents move toward the anus for elimination.
  • Relieve constipation – Because evacuation of the colon is promoted, constipation is relieved.
  • Relieve colic and intestinal gas – Increased peristaltic activity also helps relieve colic and the expulsion of intestinal gas.
  • Stimulates digestion – Massage also promotes activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which stimulates digestion.

Miscellaneous Effects of Massage

  • Increases urine output – Massage activates dormant capillary beds and recovers lymphatic fluids for filtration by the kidney. This in turn increases the frequency of urination and amount of urine produced. Massage is also relaxing. This promotes general homeostasis and increases urine output.
  • Promotes the excretions of nitrogen, inorganic phosphorus, and sodium chloride in urine – Levels of these metabolic wastes are elevated in urine after massage.
  • Reduces fatigue and increases vigor – Many clients experienced a sense of renewed energy after massage by taking a break from the stresses of the day.
  • Improves sleep patterns – When clients went to sleep, they reported a deeper sleep and felt more rested upon waking.
  • Reduces job related and posttraumatic stress – Massage reduces many types of stress. In particular, job related stress and posttraumatic stress decreased after massage.
  • Improves mood – The mental health status and mood improved in the subjects of the experimental (massaged) group.
  • Decreases feelings  of anger – Clients reported a decrease in aggression and feelings of anger with massage.
  • Improves body image – Massage improved body image in clients who stated having a poor body image prior to the massage session.
  • Improves self-esteem – Individuals who received and who gave massages reported enhanced self-esteem.
  • Promotes communication and expression – Individuals who received and gave massages reported an increase in the quantity and quality of their social interactions. They talked more freely and openly and enjoyed themselves more during these social interactions. Massage can also assist the ease of emotional expression through relaxation.
  • Improves lifestyle habits – Following massage, clients reported improved lifestyle habits such as increased activities of daily living (ADLs), fewer cups of coffee, fewer somatic symptoms, fewer doctor visits, and increased levels of exercising (walking)
  • Increases physical well being – Massage enhances well-being through stress reduction and subsequent relaxation.
  • Reduces touch aversion and touch sensitivity – Massage given to victims of rape and spousal abuse reported a reduction in touch aversion. Hypersensitivity to touch reduced in other individuals.
  • Increases academic performance – A decrease in math computation time and an increase in match accuracy was noted in massage studies.
  • Increases mental alertness – Massage increases mental alertness by relaxing the body/mind and by removing unwanted stress.
  • Satisfies emotional needs – Clients reported using the therapeutic relationship to satisfy their emotional needs for attention, acceptance, caring, and nurturing touch, which were not being met through their other relationships.

