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How does massage work and can massage produce physical and emotional benefits?

During a massage two responses happen in the body a relaxation and a mechanical response.

  • In a massage, a caring, safe touch is an invitation to relax. The relaxed response, an involuntary response of the nervous system to massage, together with possible pain relief, generally produces a state in which your heart and breathing rate slow, your blood pressure goes down, your production of stress hormones decreases, and your muscles relax. This may also increase the available level of serotonin, which is a chemical in the body that positively affects emotions and thoughts.  More studies are needed to directly confirm the relationship between massage and levels of serotonin in the brain. The relaxation response may decrease the physical effects of stress and reduce the risks associated with stress, such as hypertension, anxiety, insomnia, persistent fatigue, digestive disorders, and psychological issues.
  • During the massage the mechanical response, which are physical effects that occur in the body when pressure is applied to the soft tissues has two major physical effects:
    • 1.  Increase in blood and lymph circulation, probably due partly to the physical manipulation of soft tissue and partly to the chemicals released as part of the relaxation response.  Improved circulation can enhance the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to muscle cells. As cellular health improves, tissues function more efficiently. More efficient functioning leads to the removal of waste products and may increase the absorption of excess fluids and reduce swelling in soft tissues.
    • 2.  Relaxation of the soft tissue (muscle, connective tissue, tendons, ligaments), which releases nerves and deeper connective tissues, which may reduce painful contractions. Massage can also reduce nerve compression. To understand this, consider that when muscles are contracted, they sometimes compress the nerves around them. When these muscles are relaxed, the nerves are no longer compressed, and, in theory, can get proper nutrients and operate more efficiently.
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