Reconsidering Relaxation Massage

Many people think of relaxation massage as a luxury, something to save for special occasions to pamper themselves. It doesn't hold the same feeling of being legitimate healthcare that treatment massage does, where a client comes in with a specific physical issue to be "fixed" during the session (more on "fixing" in a later post).


(When you're done here, take a look at this supplemental article on how to get the most out of a relaxation massage session: Make Relaxation Massage Work For You)


This line of thinking is completely understandable, relaxation massage feels really good! Besides helping our bodies feel more relaxed, it can bring on feelings of happiness, revitalization, bliss, and euphoria. Some people refer to the mental/emotional effects as a "massage high". So how can something so enjoyable be good for us?

The Effects of Massage on Stress

There have been numerous studies showing the stress related benefits of regular massage therapy. After a massage session there is a measurable change in hormone levels, but one session isn't enough to regulate hormones for a lifetime. Ongoing care is needed to help maintain balance.

A study from 2005 found these changes following a session of massage therapy:

Significant decreases were noted in cortisol levels (averaging decreases 31%)... An average increase of 28% was noted for serotonin and an average increase of 31% was noted for dopamine.1

Cortisol, Serotonin, and Dopamine

These three hormones have a lot to do with how we feel, and how we handle and respond to stress. Generally speaking, less cortisol and more serotonin and dopamine mean less stress and more happy feelings.

Cortisol

  • is the primary hormone responsible for the stress response
  • suppresses the immune system
  • impairs cognition
  • decreases thyroid function
  • increases the accumulation of abdominal fat
  • decreases cardiovascular health 2

Serotonin

  • is responsible for regulating mood and decreasing anxiety
  • is associated with depression when levels are low
  • affects "mood and social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory and sexual desire and function" 3

Dopamine

  • is critical in regulating proper movement
  • "is the chemical that mediates pleasure in the brain"
  • improves memory
  • prevents problems with memory, attention, and problem-solving
  • can decrease social anxiety
  • can decrease pain 4

The Effects of Stress on Us

Chronic stress can

  • increase irritability, anxiety, depression, headaches, and insomnia
  • affect behaviors like overeating or not eating enough, alcohol or drug abuse, or social withdrawal
  • raise your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack
  • increase your chances of developing type 2 diabetes
  • increase heartburn
  • cause nausea, vomiting, and stomachaches
  • cause constant muscle tension
  • create body aches
  • lower your libido
  • disrupt menstruation, causing irregular, heavy, or painful periods
  • lower your immune function making you more susceptible to viral infection
  • make it more difficult to recover from illness 5

Remember how massage can lower stress? That means everything in the list above can be positively affected by regular massage! That's right, relaxation massage is treatment massage!

Summary

  • Relaxation massage is treatment massage, and it can reduce the risk of many harmful medical conditions
  • Regular massage is more beneficial than single sessions
  • Massage can lower stress hormones and increase hormones that regulate mood
  • All aspects of yourself (physical, mental, and emotional) can benefit greatly from regular massage

Read more about how to get the most out of a relaxation-focused massage: Make Relaxation Massage Work For You