The Benefits of Massage

Massage Therapy is used to assist in the healing process.
Among its proven benefits are:

- Relaxation.
- Improved circulation.
- Improved immune function.
- Relieves anxiety and stress.
- Increased joint mobility and flexibility.
- Decrease in symptoms of depression.
- Increased mental alertness and clarity.
- Reduction of heart rate and blood pressure.
- Increased serotonin and endorphin production.
- Addresses symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
- Relief of many common symptoms of headaches, backaches, and muscle tension.

And Much More…...................................

An in-depth overview of the effects of massage to the Human Body

The practice of therapeutic massage affects the body as a whole. Along with this form of complementary healing there are many aspects of the healing arts. The focus of this research will emphasize the benefits of massage on the Human Body and Lymphatic System.

The term massage is used to denote using the hands to apply manipulations of the soft tissue of the body for therapeutic purposes such as promoting circulation of the blood and lymph, relaxation of muscles, relief from pain, restoration of metabolic balance, and other benefits both physical and mental.

Benefits of massage are better understood when broken down into specific areas.

Physically, massage increases metabolism, hastens healing, relaxes and refreshes the muscles, and improves the detoxifying function of the lymphatic system. Massage helps to prevent and relieve muscle cramps and spasms and improves circulation of blood and lymph. The delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the cells can increase 10-15% as it enhances the removal of metabolic wastes (Beck, 247).

Physiological effects of any massage will vary according to the intent with which it is given, the selection of techniques used, and the condition of the client. There are two physical effects of massage, mechanical and reflex. Mechanical effects are direct physical effects on the tissue, which is contacted. Reflex effects of massage are indirect responses to touch that affect body function and tissue through the nervous or energy systems of the body.

One of the beneficial effects of pressure applied to the skin is the stimulation of the sensory receptors, which in turn provides general relaxation, body awareness, and pain reduction (Tappan, 32). Application of different friction techniques such as light rubbing, rolling and wringing movement during massage stimulates nerves (Beck, 249). This in turn creates heat, which promotes perspiration and increases sebaceous excretions. This suggests that the metabolic rate increases. Percussion applied to the body by techniques such as light tapping and slapping movements increases nervous irritability. Strong percussion for a short period of time excites nerve centers directly. Prolonged percussion tends to anesthetize the local nerves. Vibration by shaking and trembling movements stimulates peripheral nerves and all nerve centers with which a nerve trunk is connected (Beck, 250). Further, massage can assist the skin in the process of respiration, the exchanging of carbon dioxide and oxygen. When nerve injury is present, sensory nerve ending may be hypersensitive. In these cases, massage may not bring sedation, but may only increase the pain of the recipient and would be contraindicated. The pain may be tolerated with a more firm contact than superficial (Tappan, 33).

Massage can also be beneficial for mental and emotional well-being of the recipient. Someone with mental tension, frustrations, and anxieties can result in stress. Stress causes the release of hormones that create vasoconstriction and reduce circulation making the heart work harder to facilitate optimal organ function. Manual therapy using a faster pace, varied rhythm in a shorter session assists in the release of endorphins, which will aid in reduction of stress to the central nervous system. Benefits such as alertness and clarity are related by increased sensory stimulation and circulation. The relaxation response is activated by the parasympathetic nervous system, which brings balance to the body system. Specific health benefits of the relaxation response are as follows:

Decreased oxygen consumption and metabolic rate, thus less strain on the bodies energy resources
Increased intensity and frequency of alpha brain waves associated with deep relaxation
Reduced blood lactates, blood substances associated with anxiety
Significantly decreased blood pressure in hypertensive individuals
Reduced heart rate and slower respiration
Decreased muscle tension
Increased blood flow to arms and legs
Decreased anxiety, fears, and phobias, and increased positive mental health
Improved quality of sleep (Tappan, 34)
Massage may be used with psychotherapy to help reduce anxiety, improve body awareness, and open patients' receptivity to pleasurable nonsexual touch (Tappan, 354).

