Massage therapy essentially promotes health by boosting the body’s own processes. The foundation of the therapeutic effect of massage is what Hippocrates defined as the body’s natural power to recuperate. For athletes, regular massage is an invaluable tool to shorten recovery time between workouts, relieve fatigue, and to stay injury-free so you can stick to your goals.
For the whole body to be healthy, the sum of its parts – the cells -must be healthy. Pressure and movement used in massage can dramatically increase the rate of blood flow, supplying nutrients and oxygen and carrying away wastes and toxins. Massage can be beneficial for the entire body due to its effect on circulation alone.
Researchers have estimated that stress may cause 80% of disease in the Western world, including headaches and migraines, digestive disorders, high blood pressure and heart-related diseases, as well as back ache and muscle pain. Massage therapy can counteract the effects of stress by calming the nervous system and lowering blood pressure.
The biochemical effects of massage include the increased release of dopamine and serotonin (mood-enhancing chemicals) and pain relieving levels of endorphins. Massage also reduces the level of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, as well as the stress hormone ACTH.
Your body’s immune system helps you fight off infections and illnesses, and it helps you recover from injuries. When you are under stress, the immune system may not function at its best. Research has shown that massage can increase the immune system’s cytotoxic capacity (the activity level of the body’s natural “killer cells”) and decrease the number of T-cells. The result is an immune system that is working better. Massage doesn’t cure ailments, but it has been shown to help the body function better in fighting ailments.
Massage can bridge the gap between neglecting an injury and major medical intervention. In the case of minor injuries such as a sprain or strain, massage can stimulate healing of injured muscles, tendons and ligaments, allowing you to return to normal activities more quickly. If an injury is ignored, it can become more serious, adding time to the healing process and preventing you from doing your normal workout or activities.
Massage can help loosen contracted, shortened muscles and can stimulate weak, flaccid muscles. This muscle “balancing” can help posture and promote more efficient movement. Pressure in massage also provides a gentle stretching action to both the muscles and connective tissues that surround and support the muscles, which helps keep these tissues elastic..
Recent research on the benefits of massage for some types of back pain has shown that massage is effective in both relieving chronic low-back pain and for controlling some back pain.
A study in 2000 at the College of Massage Therapists of Ontario showed that patients with sub-acute low-back pain (from bending or lifting injuries, work-related mild strains and sports injuries) were shown to benefit from massage therapy. After six sessions, they had less intense pain, a decrease in the quality of pain, and improved function. In a one-month follow-up, 63% of the massage subjects reported no pain. For text of the complete study, go to www.cmaj.ca.
Joints are critical to exercise because joints are moved by the muscles which creates body movement. A sluggish, numbed feeling in the joints discourages exercise. Massage can counteract this by using moderate to deep massage strokes and passive movements to release muscle tension and free the connective tissue that can bind joints.
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