The Benefits of Massage

Below you'll find not just a few, but over 100 ways that massage therapy can benefit your health.

Effects of Massage on the Cardiovascular System

  • Dilates blood vessels. Superficial blood vessels become dilated resulting from reflex action.
  • Improves blood circulation. Deep stroking  improves blood circulation by mechanically assisting venous blood flow  back to the heart.  The increase of blood flow is comparable to that  associated with exercise.  The fact that local circulation during a  massage increases up to three times more than circulation at rest has  been documented.
  • Decreases blood pressure. Blood pressure is  decreased by blood vessel dilation.  Both diastolic and systolic  readings decline and last approximately 40 minutes after the massage. 
  • Creates hyperemia. Increased blood flow creates a hyperemic effect, which is visible on some skin types.
  • Stimulates release of acetylcholine and histamine. These two substances are released as a result of vasomotor activity, thereby helping prolong vasodilation.
  • Replenishes nutritive materials. Increased circulation aids in the delivery of products such as nutrients and oxygen to cells and tissues.
  • Promotes removal of waste products. Increased circulation also aids in the removal of metabolic wastes.  The notion is often said that massage dilutes the poisons.
  • Reduces ischemia. Massage reduces ischemia.  Ischemia is linked to pain and trigger-point formation.
  • Reduces heart and pulse rates. Massage decreases heart rate through activation of the relaxation response.
  • Increases stroke volume. Stroke volume is the  amount of blood ejected from the left ventricle during each contraction.   As the heart rate decreases, more time exists for the heart's lower  chambers (ventricles) to fill with blood.  The result is a larger volume  of blood pushed through the heart, thereby increasing stroke volume.
  • Increases red blood cell (RBC) count. The  number of RBCs and their oxygen-carrying capacity are increased.  This  effect is due to (1) promoting the spleen's discharge of RBCs, (2)  recruiting blood from engorged internal organs into general circulation,  and (3) stimulating stagnant capillary beds and returning this blood  into general circulation.
  • Increases oxygen saturation in blood. When RBC count rises, oxygen saturation of the blood increases.
  • Increases white blood cell (WBC) count. The  presence of WBCs increases after massage.  The body may perceive massage  as a mild stressor (an event to which the body must adapt) and recruits  additional WBCs.  The increase in WBC count enables the body to protect  itself more effectively against disease.
  • Enhances the adhesion of migrating WBCs. The  surfaces of WBCs become increasingly sticky after a massage, thereby  increasing their adhesive quality and therefore their effectiveness.
  • Increases platelet count.  Massage has been found to increase the number of blood platelets.


Effects of Massage on the Lymphatic and the Immune Systems

  • Promotes lymph circulation. Lymph  circulation depends on pressure:  from muscle contraction, pressure  changes in the thorax and abdomen during breathing or applied pressure  from a massage.  Hence, massage promotes this circulation.
  • Reduces edema. Massage reduces edema (swelling) by enhancing lymph circulation.
  • Decreases the circumference of an area affected with edema. When an area swells, the diameter increases.  When the swelling subsides, circumference decreases.
  • Decreases weight in patients with edema. Fluid retention adds weight to an individual.  When edema is addressed with massage, weight is consequently reduced.
  • Increases lymphocyte count. Lymphocytes are types of WBCs.  This effect indicates that massage supports immune functions.
  • Increases the number and function (or cytotoxicity) of natural killer cells, CD4 cells, and CD4/CD8 ratio. All the aforementioned cells are types of WBCs; this further suggests that massage strengthens immune functions.


Effects of Massage on the Skin and Related Structures

  • Increases skin temperature. Warming of the skin indicates a reduction of stress.
  • Improves skin condition. As circulation increases,  added nutrients are made available to the skin, thereby improving its  condition, texture, and tone. Clinical observations have determined that  massage also improves the appearance (i.e., color and texture) of the  skin.
  • Stimulates oil gland. Stimulation of the oil  (sebaceous) glands causes an increase in oil (sebum) production.  This  stimulation improves the skin's condition and reduces skin dryness.
  • Improves skin conditions. Unless a condition  contraindicates massage, skin conditions may improve by decreasing  redness, reducing thickening or hardening of the skin, increasing  healing of skin abrasions, and reducing itching.


