Massage is a practice that dates back over 4,000 years, with the first records of its existence coming from ancient Egypt and China. Most well-known for its ability to relieve stress and loosen the muscles, massage is increasingly being used in conjunction with other forms of treatment, and is now standard practice in areas such as rehabilitation, pain management, and injury prevention. But our knowledge of the effects that massage can have on our bodies is ever-growing, and we now know that it can be used to help treat a huge variety of conditions. So what exactly are the benefits of massage?
Among the most obvious benefits of massage is its ability to relax muscle tissue and reduce swelling, which reduces the pressure placed on the nerves and increases muscle flexibility. This means that you will not only do less damage to the muscles as you exercise, but you will also have an improved range of motion and stability, making it less likely that you will sustain an injury.
The other major benefit of massage is that it promotes circulation and encourages the flow of both blood and lymph, a fluid filled with white blood cells that cleans toxins and waste from the tissues in our bodies. Good circulation not only clears away the unwanted waste, but also brings damaged muscles the nutrients they need to heal.
But perhaps the biggest obstacle that has prevented massage from becoming a mainstream form of treatment in the past is our tendency to focus exclusively on its physical effects. This may seem logical, as it is a very physical form of treatment, but we now know that the chemical and psychological effects of massage are just as powerful.
Leaving aside the fact that reducing physical pain will improve a person’s mood and mental state simply because they are more comfortable, massages can be used to treat a wide variety of non-physical conditions thanks to the chemical effects it induces. A 60 minute massage session can reduce our levels of the stress hormone cortisol by 30%, while at the same time increasing our levels of serotonin by about the same amount. Not only is serotonin a natural painkiller, it also plays a key role in regulating many crucial aspects of our mental health, such as sleep patterns, mood, memory, digestion, and social behaviour. Because of this, massage therapy can help treat issues from anxiety & depression, to indigestion and IBS.
We have spoken many times before about the inextricable links between mental and physical health. Put simply, poor physical health will cause your mental health to deteriorate, and vice versa, a problem that can quickly become a downward spiral. It makes sense that a person in pain would be in a bad mood, and that being in pain and feeling depressed means they are less motivated to exercise, the very thing they need to do to get better. Massage can help tackle this problem by launching a two-pronged attack, dealing with both the physical and mental symptoms simultaneously, all while somebody else does most of the work.
While massage cannot be considered a substitute for exercise, its benefits for both mental and physical health reach far and wide. Recognising that it is not reserved only for those with stiff muscles or people in need of stress relief means you can apply it to your own personal health routine, promoting faster recovery and helping you achieve even greater results.