Massage has a huge number of benefits to all the systems of the body. By massaging and relaxing the muscles, there is a domino effect to all the other systems of the body. It also brings about a relaxation that brings the body into homeostasis, a place of balance where the body can repair and renew.
The muscles are the most obvious part of the body to benefit from massage. They are made up of fibers that slide over each other (the sliding filament theory) to contract (shorten and fatten) and pull on the bone the muscle is attached to, to create movement. Muscles can contract to 50% of their normal length and stretch to 150% of their normal length. Through over use and through stress (due to the fight and flight response) the muscles can stay in a contracted state, causing imbalance in the body. Tight muscles will pull posture out of alignment and can constrict blood flow.
Massaging Muscles will…
- Increase flexibility by stretching and relaxing the muscle and encouraging it to return to its normal relaxed length.
- Remove waste products. When muscles work, they burn oxygen and glucose and produce lactic acid. This can build up in the muscles and add to muscle soreness. Think of it as sticky honey getting in between the muscle fibers.
- Reduce the formation of adhesions. Through overuse and wear and tear, microscopic tears occur in the muscle fibers. These, if not treated, will be replaced by inelastic scar tissue which is very inflexible.
- Improve muscle tone, especially in someone who is inactive, bed ridden or paralysed as they will have poor or no muscle tone
- Reduce cramps; can increase the flexibility and tone of the muscle and reduce waste products within the muscle, which may reduce cramps.
- Overall, massage gives the client a better body awareness, the first key to taking greater responsibility for their health and wellbeing.
- Improves posture. Once the muscles are relaxed and lengthened, posture will improve. Poor posture will impact on the other systems of the body. For example, rounded shoulders, tight pectorals and a slumped posture will prevent the lungs from expanding fully.
- Improves mobility. In someone with a poor range of movement within their joints, massage and passive movements can ease the joint and improve the range of movement. This is due to a warming up of the synovial fluid within the joint making it more fluid and less viscous. Movement causes a release of fresh synovial fluid into the joint, where the joint may have been quite dry, causing friction and pain.
- An indirect result of massage causes a release of red blood cells from bone marrow, which can enhance health and energy as they carry life giving oxygen.
- Increases circulation of blood to the bones.
The Cardio-vascular System
- Massage encourages blood flow to the extremities, organs and superficial blood vessels. We have enough capillaries in our body if lined up end to end to go around the world not once but twice!! Yet we only have 5-6 litres of blood. Firm stroking in circular movements pushes blood into superficial capillaries. This is often noticeable on the skin where particularly on white skin a redness may be seen.
- Improves the venous return. Blood has to work against gravity to return from the extremities back to the heart. Whenever possible, particularly on the limbs, massage is carried out towards the heart to assist the return of venous blood. (blood carried in the veins).
- Relaxed muscles will lower blood pressure. By massaging, there are two positive effects on blood pressure; the client relaxes and their heart rate decreases. As blood pressure is measured by gauging the pressure exerted on the artery wall, each time blood passes through the artery, fewer beats per minute will automatically reduce blood pressure.
- Tight muscles create a resistance to blood flow (known as peripheral resistance), which leads to an increase in blood pressure. Tight muscles are very difficult for blood to flow through and causes pressure to build.
The Respiratory System
- Encourages deep breathing. When people are stressed they breathe rapidly and shallowly which can make the blood acidic. Massage stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which slows and deepens breathing. Improved posture will also make breathing deeper.
- Stimulates the intercostal muscles. The intercostal muscles attached to the ribs when contracted, pull on the ribs, which expands the lungs.
- Improves gaseous exchange. In the lungs and at cellular level throughout the body, there is an exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide. This will be stimulated by massage.
The Lymphatic System
- Massage assists with the drainage of lymph from the cells to the lymph nodes. It improves the circulation of lymph and the removal of toxins from the cells.
- Boosts immunity. Massage stimulates the production of lymphocytes (antibodies) which give us immunity. Also by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, immunity is stimulated.
- Reduces oedema (swelling). A pooling of lymph due for example to injury or inactivity, can be reduced by careful stroking towards the lymph nodes.
The Nervous System
- During early foetal development, we are simply a ball of cells that separate into three layers, called the zygote. The outer layer the Ectoderm will develop to become the appendages, skin and nervous system. It is therefore no surprise that massage and touching the skin has such a powerful effect on our psyche and mental wellbeing.
- Stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. This has the effect of slowing down the systems of the body, (except digestion) and encouraging the body to repair and renew. It also switches on immunity.
- Creates innervation. By squeezing into muscles, we may impede the nerve message to the muscle for a fraction of a second. If the message is saying “be tight”, we may break this message and cause the muscle to relax.
- Improves transmission of nerve impulses. The overall stimulating effect of massage will stimulate the neurons, (nerve cells), improving the efficiency of the transmission of messages.
- Pain control. We have different nerve receptors to take different messages back to the brain. Some of these messages travel quicker than others. Pleasurable messages travel quicker than painful ones. Heat works in a similar way. If people are unwell and in pain they may not sleep well. By reducing their pain for a while, we may improve the quality of their sleep, which will have a positive impact on their health.
- Massage gives us a feeling of wellbeing.
- It allows us to switch off, unwind and be at peace for a while.
- Stilling the body and calming the mind allows us to get in touch with our spiritual side.
The Endocrine System
- By balancing the body, and bringing it back to a state of homeostasis, the release of hormones may become more balanced.
- Relaxation and massage counteracts the negative effects of adrenaline, the hormone released to cause the fight and flight response.
- Production of endorphins. The body’s natural opiates, to give us a high feeling.
- Production of oxytocin, which is associated with breast feeding mothers, but is actually released by everyone and gives us a nurturing and loving feeling.
The Reproductive System
- Balances the release of reproductive hormones.
- Relaxes people and has a role in enhancing love making, fertility etc.
The Urinary System
- Improves elimination of urine.
The Digestive System
- Due to the stress response, our digestion systems can be upset or switched off. Massage will stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system to switch digestion back on.
- The mechanical action of massage conducted in a clockwise direction will stimulate and assist the process of digestion and peristalsis. (The muscular squeezing of food along the intestines, by the intestinal walls.)
- Massage speeds up the elimination of waste products from the body, reducing their toxicity and alleviating constipation.
- Massage increases the blood supply, which carries nutrients to the skin and may be seen as a redness (erythema).
- It can have an exfoliating effect and remove dead skin cells.
- The skin will be fed with the nutrients in the oils. The oil goes directly into the bloodstream and feeds all the organs of the body.
- Improves the condition of the skin.
- Can reduce cellulite with diet and exercise.
- Improves the elasticity of the skin, particularly scarred skin.