Effects of Massage on the Nervous and the Endocrine Systems

  • Reduces stress. Activating the relaxation response reduces stress.
  • Reduces anxiety. Interestingly, a reduction in anxiety is noted in both the person who received the massage and the person who gave the massage.
  • Promotes relaxation. General relaxation is promoted through activation of the relaxation response. Relaxation has a diminishing effect on pain.
  • Decreases beta wave activity. Associated with  relaxation, a decrease in beta brainwave activity occurred during and  after the massage (confirmed by electroencephalogram. [EEG]).
  • Increases delta wave activity. Increases in delta  brainwave activity, which occur during massage, are linked to sleep and  to relaxation; both are promoted with massage (confirmed by EEG).
  • Increase in alpha waves. An increase in alpha brainwaves during massage indicates relaxation (confirmed by EEG).
  • Increases dopamine levels. Increased levels of dopamine are linked to decreased stress and reduced depression.
  • Increases serotonin levels. Increased levels of  serotonin suggest a reduction of both stress and depression.  Theories  suggest that serotonin inhibits pain signals, indicating that increased  levels of serotonin also reduce pain.
  • Reduces cortisol levels. Massage reduces cortisol  levels by activating the relaxation response.  Elevated levels of  cortisol not only represent heightened stress but also inhibit immune  functions.
  • Reduces norepinephrine levels. Massage has been proved to reduce norepinephrine, a stress hormone.
  • Reduces epinephrine levels. Epinephrine, another stress hormone, is reduced with massage.
  • Reduces feelings of depression. Both chemical and  electrophysiological changes from a negative to a positive mood were  noted and may support the decrease in depression after massage therapy.  Depression associated with chronic pain was also reduced.
  • Decreases pain. Massage relieves local and referred  pain, presumably by increasing circulation, thereby reducing ischemia.   Massage also stimulates the release of endorphins (endogenous  morphine), enkephalins, and other pain-reducing neurochemicals. General  relaxation brought on by massage therapy also has a diminishing effect  on pain. The pressure of a massage interferes with pain information  entering the spinal cord by stimulating pressure receptors, further  reducing pain. Massage interrupts the pain cycle by relieving muscular  spasms, increasing circulation, and promoting rapid disposal of waste  products. Massage also improves sleep patterns.  During deep sleep, a  substance called somatostatin is normally released. Without this  substance, pain is experienced.
  • Reduces analgesic use. Because pain is reduced with massage, the need for excessive use of pain medication is also reduced.
  • Activates sensory receptors. Depending on factors  such as stroke choice, direction, speed, and pressure, massage can  stimulate different sensory receptors, affecting massage outcome. For  example, cross-fiber tapotement (a massage stroke) stimulates muscle  spindles, which activates muscular contraction, whereas a slow passive  stretch and deep effleurage (massage stroke) activate Golgi tendon  organs, thereby inhibiting contraction.  Activation of pressure  receptors reduces pain. 
  • Faster and more elaborate development of the hippocampal region of the brain. As part of the limbic system, development of the hippocampal region is related to superior memory performance.


