by Nick Lakoff
How often do we pause from our labors, rub our necks and shoulders, and say, “Man, I need a massage!” You’re not alone. In fact, touch is a basic need in the human condition, so it’s no surprise that massage is in its renaissance in the Western world. Since our daily lives are impacted by ever-increasing levels of stress, nagging aches and pains diminish our quality of life. We are conditioned to reach for that bottle of pain and inflammation medication but, increasingly, there is a trend to seek out a natural way of restoring our bodies’ balance.
What is massage then? Surprisingly, even today most people have a basic view of what massage is and of its benefits. Massage, by definition, is any manual manipulation upon the human body that brings about change in muscular, connective tissue (ligaments, fascias), integumentary (skin, hair, nails), nervous and endocrine systems. I’ve always been fond of saying, “Massage doesn’t heal you; rather, it helps your body help itself.” It is present in our everyday lives without our knowledge. An example of this is accidentally stubbing your toe or banging your shin. The first thing most people do immediately is start to rub the area. We know, by instinctively rubbing it, the pain will lessen. What happens is, by rubbing your skin and underlying tissues, you stimulate production of hormones that interfere with the pain signals sent to your brain. Massage has many benefits, some of which you may know, but others might surprise you.
Massage is known to have immediate effects on our bodies and, when indulged in on a regular basis, long-term, cumulative effects. The most obvious is, when practiced correctly, a massage should relax you. If a massage is too painful, it triggers the fight or flight response in our bodies, which looks to stop the stimulus that causes the pain or fight against it, thereby reducing its effects. As a Massage Therapist, my philosophy has always been that massage need not be painful to be effective. In some therapeutic cases, a massage does need to skirt a client’s pain threshold level to give a maximum result. This, however, should be balanced with the need for it to be a pleasant experience. If a therapist fails to do this, and the time comes for the client to return, they may pause and wonder, “do I want to feel pain?”
Massage acts on the body’s sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, helping regulate the production of hormones, including Serotonin, which is responsible for our mental well-being, balance, and recuperation through sleep, among other things. During a massage, your brain will often go into Alpha wave patterns—the most recuperative within the sleep cycle. Caught between the cycles of wake and sleep, you experience a deep state of well-being. Also affected are the hormones Cortisol (aka Hydrocortisone) and Epinephrine (aka Adrenaline), which are stress related hormones produced by the adrenal glands. Massage reduces the productions of these hormones, which, when found in higher quantities in the bloodstream, weaken your immune system. Have you noticed how those who are constantly under stress get sick more often than those who are more relaxed and happy? It’s no coincidence; stress is a direct cause or a factor in 80% of human diseases and ailments around the world.
Massage reduces muscular tension, lubricates joints and articulations and reduces arterial pressure. Manually forcing fascial envelopes to slacken helps muscles relax; therefore, membranes of the fascia allow nutrients and oxygen enter easily and waste materials are disposed of more efficiently. Massage includes articular movement and tractions/compressions that stimulate the production of synovial fluid, which is responsible for the lubrication of all joints in the human body. Medical research has shown that massage reduces systolic and diastolic blood pressure effectively over time.
Massage has an important effect on our lymphatic system—the principal component of our immune system. Lacking a pump like the heart for the circulatory system, the lymphatic system depends on muscular compressions to circulate lymphatic fluid through a network of lymph nodes throughout the body, filtering it as it progresses through the body and then back into the blood stream via the sub-clavicle vein. Lymphatic circulation is slow—one litre per 24 hours. The circulatory system, in comparison, circulates 5 litres per minute. One massage can accelerate lymphatic circulation by 24 hours.
Finally, massage has a positive psychological effect by increasing positive body image, reconnecting body and mind, and giving us something to look forward to during a long workweek. When is your next massage?!
In my next article, I will talk about different massages commonly available in the marketplace and their benefits.
Nicolas Lakoff is a certified practitioner in the following disciplines: Swedish Massage, Sports Massage, Reflexology, Acupressure, Myo-Fascial Release, Massage for Pregnancy, Swedish Chair Massage, Hot Stone Massage and Reiki.