An effect of massage on the muscular system encourages the nutrition and development of the muscular system by stimulating its circulation, nerve supply, and cell activity. Regular massage causes muscles to become firmer and more elastic. Further, massage prevents and relieves stiffness and muscle soreness. Injury to the body heals more quickly when regular massage is given because it decreases connective tissue build-up and scarring. Deep transverse friction is used in rehabilitation to help the body form strong mobile scar tissue during the remodeling phase of soft tissue healing (Tappan, 38). This in turn helps produce more parallel fiber arrangement and fewer transverse connections in the tissue that inhibit movement (Cyriax & Cyriax, 1993). Subcutaneous scar tissue may at times be loosened by careful and persistent friction; however, it remains to be seen whether deeper scarring in connective tissue can be relieved once it is formed (Tappan, 38). In turn, massage is beneficial with improving range of motion. Both passive and active joint movements assist in the healing process of damaged areas. Passive massage movements benefit circulation of the blood and lymph, nourish the skin, relax and lengthen the muscles, and soothe the nerves. Active joint movement has beneficial effects similar to exercise. They help to firm and strengthen muscles, improve circulation, and aid the function of related internal organs (Beck, 249). Increased flexibility lasts for at least seven days after the massage. The massage techniques used were light and deep effleurage, stretching effleurage, kneading, as well as friction both deep circular and deep transverse (Tappan, 38).

Blood Circulation to superficial veins is also a benefit of massage. When heat and redness occurs as well as deep effleurage and kneading, which increases blood volume as well as facilitate the lymphatic system, on the body these manipulations should always be "towards the heart" (Tappan, 35). It increases venous flow; in turn it increases arterial circulation. The result of massage brings nutrients to an area, as well as removing metabolic waste products (Tappan, 35). Massage towards the heart is important with improvement of circulation if the techniques where performed in the opposite direction the valves in the veins, which prevent back flow, could be damaged. Massage movements affect blood and lymph channels in the following ways:

Light stroking produces temporary dilation of the capillaries
Deep stroking more lasting dilation and flushing of the massaged area
Light percussion causes a contraction of the blood vessels, which tend to relax as the movement is continued.
Friction increases the permeability of the capillary beds, and produces an increased flow of interstitial fluid. This creates a healthier environment for the cells.
Kneading stimulates the flow of blood through the deeper arteries and veins.
Friction, kneading and stroking stimulate lymph circulation
Compression produces a hyperemia an increase in the amount of blood stored in the muscle tissue. (Beck, 250).

Manual Lymph Drainage, pioneered by Dr. Emil Vodder, Ph.D, of Copenhagen, Denmark in the 1930's, is a technique in massage work that is applied with light, slow, rhythmical, and spiral-like movements that help move the lymph fluid through the system of vessels and nodes. These techniques are performed to remove accumulation of fluid in the tissues, to improve healing, and to treat lymphedema (Tappan, 225). Lymphedema is an abnormal accumulation of lymph fluid in tissues, which may be caused by injury, scarring, chronic infections, or surgery involving lymph nodes of the neck, axilla, pelvis, or groin. Many of the treatments for breast cancer result in lymphedema (Tappan, 226).

A brief overview of the lymphatic system will help one understand its structure and importance in the human body. This system consists of a network of vessels and nodes that function in the circulation of body fluids. The movement of the lymph is stimulated through contraction of skeletal muscle, the action of the diaphragm in breathing, and contraction of smooth muscles in the walls of larger lymphatic vessels (Tappan, 226). Lymph is a clear colorless interstitial fluid that is derived from blood plasma and continuously bathes the cells and connective tissues. Ninety percent of this fluid, containing dissolved gasses, waste products of metabolism, and water is reabsorbed into the blood vessels. The other ten percent, containing excess water, cellular debris, bacteria, viruses and other inorganic materials, is absorbed into the lymphatic system (Beck, 542).