Effects of Massage on Muscles

  • Relieves muscular tension. Massage relieves muscular restrictions, tightness, stiffness, and spasms. 
  • Relaxes muscles. Muscles relax as massage reduces excitability in the sympathetic nervous system.
  • Reduces muscle soreness and fatigue Massage  enhances blood circulation, thereby increasing the amount of oxygen and  nutrients available to the muscles. In creased oxygen and nutrients  reduce muscle fatigue and post-exercise soreness.  Massage promotes  rapid disposal of waste products, further reducing muscle fatigue and  soreness. Massage interrupts the pain cycle. A fatigued muscle  recuperates 20% after 5 minutes of rest and 100% after 5 minutes of  massage.  A reduction in post-exercise recovery time was indicated by a  decline in pulse rate and an increase muscle work capacity.
  • Reduces trigger point formation. Trigger point  formation in both muscle and fascia is greatly reduced by massage.   Manually separates muscle fibers. Compressive strokes and cross-fiber  friction strokes separate muscle fibers, thereby reducing muscle spasms.
  • Increases range of motion. When muscular tension is  reduced, range of motion is improved.  The freedom of the joints is  dictated by the freedom of the muscles.
  • Improves performance (balance and posture). Many  postural distortions are removed when trigger points and muscle tension  are reduced.  Range of motion increases, gait becomes more efficient,  the posture is more aligned and balanced, and performance is improved as  the net result.
  • Lengthens muscles. Massage mechanically stretches  and broadens tissue, especially when combined with Swedish gymnastics  (joint mobilization and stretches). These changes are detected by Golgi  tendon organs, which inhibit contraction signals, further lengthening  muscles.  Massage retrains the tissue from a contracted state to an  elongated state, thereby increasing resting length.  This principle is  one of the principles behind neuromuscular reeducation.
  • Increases flexibility. By lengthening muscles and promoting relaxation, massage has also been shown to increase flexibility.
  • Tones weak muscles. Muscle spindle activity is  increased during massage strokes (e.g., tapotement, vibration).  An  increase in muscle spindle activity stimulates minute muscle  contractions, thereby helping tone weak muscles. This effect is  particularly beneficial in most cases of prolonged bed rest, flaccidity,  and atrophy.
  • Reduces creatine kinase activity in the blood.  Creatine kinase is an enzyme that helps ensure that enough adenosine  triphosphate (ATP) is available for muscle contraction. By reducing the  activity of creatine kinase in the blood, massage indirectly helps  decrease muscle spasm, which increases muscle relaxation.
  • Decreases electromyography (EMG) readings. Decreased EMG readings signify a decrease in neuromuscular activity and reduction of neuromuscular complaints.


Effects of Massage on Connective Tissues

  • Reduces keloid formation  Massage applied to scar tissue helps reduce keloid formation in scar tissue beneath the site of massage application.
  • Reduces excessive scar formation. Deep massage  reduces excessive scar tissue formation, helping create an appropriate  scar that is strong yet does not interfere with the muscles' ability to  broaden as it contracts.
  • Decreases adhesion formation. Deep, specifically  applied massage helps decrease adhesions.  This decrease, in turn,  facilitates normal, pain-free motion of the affected muscles and joints.
  • Releases fascial restrictions. Pressure and the  heat it produces convert fascia from a gel state to a solid state  (thixotropy), thereby reducing hyperplasia.  Softening of the fascia  surrounding muscles allows them to be stretched to their fullest resting  length, thereby increasing joint range of motion and freeing the body  of restricted movements.
  • Increases mineral retention in bone. Massage increases the retention of nutrients such as sulfur and phosphorus in bones.
  • Promotes fracture healing  When a bone is  fractured, the body forms a network of new blood vessels at the break  site.  Massage increases circulation around the fracture, thereby  promoting fracture healing. Increased circulation around a fracture  leads to increased deposition of callus to the bone.  Callus is formed  between and around the broken ends of a fractured bone during healing  and is ultimately replaced by compact bone.
  • Improves connective tissue healing. Occurring only  with deep-pressure massage, proliferation and activation of fibroblasts  were noted.  Fibroblasts generate a connective tissue matrix, which  promotes tissue healing by increasing collagen production and increasing  the tensile strength of healed tissue.
  • Reduces surface dimpling of cellulite. Massage  flattens out fat deposits located under the skin and makes the skin seem  smoother.  Cellulite (a type of fat) appears as groups of small dimples  or depressions under the skin caused by an uneven separation of fat  globules below the skin's surface, which are displaced by manual  manipulation.  Massage does not reduce the amount of cellulite below the  skin; instead, it temporarily alters the shape and appearance of  cellulite.


