No one would ever deny that getting a good massage is relaxing, but are there actual health benefits involved? The answer is that yes, there are certain health benefits, though they can be hard to quantify. Massage sometimes gets short shrift as a valid resource for health because its benefits are hard to measure. Regardless, there are clear indications that positive physical results can be achieved. Even faulting quantifiable data, it is clear that massage indubitably induces a relaxed state which is conducive to overall health.
There is perhaps no more powerful ailment afflicting the human race than stress. Living in a state of stress will make you more likely to catch a cold, increase your blood pressure, affect your decision making, and in every way make you less healthy. Science has proved over and again that stress is a killer. All other things being equal, an individual under duress will develop more health problems, have more trouble sleeping, and even experience less joy than a relaxed individual. This is a fact. It stands to reason, then that any successful effort to reduce personal stress is a step toward overall health.
Receiving a massage is one way that people can quickly achieve a state of deep relaxation. Gentle contact is something that speaks to us through thousands of generations and sends signals of peace and calm to our brains. Firm but gentle massage is a direct way to focus our awareness on the state and condition of our muscles. When we receive treatment, we quickly discover where our tensions lie and how to relax them. It is undeniable that this directly reduces, at least temporarily, our personal level of stress.
The Mechanics of Tension
Clinical massage therapy can reduce stress in a more measurable way. Muscle tension is a physical condition where muscle groups are stretched too tight through overuse, abuse, or neglect. Massage can be used as a way to physically reduce this tension by literally smoothing out the muscles. A trained massage therapist can quickly identify areas of tension and work towards alleviating them. This has several important effects on the body:
- improved circulation
- release of nerve compression
- improved range-of-motion
Massage can greatly help to increase blood flow. This allows muscle cells to receive more oxygen and nutrients, and therefore remain stronger. This is useful for general healthy body function, and can also assist in the treatment of specific problems related to poor circulation like arthritis or edema.
Just like any machine, your body requires occasional tuning to achieve peak performance. A good masseuse can make micro adjustments to your muscles that will keep pathways open and aligned. Most of us ignore misalignments until they cause us pain. This happens when nerves get pinched between muscles, bones, or cartilage that has slipped out of place. Massage can be very helpful in eliminating these compression points and relieving discomfort.
When muscles are relaxed and aligned, they operate more efficiently; this translates into a wider range of motion. Not only will this allow you to potentially run faster and jump higher, it is essential for preventing minor injuries. A person will be much less likely to incur a sprain or other injury if they are generally more flexible.
The Science Behind the ‘Relaxation Response’
The direct physical response of the body to a state of calm is referred to in science as the ‘relaxation response‘. This state is defined by a reduced heart rate, lower respiration and blood pressure, a boost to the immune system, and a general reduction in the physical signs of stress. These can include muscle spasms, fidgeting, uneven temperature regulation, and even the release of histamines or toxins within the body.
Seen in this light, the great benefit of massage is inducing a state that allows the body to properly function. Your body has all of the necessary tools to heal itself and fight off infections, but it requires maintenance and alignment for proper functioning. This is the job of the massage therapist.
How to Use Massage for Better Overall Health
There are many ways of utilizing massage therapy for better health. It is possible to use regular massage as a way to reduce overall stress levels and to maintain alignment. It is also common to use massage to target specific problems as they arise. These can include but are not limited to:
- Discomfort and Stress brought on by an upcoming event or deadline
- Headaches or muscle pain caused by increased stress at home or at work
- Injured muscles and muscle groups
- Physical discomfort after a trying event (childbirth, surgery, etc.)
In some cases, a doctor may prescribe clinical massage therapy, in others, a patient may seek the cure themselves. The amount and kind of massage that will be most beneficial for you and your situation will change from individual to individual. In general, it may be helpful to think of it this way: any condition that causes discomfort due to stress, both mental and physical, can potentially be addressed using massage. The goal of these treatments will be to relax areas where stress is causing discomfort allowing the body to begin healing itself.
A session at the Poconos spa or massage therapy is not a pill or potion that can easily be measured. Moreover, the effects will prove to be different for each individual and every particular case. Regardless, it is beyond question that massage induces mental and physical relaxation, and that these states induce better health. You know your body better than anyone, so you must be the judge. Whenever mental or physical stress is causing discomfort, massage can be an excellent way to directly address the problem.