Indications of Massage for Specific Conditions and Specific Individuals

  • Alzheimer’s disease – Massage decreased physical expression of agitation (i.e., pacing, wandering and improved sleep patterns)
  • Anemia – An increase in RBCs and an increase in oxygen saturation in the blood suggests that massage is beneficial for individuals with anemia.
  • Asthma – It was found that massage improved pulmonary functions, and reduced the occurrence of asthma attacks.
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – Individuals diagnosed with ADHD who receive massage were observed to be less fidgety and hyperactive, and spent more time completing assigned tasks.
  • Autism – Massaged autistic children spent less time in solitary play and had an increase in attention to sounds and their social relatedness to their teachers. Autistic behavior such as touch aversion was reduced.
  • Burn Victims – Burn victims who were massaged experienced a decrease in pain and itching and reduced anxiety before debridement. Massage also lowered feelings of depression and anger.
  • Cancer – Lymphedema, pain, anxiety, and feelings of anger and depression were reduced when cancer patients had routine massages. Massage also increased lymphocyte and natural killer cell counts.
  • Cerebral Palsy (CP) – Massage promotes circulation of blood and lymph and relieves muscular tension in individuals with CP. Increases in flexibility were also reported.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) – Clinets with CFS experience reduced feelings of depression and anxiety and fewer somatic symptoms such as fatigue. CFS affects muscle strength; improved grip strength was also documented for clients receiving massages.
  • Constipation – Elimination problems were relived through massage.
  • Diabetes – Blood glucose levels, anxiety, and depression were reduced with massage. An increase in dietary compliance was also reported.
  • Eating disorders – Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa patients stated a reduction of depression and anxiety. These individuals stated that they experienced an improvement in eating habits and an increase in positive body image with regular massage treatments.
  • Fibromyalgia – Not only were stress, anxiety and feelings of depression reduced with massage, but decreases in pain, stiffness, fatigue, and insomnia were documented in individuals with fibromyalgia. Massage was rated more effective than standard physical therapy or prescriptive drugs.
  • Headaches – Most headaches (muscular, cluster, eye strain, mental fatigue, sinus) were relieved with massage. Subjects also reported more headache-free days and less analgesic use as a result of pain reduction.
  • High blood pressure – Massage decreased blood pressure (both systolic and diastolic readings) and helped promote healthy lifestyle habits in patients with hypertension.
  • Individuals infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The number of natural killer cells and their ability to fight pathogens increased after massage. Massage also helped individuals infected with HIV to relax.
  • Hospitalized and hospice patients – Postoperative pain was reduced and patients had a decline in heart rate and blood pressure, indicating decreased stress and anxiety. Hospice patients experienced the same effects.
  • Infants – Preterm, cocaine-exposed, HIV-exposed and full-term infants experienced less colic, less repetitive crying, improved feeding habits, and gained more weight than non-massaged infants in the same categories. Massage was found more effective than rocking for inducing infant sleep.
  • Injuries – Massage speeds the healing of overuse injuries, sprains, and strains.
  • Insomnia – Insomnia is alleviated by inducing relaxation.
  • Low back pain – Low back pain is decreased by addressing trigger points. Medical costs were reduced by about 40% along with reduced analgesic use. Massage increased range of motion and promoted relaxation. Patients reported that massage made them feel cared for, happy, physically relaxed, less anxious, calm, restful, and gave them a feeling of closeness with the individuals who gave massages. Massage was rated more effective than standard physical therapy or prescriptive drugs.
  • Lung disease – For clients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), massage strengthened respiratory muscles, reduced heart rate, increased oxygen saturation in blood, decreased shortness of breath, and improved pulmonary functions. Respiratory drainage is encouraged through cupping tapotement and vibration. Clients with cystic fibrosis further reported decreased anxiety and improved mood with massage treatments.
  • Lymphedema – Swelling resulting from lymphedema was reduced with massage if it was not a result of inflammation or disease. Edema resulting from traumatic inflammation may be aided with techniques such as light centripetally applied effleurage.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS) – Individuals with MS who received massages experienced reduced anxiety and depression, improved self-esteem and positive body image, and implemented changes to their lifestyle that promoted health such as exercising and stretching.
  • Nerve entrapment – Conditions of nerve entrapment that occur when soft tissues constrict the nerve, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome, and sciatica, were relived by release of the myofascial component.
  • Poor circulation – Massage improved blood circulation.
  • Pregnancy and postpartum – Massaged pregnant women reported fewer obstetric and postpartum complications, reduced prematurity rates, shorter and less painful labors, and fewer days in hospital after labor and delivery. When nurses, midwives, or spouses massaged the pregnant or laboring women’s perineal area, injury such as tearing during fetal delivery was reduced. Feelings of postpartum depression declined with massage. Depressed adolescent mothers reported less stress, anxiety, and depression. These were supported by a reduction of stress hormones in the blood.
  • Premenstrual Syndrome – Massage reduced swelling, pain, and anxiety and improved the mood of women experiencing premenstrual syndrome.
  • Psychiatric patients – Child, adolescent, and adult psychiatric patients were observed to be better adapted to a group and the medical staff reported better clinical progress with massage treatments. A decrease in depression and anxiety was noted with reduced cortisol levels and norepinephrine blood levels and increased in dopamine levels. In many individuals, a decreased self-destructive behavior was reported and the mental health status in the subjects of the massaged group. A decrease in the episodes of dysfunctional behavior was found in patients with dementia..
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – Massage reduced trigger point formation, pain, anxiety, and morning stiffness in individuals with adult and juvenile RA.
  • Skin conditions – Skin problems such as mild dryness and itching were alleviated by massage because of the increase of sebum production and blood circulation.
  • Stress and anxiety – Stress and anxiety are reduced by activation of the parasympathetic nervous system and promotion of the relaxation response.
  • Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) dysfunction – The muscular component of TMJ dysfunction was addressed with massage and reduced pain and dysfunction was the result.
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