Effects of Massage on the Respiratory System

  • Reduces respiration rate.  Massage slows down breathing because of activation of the relaxation response.
  • Strengthens respiratory muscles. The muscles of respiration have a greater capacity to contract, thereby helping improve pulmonary functions.
  • Decreases the sensation of Dyspnea. Dyspnea (short or difficult breathing) is lessened as a result of massage.
  • Decreases asthma attacks. Through increased relaxation and improved pulmonary functions, a person with asthma experiences fewer attacks after massage.
  • Reduces laryngeal tension. Laryngeal tension may  occur from excessive public speaking or singing.  Massage reduces the  stress on the larynx and tension on the muscles of the throat.
  • Increases fluid discharge from the lungs. The  mechanical loosening and discharge of phlegm increase with rhythmic  alternating pressures. Tapotement (cupping) and vibration on the rib  cage are often used to enhance this effect.  Phlegm loosening and  discharge are further enhanced when combined with postural drainage  (promoting fluid drainage of the respiratory tract through certain body  positions) and when the client is encouraged to cough.
  • Improves pulmonary functions. Relaxation plays a  significant role in how massage improves pulmonary function, but massage  also loosens tight respiratory muscles and fascia.  The affected  pulmonary functions are as follows:
  • Increased vital capacity.  This measurement is the amount of air that can be expelled at the  normal rate of exhalation after a maximum inhalation, representing the  greatest possible breathing capacity.
  • Increased forced vital capacity. This measurement is the volume of air that can be forcibly expelled after a full exhalation.
  • Increased forced expiratory volume. This measurement is the volume of   air that can be forcibly expelled after a full exhalation.
  • Increased forced expiratory flow. This measurement is the volume of air that can be forcibly expelled after a full inhalation.
  • Improved peak expiratory flow.  This measurement is the greatest rate of airflow that can be achieved  during forced expiration beginning with the lungs fully inflated.


Effects of Massage on the Digestive System

  • Promotes evacuation of the colon. By  increasing peristaltic activity in the colon through massage, movement  of bowel contents toward the anus for elimination is aided.
  • Relieves constipation. Because evacuation of the colon is promoted, constipation is relieved.
  • Relieves colic and intestinal gas. Increased peristaltic activity also helps relieve colic and the expulsion of intestinal gas.
  • Stimulates digestion. Massage also promotes activation of the relaxation response, which stimulates digestion.


Effects of Massage on the Urinary System

  • Increases urine output. Massage, Lymphatic Drainage and in particular, Cupping activate dormant capillary beds and recovers lymphatic fluids for  filtration by the kidney, which, in turn, increases the frequency of  urination and amount of urine produced.  Massage is also relaxing and  thus stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes  general homeostasis, thereby increasing urine output.
  • Promotes the excretion of nitrogen, inorganic phosphorus, and sodium chloride in urine. Levels of these metabolic waste products are elevated in urine after massage.


Miscellaneous Effects of Massage

  • Reduces fatigue and increases vigor. Many clients experienced a sense of renewed energy after massage.
  • Improves sleep patterns. When clients who have had massage therapy went to sleep, they reported a deeper sleep and felt more rested after waking.
  • Reduces job-related and posttraumatic stress. Massage reduces many types of stress, including job-related and posttraumatic stress.
  • Improves mood. The mental health status and mood improved after massage.
  • Decreases feelings of anger. Clients reported a decrease in aggression and feelings of anger with massage.
  • Improves body image. Massage improved body image in clients who stated having a poor body image before the massage.
  • Improves self-esteem. Individuals who received and who gave massages reported enhanced self-esteem.
  • Promotes communication and expression. Individuals  who received and gave massages reported an increase in the quantity and  quality of their social interactions. They talked more freely and openly  and enjoyed themselves more during these interactions.  Massage can  also assist the ease of emotional expression with relaxation.
  • Improves lifestyle habits. After massage, clients  reported improved lifestyle habits such as increased activities of daily  living (ADL), fewer cups of coffee, fewer physical symptoms, fewer  visits to the physician, and increased levels of exercising (e.g.,  walking).
  • Increases physical well-being. Massage enhances well-being through stress reduction and subsequent relaxation.
  • Reduces touch aversion and touch sensitivity.  Victims of rape and spousal abuse reported a reduction in touch aversion  after massage.  Hypersensitivity to touch was reduced in other  individuals.
  • Increases physical well-being. Massage enhances well-being through stress reduction and subsequent relaxation.
  • Increases academic performance. A decrease in math computation time and an increase in accuracy were noted in massage studies.
  • Increases mental alertness. Massage increases mental alertness by relaxing the body and mind and by removing stress.
  • Satisfies emotional needs. Clients reported using  the therapeutic relationship to satisfy their emotional needs for  attention, acceptance, caring, and nurturing touch.


Indications of Massage

For Specific Conditions and Special Populations

Most people can benefit from massage. Below are specific conditions that have been documented to benefit from massage. 

Alzheimer's disease. Massage decreased physical expressions of agitation (e.g., pacing, wandering) and improved sleep patterns.

