The Science behind the feeling
Why is it that we feel so ridiculously good after a massage? Is it purely the pampering that makes us feel so great? Or are there genuine physiological effects at play? You may be surprised to know that there are a considerable number of scientific changes that take place during and after massage.
Let’s take a look.
Massage stimulates the release of endorphins – our natural pain relievers. Endorphins are produced by the central nervous system and pituitary gland and diminish our perception of pain. This gives our body a chance to relax, remember what it was like to be pain-free and for our neural pathways to be reprogrammed back to a normal, pain-free state. As our bodies relax, along with the manual action of the massage, tight muscles can relax and lengthen.
Massage therapy also increases circulation, which has many positive effects on our bodies. Waste products are flushed away, enabling tight, tired muscles to be flooded with nutrients and healing oxygen. Improved circulation alone may be enough for many individuals to eliminate built-up pain and stiffness in parts of the body.
Our bodies have certain trigger points, which are tight, sensitive spots in our muscles that can feel like knots. These trigger points send pain messages to muscles around them. A good massage therapist can work on these trigger points, gently releasing them and consequently relaxing the surrounding muscles.
Sometimes tight muscles can cause various problems in our body, such as pain and stiffness, muscle imbalances, or decreased range of movement, causing stress on certain joints. Sometimes, simply stretching the muscle is enough to lengthen the muscle back to its healthier state. Occasionally though, the fascia (the strong connective tissue coverings) around the muscle can tighten, making it difficult for the muscle to relax. By massaging in a particular fashion, I can help to break down the tightness in the connective tissue to ease muscle tension and allow the muscle to lengthen again.
A good massage can also help injuries become less painful and reduce healing time. Healing injury through massage is achieved in several ways:
- tense muscles and fascia around the injury can be released
- swelling and inflammation can be reduced by increasing the circulation
- the health of the tissues can be improved – also by the increased circulation, allowing oxygen and nutrients to enter the cells more rapidly.
Massage therapy has many ‘holistic’ benefits that are also scientifically valid. For example, after a massage or a series of massages, we can regain our energy. This is due to the relaxing effects of the massage, which helps us move from an excited, stressed “fight or flight” mode to a more sedate “rest and digest” mode. The generous dose of endorphins makes us feel better, which in turn encourages us to exercise and do a little more each day.
Improved quality of sleep can be achieved due to the release of muscle tension, pain and stress and our bodies having time to relax and unwind. With more quality sleep, bodies can heal and rejuvenate more efficiently.
Another benefit for those receiving regular massages is that it helps us to get in touch with our body. When a professional massage therapist is working on our body, they can help us understand where our pain is coming from and help to educate us to correct habits or movement patterns that are causing the pain.
Pain is felt much more strongly when we’re stressed, so taking steps toward stress reduction is an important way of keeping pain levels under control. A massage, once again, is a wonderful way of reducing stress and in turn, reducing pain.