Benefits and effects of Massage
Massage can play an important role for both men and women whether injured or not or as part of an approach to manage pain and inflammation alongside conventional medicine (1,2).
This health news article will highlight briefly the effects of massage such as physical, physiological and psychological benefits for health and well-being and tips when receiving treatment or selecting a massage therapist (1-7).
Today there are various types of massage, some treat the whole body while others such as Indian head massage and various forms of remedial massage and sports massage focus on specific parts of the body, or problem areas.
What it involves
Massage involves rubbing and kneading muscles and joints see here link to Swedish massage techniques to help relieve moderate to low intensity pain, thus contributing to a feeling of well-being to promote a positive psycho-emotional response. This can help maintain the body’s equilibrium, boosting the overall performance in patients and particularly the career of an athlete by stimulating the restoration and mobility to injured tissues by preventing loss of mobility (1-3).
The physiological effects
Massage encourages muscle relaxation through superficial heat generated via circulation and stretching mechanoreceptors through the sense of tactile touch, pressure, tissue length and warmth leading to a stimuli reflex action (2,4,7).
Tension and waste products in muscles can often cause pain. Massage can help in many ways by reducing moderate to low intensity pain by stimulating the release of certain chemicals (endorphins) (1,2,4).
Physical effects of massage
One great benefit of Massage is it opens or dilates the blood vessels - stretching them to enable nutrients to pass through more easily.
Reduces Neuromuscular Excitability
Various massage movement techniques reduces the neuromuscular excitability to encourage the reduction of cramps and stiffness (2,4,7).
Massage stroking movements
Stroking movements stimulates a pump like action to encourage the withdrawal of fluid through the blood and lymph vessels. By increasing the intensity of the pressure in front of the stroke a vacuum is created behind. This helps to stimulate vital nutrients and energy to deprived tissues for repair (2,3,5,6).
Stimulates tissue repair
Studies suggest mechanical driven therapies promotes the stimulation of skeletal muscle regeneration to encourage repair in new non-biological therapies or alongside combinatorial therapies that engage both biological and mechanical interventions to help treat severely damaged muscles. The direct stimulation of muscle tissue helps to reduce inflammation to encourage the healing of damaged tissue by stimulating the transport of oxygen, nutrients, fluids and waste removal from the injured site (5,6).
Increase tolerance for subsequent efforts
Intense training between exercise bouts may potentially lead to tissues feeling tense and inelastic. Through perceived recovery massage helps to reverse this effect by stimulating the increase investment and tolerance for subsequent efforts (7).
The Psychological Effects
Massage induces feelings of well-being and relaxation and so reduces anxiety levels through positive psychosocial responses. This occurs via the stimulation and release of the body’s natural chemicals serotonin (mood enhancing) and endorphins (reduce pain perception) by lessening emotional distress encouraging greater expectation-related analgesia (3,7).
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Expectations of intervention outcomes
Expectations may serve as a significant prognostic indicator for patients with musculoskeletal pain conditions. Consequently through ongoing dialogue with patients physical therapists may wish to distinguish ideal expectations from predicted expectations. This can be differentiated quickly by means of a measurement scale with request based on what the patient thought would occur (predicted expectations) and what the individual wanted to occur (ideal expectation). Differentiating between predicted and ideal expectations helps promote the value for directing education rehabilitation interventions and most likely outcome of intervention preventing injury reoccurrence (2,3,4).
A massage that is performed with light brisk movements produces an invigorating feeling particularly before an event (1).
It has been shown that massage can have a positive effect on the immune system.
When the skin is massaged, nerves send signals to particular glands where T cells are stored. This stimulation makes the glands produce more lymphocytes (types of white blood cells in the immune system) in the blood – the nett result is a larger number of healthy immune helping cells circulate around your body looking for invaders.
In one experiment performed for the BBC (Trust me I’m a Doctor) in 2020, they found a 70% increase in white blood cells after a one hour massage.
A larger study on children in 2006 performed a three month experiment on massage. Its findings also support the role for massage therapy in immune preservation. (8)
You can also read:
Scientific Reports No 5, 10913 (2015) for a study on ‘Massage-like stroking boosts the immune system in mice’
D'Acquisto F. (2017) Affective immunology: where emotions and the immune response converge. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2017 Mar; 19(1): 9–19.
Your not being self-indulgent,
you’re simply trying to boost your immune system.
Should be painless
A massage should not be painful particularly when given to a patient with musculoskeletal pain (e.g. arthritis). If it is, tell the therapist to adjust the pressure or alter the technique being used. If at any time your health or symptoms change between appointments, tell your massage therapist so they can modify the treatment.
Choose the right Therapist
Always check that the therapist has a good understanding of your condition or autoimmune disease as a whole. Choose a massage therapist who is qualified, insured and regularly updates their knowledge and skills. Ask if the therapist is on an approved register such as the FHT Complementary Healthcare Therapist Register as it has been approved by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care - a body that is accountable to parliament.
Aftercare is an integral part of the treatment, make sure you fully understand any exercises or movements that has been provided or suggested to you by the therapist to do at home. Opening micro-circulation - Massage does increase blood flow to tissues, but so does exercise so don't be tempted to stop!
Although the biological mechanisms are not fully understood physical therapy interventions for musculoskeletal pain such as massage often address impairments with the implication that pain and function will improve in response to stretching excitable tissue (tight muscle) or by strengthening a weak muscle. However this is likely dependent on a variety of multifaceted factors related to the therapist, the patient and environment.
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NCBI (2016) Brummitt J : The Role of Massage in Sports Performance and Rehabilitation: Current Evidence and Future Direction (on-line) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2953308/ (Accessed 12/02/16)
Spine Health (2014) Walsh A: Massage Therapy: A Drug Free Alternative for Back Pain Relief (on-line) http://www.spine-health.com/blog/massage-therapy-drug-free-alternative-back-pain-relief (Accessed 12/02/16.
PumMed (2016) Abbott JH, et al. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. (2015) The Incremental Effects of Manual Therapy or Booster Sessions in Addition to Exercise Therapy for Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized Clinical Trial.(on-line) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/26416334/ (Accessed 12/02/2016)
NCBI (2016) Bialosky J E, Bishop M D and Cleland JA :Individual Expectation: An Overlooked, but Pertinent, Factor in the Treatment of Individuals Experiencing Musculoskeletal Pain (On-line) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2931638/ (Accessed 12/02/16)
PNAS (2016) Author Cezar C A: Biological-free mechanically induced muscle regeneration (On-line) http://m.pnas.org/content/113/6/1534.abstract?sid=1fb83d6e-8aa9-4485-a3cc-4f2e0afbb6dc Vol 113: No6 (1534-1536) (Accessed 12/02/16)
Harvard Gazette (2016) Author MacApline K J: Mechanical stimulation shown to repair muscle (on-line) http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2016/01/mechanical-stimulation-shown-to-repair-muscle/ (Accessed 12/02/16)
Human Kinetics (2013) Authors Hasswirth C ad Mujika I: Recovery for Performance in Sport. ISBN-13: 9781450434348
Shor-Posner, G. et al (2006) Impact of a Massage Therapy Clinical Trial on Immune Status in Young Dominican Children Infected with HIV-1. JACM 511-516 Vol 12 Issue 6.