How Does Massage Therapy Reduce Stress?
There are many forms of massage that can offer a variety of therapeutic benefits. Massage can help relax tight and painful muscles, improve range of motion in the joints, enhance circulation and lower stress levels. This is important because stress is considered a risk factor for many chronic diseases, and stress can make any symptoms you have worse. Since there are many therapies available, it is important to understand some basics about how massage therapy reduces stress. It may then take a period of trial and error to find the right therapist and approach.
Massage therapy encompasses many techniques. With some types, the client gets undressed and is covered with sheets during the session, and with other types the client remains clothed. The massage therapist may use her hands, elbows or feet to administer the treatment. Some forms of massage use oils. According to the Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, some of the main forms of massage are Swedish, deep tissue, sports, reflexology and trigger point. There are also forms of massage that use warm stones and other devices to release tension and promote relaxation. Since there are so many forms available, it can also be helpful to talk with several massage therapists about what their specific types of massage offer.
To understand how massage therapy can help stress, it is important to understand how stress affects the body. Stress can be a positive motivator, such as when striving for a promotion at work or accomplishing an important task. Stress can also be temporary, such as when you are stuck in traffic or delayed at the airport. However, the American Psychological Association states that feelings of stress can also be chronic, such during financial difficulties, chronic illness or dealing with family issues. It is not the event that is the main concern, but rather the response to the event. When the brain senses any kind of stress, various reactions take place to raise the heart rate and blood pressure, tighten the muscles and decrease activity in other areas to conserve energy. Feelings of stress that continue for long periods can have detrimental effects on the body. The solution is to find other ways of dealing with stressors along with using techniques to calm the mind and body. Massage is one of those techniques.
The Mayo Clinic states that when administered by a well-trained and licensed practitioner, massage therapy is safe and can help with many symptoms, including stress, depression and anxiety. Part of managing stress is taking time to shift the mind away from everyday worries and to allow the body and mind to relax. The time spent in a massage can be used to focus on relaxing the body. It can promote feelings of being in control over your health and can play an active role in managing chronic illnesses. Many massage techniques are practiced in a quiet and low lit room. Some therapists have soft music in the background and use candles or incense that give off aromas that help the body and mind relax.
Activation of the stress response causes muscles throughout the body to tense up. When the event ends, the muscles relax. However, if stress is constant, the muscles may remain in a slightly tensed state on a regular basis. This can lead to joint aches and pains, headaches, chronic back and neck pain and other symptoms. However, the National Institutes of Health claims that massage therapy can help. A massage therapist can use various techniques to rub, stroke, stretch or apply pressure to the muscles to help them return to a relaxed state, which in turn can reduce stress-related aches and pains.
Immune and Digestive System Benefits
To have the required energy to respond to stress, the body suppresses digestive and immune systems. Circulation is increased to the heart, muscles and lungs and is directed away from areas that are not needed to help in the response. If feelings of stress are chronic, this can lead to decreased immune system activity in general, which increases the risk of colds, flus and immune system diseases. Chronic problems with digestion and elimination can also accompany chronic stress. However, massage can help restore normal circulation, improve immune system activity and play a role in restoring normal digestive system function, according to the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center.
- Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Massage Therapy: An Introduction
- American Psychological Association: Mind/Body Health: Stress
- Mayo Clinic: Massage: Get in Touch With Its Many Health Benefits
- National Institutes of Health: Massage Therapy Patient Tutorial
- Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center: Therapeutic Massage