A great massage can melt your muscles into oblivion, but that’s not all they’re good for…
There are also plenty of emotional benefits of massage.
For example, getting a massage can reduce stress and anxiety and promote sleep.
Plus, all it takes is a short head massage to relieve tension headaches.
This article discusses the many reasons to get a massage.
Let’s dive in!
What Is Massage Therapy?
Massage therapy uses direct pressure to relieve tension.
During a massage, the massage therapist will rub, stretch, and knead the body using their hands.
In some cases, like Thai massage, the masseuse might even walk on your back!
Other techniques can involve scented oil, pressure points, and stretching.
Let’s take a close look at the many types of massage therapy.
Types of Massage Therapy
Deep tissue massage: When most people think of a therapeutic massage, they imagine deep tissue massage. In this common method, the therapist targets tight muscles caused by stress and physical activity. They focus on the muscles closest to the bones and connective tissues.
Swedish massage: This is another common massage method. Overall, it’s more relaxing than deep tissue massage. It involves smooth, circular motions that gently ease tension.
Reflexology: In this type of massage, the pressure is applied to the feet. Reflexology theory believes that certain parts of the feet are connected to specific areas of the brain and organs.
Shiatsu: This technique is a lot like acupuncture. The therapist applies firm pressure to specific trigger points in the body. Although it can be painful, it rarely causes soreness afterward.
Chair massage: If you aren’t comfortable laying down, a chair massage is a great option. It uses a special chair with a headrest. Your clothes stay on and sessions are usually only 20-30 mins. It can be a great introduction to the massage experience.
Aromatherapy massage: The therapist rubs the body with scented essential oils, like lavender, which is proven to reduce stress and anxiety. (1)
Hot stone massage: With this method, the therapist places warm stones on the body to relax the muscles. At the same time, they apply light pressure to the stones to release tension.
Cranial sacral massage: Also known as a head massage, this type of massage can be great for stress and headaches. It’s also an easy one to give your partner at home.
Myofascial release: Muscle fascia is a thin layer of tissue that wraps around groups of organs and muscles. Sometimes it can become stiff and restrict natural movement. Myofascial massage releases this stiff tissue.
Therapeutic medical massage: Medical massages help people recover from severe injuries and surgical procedures. For example, if you tear a ligament in your knee, a medical therapist can massage the area around the injury.
10 Health Benefits of Massage Therapy
Massage can have many physical and emotional health benefits, including:
Releasing muscle tension
Lowering blood pressure
Now let’s take a closer look at the health benefits of massage therapy:
1. Back and Neck Pain
It’s no secret that most of us spend way too much time sitting in chairs.
Combine this with staring at phones and laptops, and it’s a recipe for back and neck pain.
Fortunately, massage therapy can help.
In a recent study, 59 patients were treated with deep tissue massage to treat chronic lower back pain. (2)
Ultimately, researchers found that massage can be as effective as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen (Advil).
The American College of Physicians recommends up to 12 weeks of massage treatment for lower back pain. (3)
Massage is also a great way to relieve neck pain.
Do you have a stiff neck from being in front of a computer daily?
One recent study found that a 60-minute massage, 2 to 3 times per week is ideal for neck pain.
Overall, longer, more consistent massages are better. (4)
2. Faster Recovery Times Between Workouts
Are you a go-getter in the gym?
As it turns out, massage can shorten recovery times between workouts.
For example, a 2015 study found that massage increases muscle fiber regeneration. (5)
Researchers found massages are most effective immediately after exercise.
But those are just the physical benefits of massage…
There are also several emotional benefits of massage for athletes.
Massage is a great way to reward yourself for all the hard work you put in at the gym.
When you train really hard, it’s important to treat yourself to stay motivated.
Plus, by reducing stress, your hormones won’t get bogged down in between workouts.
However, you don’t have to be an elite athlete for a massage to be worth it.
On the contrary, massage can be beneficial for people of all fitness levels.
After all, everyone wants to relieve stress, pain, and soreness, right?!
3. Healing and Preventing Injury
Do you have to avoid massages if you hurt yourself?
