Massage is one of the most ancient and simple forms of medical care used to improve overall well-being, alleviate pain and anxiety. Your skin is the biggest sensory organ, and special receptors in the dermis, its second layer, respond to an external stimulus such as heat, cold and pressure by sending messages through the nervous system to the brain, stimulating the release of endorphins.
Massage for pain relief
Pain is an extremely common problem. Massage is just one of many alternative treatments for pain that can be useful.
A systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2018 included 60 high-quality and 7 low-quality studies that looked at the use of massage in various types of pain, including muscle and bone pain, headaches, deep internal organ pain, fibromyalgia, and spinal cord pain.
The review showed that massage therapy relieves pain better than a lack of treatment in principle, but also compared to other treatments such as acupuncture and physiotherapy, massage therapy demonstrated its benefit. More specifically, studies have shown that massage therapy can facilitate:
- Stress and migraine headaches
In one study, participants who attended two 30-minute sessions of traditional massage for five weeks reported a decrease in the frequency of migraine attacks compared to a control group that did not undergo massage therapy. They also had fewer sleep disorders, and testing showed an increase in serotonin levels.
Also, the effect of Thai massage, which focuses on compression, stretching, pulling and rocking movements was very helpful for patients with chronic headaches or migraines.
Participants received either ultrasound treatment or three sessions of Thai massage in seven days for three weeks. Those who were given Thai massage reported an increase in the pain threshold, while those in the ultrasound group showed a decrease. Both groups had a significant decrease in migraine intensity.
- Pain during labor
According to the Candidate of Sciences in Nursing Rebecca Decker, founder of Evidence-Based Birth, one of the hypotheses explaining how massage helps to relieve pain – the theory of “gate control.” “Gentle or painless massage can affect the method of gate control, filling the body with pleasant sensations, allowing the brain to not so acutely perceive painful sensations” – she says.
On the other hand, intensive deep massage is believed to act through diffuse noxious inhibitory controls. The idea is that pain stimulation from body massage is so intense that it causes the brain to release its own natural painkillers hormones, called endorphins.
Your body is then filled with endorphins that help you less feel the birth pains, “says Dekker, adding:” Researchers also believe massage can help by reducing levels of cortisol or stress hormones and by increasing levels of serotonin and dopamine in your brain. “
The National Association for Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain recommends massage and noting that it can alleviate symptoms.
The systematic review and the meta-analysis of nine randomized controlled studies with the participation of 404 patients studying effects of massage therapy at fibromyalgia came to a conclusion that “Massage therapy lasting ≥5 weeks had a direct beneficial effect on pain relief, anxiety, and depression at patients with FM [fibromialgiy]. Massage therapy should be one of the possible additional and alternative treatments for FM. “
- Pain in cancer
According to the Australian Cancer Council, massage therapy can be useful for removing side effects associated with its traditional treatment. They cite evidence that massage can reduce pain, fatigue, nausea, anxiety, and depression in cancer patients.
The council notes that there was a fear that cancer may spread through because of massage, but such fears are unfounded. Easy massage “will be safe for people at all stages of cancer” because “circulation of lymph from the massage or other movements does not cause it to spread.”
A scientific paper on massage therapy for cancer patients, published in Current Oncology in 2007, also notes that massage is “extremely safe” and that “complications are rare… Side effects were mainly associated with massages conducted by non-specialists and with techniques other than Swedish massages. “
One of the largest observational studies in massage and cancer was conducted at the Sloan Kettering Memorial Cancer Center in New York City, which assessed rates of symptoms of pain, fatigue, stress and anxiety, nausea and depression among 1,290 cancer patients.
Patients had the opportunity to undergo three types of massage therapy: Swedish massage, “light touch” massage and leg massage. The results showed that “the severity of the symptoms decreased by about 50%. Swedish and “light touch” massages exceeded in efficiency legs massage. “
- Back pain
Several studies also confirm the massage benefits in back pain. Among them:
a 2017 study found that 49.4% of patients with persistent lumbar pain who underwent 10 massage sessions over 12 weeks noticed clinical improvements at the end of treatment, and of these, 75% had positive effects maintained after 24 weeks.
