Thanks to at least 4300-years of medical literature and a whole lot of science carried out in the last few decades, we can say at least a few things about massage. (1) – there is plenty of evidence that the various types of massage can relieve pain, anxiety and depression and; (2) – we’re pretty sure the science has narrowed down how massage actually does this.
The best studied and clinically tested elements of massage therapies suggest most physiological reactions by the body to massage occur through relaxation. Blood pressure and heart rate drops during and after massage, as does anxiety. Connected to this state of relaxation is improved sleep. Now this might seem pretty small and innocuous stuff, but the impact of anxiety and sleep deprivation on the body can lead to all sorts of debilitating ailments. Depression is one of the most serious – and is often attributed to anxiety and altered sleeping patterns. Anxiety can also manifest into muscle tension causing pain, migraines, reduce respiratory function and even bowel dysfunction. Of course, that’s not to say the various massage therapies are a cure-all, but it is clear the symptoms of tension and anxiety-caused illnesses can be reduced by just about anything that relaxes the body.
There are various theories behind how massage works. Some research suggests nociceptive pain – a common cause for chronic pain – can be physically blocked by more active remedial massages. Another, and no doubt more closely related to the act of relaxation, is the release of endorphins and serotonin – our happy hormones. Now this could be the result of the actual massage procedures, or it could be something far deeper – our innate need for the human touch. Now Touch Theory – now often called Hug Theory – has been written about almost as long as massage therapy – and the sensation of nurturing or joy felt by one person’s contact with another could help explain how some low impact or light touch massages can produce similar muscle reactions and relaxation to the more vigorous remedial type massages.
But then again, maybe there is an even simpler answer to the how massage relaxes us. Quite simply, in this hectic schedule we now call life, we rarely take a moment to step from the maelstrom and stop. Meals get eaten at the desk or on the commute, sleep gets snatched between text messages, phone calls. checking your social media statuses late at night and the early morning. The opportunities for completely switching off in our own time are becoming increasingly rare. Enter massage. Whether it’s Swedish, Sports or Stone, the massage room means an enforced hour or more separated from the rush of life outside. For many people these days, massage, no matter what the style or technique, may actually be a their only opportunity to sit still, relax and go blank.
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