Well, in the early stages of healing, yes…
However, in the later stages, massage can break apart stiff scar tissue, improve circulation, and speed healing.
Of course, it depends on what type of injury you have.
Sprains and strains, for example, tend to cause the muscle fibers to shorten and tighten.
Ultimately, this can restrict movement and increase discomfort.
Plus, extra-tight muscles increase the risk of re-injury.
With these sorts of injuries, massage can help by returning the fibers to their original length.
A skilled physical therapist should know how the musculature is supposed to look.
Using a combination of massage, stretching, and exercise, they can help return you to normal.
However, keep in mind that not all fitness professionals are trained, physical therapists.
If done incorrectly, massage therapy can cause more damage, so it’s important to choose your therapist wisely.
During the massage, make sure to listen to your body.
Some pain is good, but too much pain could be a sign that you’re hurting yourself.
Make sure to look for red flags and immediately tell your therapist if anything changes.
4. Relieve Headaches
Nothing throws a wrench in your day like a bad headache.
Sadly, some people suffer from migraines and tension headaches on a weekly basis.
However, oftentimes there’s a lot you can do to treat them, including massage.
According to The American Massage Therapy Association, head massage can help reduce the intensity, duration, and frequency of tension headaches. (6)
As you probably guessed, tension headaches are caused by muscle tension that pinches the nerves.
A cranial sacral massage treats the central nervous system in the head and spinal column by releasing muscles in the neck.
Pressure point massage can also help relieve headaches.
In a nutshell, pressure points are parts of the body where the nerves are most exposed.
By applying direct pressure, you can release pressure throughout the body.
Reflexology is one of the best examples of this type of massage.
Originating in China, practitioners of reflexology use pressure points to restore balance in the body.
5. Reduce Stress and Anxiety
The emotional benefits of massage therapy are often the most powerful.
After all, there’s nothing like walking out of a massage appointment feeling like the weight of the world has been lifted off your shoulders.
First off, massage therapy releases feel-good hormones called endorphins.
At the same time, it increases the production of calming neurotransmitters, like GABA.
In one recent study, female office workers were given 15 to 25-minute scalp massages twice a week for 10 weeks. (7)
Researchers measured the effects on blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormone levels.
Compared to the control group, the massage group had lower markers for stress.
Plus, several other studies have found similar emotional benefits of massage.
For example, in a 2015 study, patients recovering from abdominal surgery had less pain and anxiety after receiving a post-operative massage. (8)
Similarly, an earlier study showed that a 15-minute chair massage in the workplace reduces stress much better than a 15-minute break without massage. (9)
But anxiety reduction isn’t the only emotional benefit of massage…
6. May Reduce Symptoms of Depression
Believe it or not, some medical professionals think massage can even help with depression, which is yet another emotional benefit of massage.
Although more research is needed, early evidence suggests that massage may help treat depression in cancer patients.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health,
“Clinical practice guidelines (guidance for health care providers) for the care of breast cancer patients include massage as one of several approaches that may be helpful for stress reduction, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and quality of life.” (10)
With that said, it’s important to note that massage therapy is not a long-term solution for depression.
It should not be used as a substitute for standard treatment options.
However, massage can temporarily boost mental state and provide relief.
Ultimately, anything that enhances the mind-body connection, including massage, can be helpful.
7. May Promote Sleep
There may be yet another emotional benefit of massage: SLEEP!
Insomnia is a common problem among the elderly.
As a result, many of them are prescribed hypnotic drugs.
However, many of these drugs have harmful side effects.
Fortunately, a 2006 review concluded that back massage may be an alternative to sleeping pills in patients with insomnia. (11)
A separate 2001 study found that massage can help with sleep. (12)
This time, however, the study was conducted on infants.
In the study, infants with sleep problems were given a 15-minute massage.
Researchers found that the infants who received massage were more alert and active upon waking. More sleep = another example of the emotional benefits of massage.
8. May Reduce Discomfort During Pregnancy
Pregnancy can be an uncomfortable time, especially as the delivery date approaches.
Luckily, prenatal massage can reduce aches and pains related to pregnancy.