The function of lymph is to remove excess fluid, bacteria, viruses, and waste products away from interstitial spaces of the body tissue and transports proteins back to blood circulation through lymphatic pathways (Tappan, 226).

Lymph vessels are arranged in superficial and deep systems. A typical lymphatic movement may be described as follows: Tissue fluid leaves the interstitial spaces and is called lymph after it enters the lymphatic capillaries (Tappan, 226). Lymph capillaries are small, thin-walled tubes that collect lymph from interstitial fluid in the tissues and join to form other lymphatic vessels (Beck, 542). The capillaries merge into larger vessels called afferent vessels, which take the lymph to nodes, where it is filtered. Lymph nodes are often bead-like or bean-shaped compact structures that lie in groups along the course of lymphatic vessels. When inflamed and swollen, the nodes can be felt beneath the skin. Here, antigens, damaged cells, and toxins are acted on, broken down, or devoured by the lymphocytes, which are produced by the lymph nodes that act as a filtering system (Beck, 543). A lymphocyte is a white blood corpuscle found in the lymphatic tissue, blood and lymph. Lymphocytes are active in the immune responses of the body and play a major role in the healing of wounds and fighting of infections. They are turned into harmless substances and passed out of the lymph nodes through efferent vessels. Efferent vessels then move the fluid to larger vessels called trunk vessels, which merge into collecting ducts, which empty into the subclavian vein, where lymph is added to the blood. The large lymphatic vessels have valves, similar to those in veins, which prevent backflow of lymph fluid (Tappan, 226).

There are four manual massage techniques used to gently move lymph fluid into and through the superficial vessels. Techniques are repeated rhythmically usually five to seven times. They are stationary circles, pump, scoop, and rotary techniques. These techniques are based on alternate pressure and release movements and light stroking. Light compression creates a pumping action that encourages the movement of lymph. Decreased pressure opens lymph valves, while increased pressure closes them. Light stroking promotes the movement of superficial lymph, while deeper stroking moves lymph through the deeper channels (Beck, 544).

Lymph massage is done to encourage, but not force, the movement of lymph through the lymphatic system. The amount of pressure used depends on the condition of the tissues with softer tissues requiring softer pressure. The skin does not usually redden, and there should be no pain during the application of these techniques (Tappan, 230).

The lymphatic and circulatory systems function together to ensure the healthy circulation of fluids in the body. The uninterrupted movement of lymph is necessary for the proper fluid and chemical environment for the cells (Tappan, 226).

Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, understood the effects of massage and believed that all physicians should be trained in massage as a method of healing (Beck, 7).

In conclusion, therapeutic massage has many benefits to the human body. Massage is not only a science with documented effects to the body, it is more important to recognize the art in which it is given. Although the information provided does not cover every benefit of therapeutic massage it is a good introduction. The focus of a licensed massage therapist is to provide their client with a complementary form of health maintenance, which is achieved through utilizing techniques and principles of therapeutic massage.

Summary of The Potential Effects of Massage on the Body-Mind    

Physical Effects     

Integumentary system (skin)
Stimulate sensory receptors in skin
Increase superficial circulation
Remove dead skin
Add moisture with oil or lotion
Increase sebaceous gland excretions

Connective tissue (fascia)
Improve pliability of fascia
Separate tissue Circulatory system Increase local circulation
Enhance venous return
Reduce blood pressure and heart rate with regular relaxation massage
Muscular system "Milk" metabolic wastes into venous and lymph flow
Relax muscles (general and specific)
Relieve myofascial trigger points

Skeletal system
Increase joint mobility and flexibility Nervous system Stimulate parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation)
Reduce pain (neural-gating mechanism)
Increase body awareness

Endocrine system
Release of endorphins Immune system Increase lymphatic flow
Improve immune function via stress reduction

Digestive system
Movement of contents of the large intestines
Better digestion with relaxation
Stimulates the liver and kidneys to alleviate faulty elimination

        Mental and Emotional Effects  

Increased mental clarity

Reduced anxiety
Release of unexpressed emotions