Anemia. An increase in RBCs and an increase in oxygen saturation in the blood suggest that massage is beneficial for individuals with anemia.

Asthma. Studies indicate that massage improved pulmonary functions and reduced the occurrence of asthma attacks.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Individuals with ADHD who receive massage were observed to be less fidgety and hyperactive and spent more time completing assigned tasks.

Burn victims. Burn victims who were massaged experienced a decrease in pain and itching and reduced anxiety before debridement. Massage also reduced feelings of depression and anger.

Cancer. Edema, pain, fatigue, anxiety, nausea, and feelings of anger and depression were reduced when patients with cancer had routine massages. 

Cerebral palsy (CP). Massage promotes circulation of blood and lymph and relieves muscular tension in individuals with CP. Increases in flexibility were also reported.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Clients with CFS experience reduced feelings of depression and anxiety and fewer symptoms such as fatigue. 

Constipation. Elimination problems are relieved through massage.

Diabetes. Blood glucose levels, anxiety, and depression were reduced with massage. An increase in dietary compliance was also reported.

Eating disorders. Patients with anorexia nervosa and bulimia stated a reduction of depression and anxiety, experiencing improvement in eating habits and an increase in positive body image.

Edema. Swelling resulting from edema was reduced with massage, as long as the swelling was not a result of inflammation or disease.

Fibromyalgia. Not only were stress, anxiety, and feelings of depression reduced, but decrease in pain, stiffness, fatigue, and insomnia were also documented in individuals with fibromyalgia. 

Headaches. Most headaches (muscular, cluster, eye strain, mental fatigue, and sinus) were relieved with massage. People also reported a reduction in headache duration but not always intensity. 

High blood pressure. Massage decreased blood pressure (both systolic and diastolic readings) and helped promote healthy lifestyle habits in patients with high blood pressure (hypertension). 

Individuals infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The number of natural killer cells, CD4 cells, and CD4/CD8 cell ratio increased after 1 month of massage therapy. 

Hospitalized patients. Increased relaxation, a sense of well-being, and produced a positive mood change for patients. Many attributed enhanced mobility and faster recovery to massage therapy.

Hospice patients. Hospice patients experienced reduced pain and had a decline in heart rate and blood pressure, indicating decreased stress and anxiety.

Infants. Preterm, cocaine-exposed, HIV-exposed, and full-term infants experienced less colic, less repetitive crying, and improved feeding habits and healthy weight gain.

Injuries. Massage speeds the healing of overuse injuries, sprains, and strains.

Insomnia. Inducing relaxation alleviates insomnia.

Low back pain. Addressing trigger points decreases low back pain. Medical costs were reduced,  range of motion increased and promoted relaxation. 

Lung disease (COPD). Strengthened respiratory muscles, reduced heart rate, increased oxygen saturation in blood, decreased shortness of breath, and improved pulmonary functions. 

Multiple sclerosis (MS). Reduced anxiety, depression, improved self-esteem, positive body image and implemented changes to their lifestyle that promoted health such as exercising and stretching.

Nerve entrapment. Conditions of nerve entrapment, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome, and sciatica, were relieved by release of the myofascial component.

Pervasive development disorder (PDD). Massaged children with PDD or autism spent less time in solitary play and had an increase in attention to sounds and their social relatedness to their teachers. Behaviors such as touch aversion were reduced.

Poor circulation. Massage improved blood circulation.

Pain (chronic). Pain levels decreased, most often significantly. The depression and anxiety associated with individuals with chronic pain improved, as well as their quality of life.

Pregnancy and postpartum. Fewer obstetrical and postpartum complications, reduced prematurity rates, shorter and less painful labors, improved psychological support, and fewer days in the hospital after labor and delivery. 

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Massage reduced swelling, pain, and anxiety and improved the mood of women experiencing PMS.

Psychiatric patients. Decrease in depression and anxiety was noted with reduced cortisol levels and norepinephrine blood levels and increased dopamine levels. 

Rheumatoid arthritis. Reduced trigger point formation, relief from pain and anxiety, reduced morning stiffness and edema, and increased range of motion of the joints. 

Stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety are reduced by activation of the relaxation response.

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction. The muscular component of TMJ dysfunction was addressed with massage, and reduced pain and dysfunction was the result