For example, a 2010 study found that light massage can reduce leg and back pain. (13)
In the study, women received either a weekly 20-minute massage from a professional therapist or two 20-minute massages by a family member at home.
Both groups reported significant improvements.
With that said, massage maybe even more important during labor.
The same study also found that 15-minute massages given every hour of labor can reduce the need for medication.
Even more, massage shortened the overall time spent in labor.
However, there are some precautions…
Your doctor may discourage you from massage during your first trimester if you have:
A high-risk pregnancy
High blood pressure
Recently had surgery
If you do decide to get massages, make sure it’s someone who specializes in prenatal massage so that you can gain the most emotional benefits of massage possible during your pregnancy.
9. May Relieve Symptoms of Autoimmune Disease
Autoimmune diseases are conditions caused by an overactive inflammatory response.
Examples of autoimmune diseases include:
Ankylosing spondylitis (AS)
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Inflammatory bowel disease
Massage can be especially helpful for people with joint conditions like AS and RA.
For example, a 2013 study found that people with RA may benefit from moderate or light pressure massage.
In the study, 424 adults with RA were massaged in the upper shoulder.
The therapist massaged the shoulder once a week for 4 weeks, and participants were asked to self-massage once daily.
By the end of the study…
“…the moderate pressure massage group had less pain, greater grip strength and a greater range of motion in their wrist and large upper joints (elbows and shoulders).” (14)
Similarly, a separate study found that hot stone massage may help with fibromyalgia symptoms. (15)
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes widespread pain.
In the study, patients who received a 30-minute massage had fewer trigger points and slept longer.
At the same time, the massage group had decreased levels of pain signaling molecules.
10. May Boost Immunity
Massage may play a role in strengthening the immune system.
In fact, researchers think that massage may be used together with standard drug-based therapies to support immunity.
One 2015 study observed the effects of massage-like stroking on mice. (16)
The mice were stroked daily for 8 days by either a gloved-hand or a brush.
Ultimately, the mice that were stroked by hand had increased white blood cell counts.
At the same time, researchers noticed decreased levels of stress hormones.
In a nutshell, more white blood cells and less stress equals a stronger immune system.
Human studies have shown similar results.
A preliminary study, for example, observed the effects of Swedish massage on the immunity of healthy adults. (17)
Participants received 45-minute Swedish massages either once or twice a week for 4 weeks.
In the end, both groups experienced decreased stress hormones, but only the once-weekly group had increased white blood cell markers.
How Often Should You Get a Massage?
How often you should get a massage depends on the benefits you want to receive.
There aren’t any standard guidelines for the number of massages that are healthy for you.
However, you should keep in mind that strong massages do cause minor tissue damage.
Therefore, if you are recovering from injury, you might want to go less often.
With that said, if you’re just getting light Swedish massages for relaxation, you can get those more often.
Before starting each massage, talk to your massage therapist and discuss your health goals.
They can help you decide the number of massages that are right for you.
If regular massages are too expensive, at least try to stretch daily.
At the same time, foam rollers are another great way to break up stiff muscle fascia.
Cautions About Getting a Massage
As amazing as massages can be, they aren’t always the best idea for everyone.
You should be cautious about getting a massage if you have:
A history of blood clots
Low blood platelet count
Pregnancy (first trimester
However, these conditions don’t necessarily count you out.
More likely than not, it just means you’ll have to be extra careful.
For example, if you’re pregnant in your first trimester, the right masseuse can still help relieve stress.
Hot stone massages are perfect in this case too because they involve very little pressure.
With that said, always get your doctor’s approval first.
Massage can be especially risky for people with a history of blood clots.
This is because massage therapy can cause blood clots to break loose.
They can then travel to the heart and lungs, block blood vessels and trigger a heart attack.
Ready to Find the Right Massage Therapist for You?
Are you ready to find a qualified massage therapist near you?
In order to find the best match, start by asking your physical therapist or doctor for recommendations.
If that doesn’t work, you can always ask family and friends.
However, if you don’t currently have a primary care doctor or physical therapist, feel free to contact us at Complete Care Health Centers.
We’re happy to search our database and help you find a great massage therapist near you. It’s time to start receiving the emotional benefits of massage.