A 2011 study concluded that massage therapy (one hour of weekly sessions for 2.5 months) “may be effective for treating chronic back pain and its benefits persist for at least six months.” Relaxation and structural massage were of approximately the same benefit.
A 2016 study assessing the effect of three months of Thai massage on patients with lumbar pain found that treatment significantly reduced muscle tension and pain intensity at the end of the session.
A 2016 meta-analysis conducted by the Cochrane Library and analyzed 25 studies, most funded by non-profit organizations, concluded that massage was very effective in acute, sub-acute and chronic lumbar pain. As far as functionality is concerned, massage was effective for sub-severe and chronic pain, but not for acute cases.
A 2007 study found that patients who suffered from lumbar pain for at least six months and were given a 30-minute massage twice a week for five weeks, reported fewer pain, depression, anxiety and sleep disorders than the control group, who instead underwent relaxation therapy.
Benefits of massage for skin
The primary impact of massage goes on the skin: rubbing, smoothing, warm-up certainly affect its condition. This is especially useful for people whose skin gradually loses elasticity, becomes dry and pulled. The main physiological effects of massage on the skin are:
- Cleansing from dead, horny cells;
- Blood supply stimulation;
- Improved sebaceous and sweat secretion;
- Saturation of skin with oxygen;
- Prevention and auxiliary treatment of cellulite, stretch marks, acne, varicose.
Benefits of massage for muscles
For both those who regularly engage in fitness and those who are not associated with sports, massage is recommended to improve muscle elasticity. The most important thing is that this happens without unpleasant isolation of lactic acid, the effect of which feels like a pain in muscules. The general massage relieves pain and tension – both after training and after sitting, monotonous work. The benefit of massage for women is its effect on tone, contraction, and relaxation of muscles. There are many positive effects of massage on muscles, such as:
- Recovery of muscle operability after enhanced training;
- Improved joint mobility;
- Excretion of lactic acid;
- Stimulation of blood flow to muscles.
Massage therapy for mental health
Another area where massage therapy can be beneficial is the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression, including stress experienced by patients with dementia. As mentioned, massage affects the nervous system through nerve endings in the skin, which stimulates the release of endorphins of “good health,” which help to induce a sense of relaxation and well-being.
A 2015 study found that Thai massage significantly reduces a stress marker called alpha-amylase saliva (sAA)), suggesting it has a moderate effect on stress reduction. The American Massage Therapy Association also cites several studies showing that massage helps relieve stress, reduces heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels.
Studies examining psychological conditions, in particular, have also shown that massage therapy results in reduced scores on the perceived stress scale, POMS depression scale, and anxiety scale.
A meta-analysis focusing on massage therapy for patients with depression concluded, “It is largely associated with alleviating symptoms of depression.” Two weekly sessions over six weeks were an effective treatment.
Massage can help relieve inflammation
The benefits of massage therapy to alleviate pain are sufficiently confirmed to be common in physical therapy and post-injury rehabilitation.
In one study, scientists took a muscle biopsy from participants who underwent massage therapy after damage caused by physical activity. According to the authors, massage therapy reduces inflammation and promotes mitochondrial biogenesis in skeletal muscles.
The study was not without detractors who pointed to its shortcomings. However, there is a reason to suspect that massage has a beneficial effect on inflammation, as pain and inflammation tend to go hand in hand. By lowering one, you downgrade the other, and as discussed above, there is plenty of evidence to support that massage can ease the pain.
Massage therapy improves immune system performance
Lymphatic massage is characterized by prolonged, mild, rhythmic movements performed with light pressure to accelerate lymph flow through the body, thereby contributing to the excretion of toxins.
By increasing the number of circulating lymphocytes, a form of white blood cells that are particularly common in the lymphatic system and fight infections and diseases, lymphatic massage also helps improve immune system performance.
Two other areas where massage therapy is useful
And last but not least, two other areas where massage therapy is useful are the treatment of spasms or convulsions, which often appear after injuries and muscle overload, as well as the improvement of flexibility.
Massage therapy, in this case, neuromuscular massage, which involves deeper pressure, can help relax and soften these muscles to prevent spasms and convulsions.
Similarly, by weakening the muscle and joint stiffness, massage therapy helps improve flexibility and range of movements. This can be particularly useful for those suffering from arthritis or muscle injuries.