Massage: More Than Stress Reduction
Whenever I want to give someone a gift that provokes a strong positive reaction, I give them a gift certificate for a massage. I watch them as they open the envelope. When they find the certificate enclosed, they often roll their shoulders, stretch their backs and ooh and aah with pleased anticipation. It is the perfect gift for most people.
Many of us perceive massage as a "feel good" therapy to diffuse stress and get some the aches and pains worked out of our muscles. But the benefits of massage go beyond stress reduction and pain relief. Massage affects the body as a whole in various ways.
The rhythmically applied manual pressure and movement used in massage can dramatically increase the rate of blood flow. Increased blood flow means greater tissue oxygenation and delivery of nutrients to cells. Massage also stimulates nerve receptors causing the blood vessels to expand, which facilitates blood flow and facilitates the work of the heart. The oxygen capacity of the blood can increase 10-15% after massage.
This same type of pressure also stimulates the flow of lymph, a milky white fluid which carries impurities and waste away from the tissues. Lymph is not pumped by the heart to circulate as the blood does, so its movement depends largely on the squeezing effect of muscle contractions. Inactive people fail to stimulate lymph flow and develop what is called "auto-intoxication," a build up of waste in the body, which can, over time, lead to chronic illnesses.
Massage can help loosen contracted, shortened muscles and can stimulate weak, flaccid muscles. This muscle "balancing" can help posture and promote more efficient movement. Massage speeds recovery from the fatigue that occurs after exercise. With regular massages, an athlete can do longer periods of exercise and training, which in the long run strengthens muscles and improves conditioning. Massage also provides a gentle stretching action to both the muscles and connective tissues that surround and support the muscles and many other parts of the body, thus enhancing flexibility.
Massage increases the body's production of digestive enzymes, saliva, and urine. There is also increased excretion of nitrogen, inorganic phosphorus, and sodium chloride (salt). This suggests that the metabolic rate (the utilization of absorbed material by the body's cells) increases.
Massage balances the nervous system by soothing or stimulating it, depending on which effect is needed by the individual at the time of the massage.
Massage enhances skin condition by improving the function of the oil and sweat glands which keep the skin lubricated, clean and cooled. Tough, inflexible skin can become softer and more supple after a series of massages.