Deadlines looming at the office. Prepping the house for last-minute guests. Muscle pain from a weekend hiking excursion. Chances are you’ve been in one of these situations – probably more than once – and felt the stress and pain that goes with them. Wouldn’t a massage be great?
If you think a massage is just a mere luxury you can do without, you may want to reconsider. Results of a study conducted by researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, Calif., found significant biological changes that occur in a person after a 45-minute massage. The study reviewed two types of massage, both a deep-tissue Swedish massage, and a light massage.
After studying the people who had the deep-tissue massage, the research showed decreased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, and decreased levels of a hormone (arginine vasopressin) that can cause an increase in cortisol. Also, there was an increase in the number of the white blood cells — lymphocytes — that are part of the immune system.
What about the people in the study who had the light massage? Compared to the folks who had the deep-tissue massage, the light massage subjects had more of an increase in oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is a hormone associated with contentment. They also had bigger decreases in the hormone that stimulates the adrenal glands to release cortisol (the stress hormone).
Feel the power
If you’ve ever had a massage, you know that it’s good for relieving stiffness and pain in certain areas of your body, and even helping you relax. It also helps reduce stress and boost immunity. What more could you ask for?
Michele Merhib Maruniak, a registered massage therapist and founder of the Elements Therapeutic Massage franchise, says that most of the clients seen at her studios initially come in for an immediate need, like pain relief for sore muscles. “Our clients keep returning on a regular basis because they begin to notice that they are sleeping better, feeling better and have higher energy levels.”
Attitudes have shifted about massage therapy. Maruniak says that massage was once seen as a gift for a special occasion (think day-at-the-spa birthday treat). “There was a societal shift and people began to look at massage as more health-care related,” she says. “Now, people see massage as part of their overall wellness and a way to be proactive about their body and health.”
More than a feeling
Massage is good to help relieve muscle pain, but it’s so much more, according to Maruniak. “Our muscles have memory,” says Maruniak. “When you have a massage on a regular basis, say two times a month, your muscles will relax more quickly and the therapeutic work will be easier to accomplish.”
When asked about the other benefits of massage, Maruniak notes that massage can provide so much for people. “Massage releases toxins from the muscles and helps people stay more alert and balanced. It’s is a natural mood elevator and stress reducer. There are studies that show people who have regular massages feel healthier overall. They sleep better, their blood pressure lowers, and some of my clients tell me their massages help relieve their migraines.”
Before you dismiss massage is an indulgence you can do without, consider its results: relief for stiff muscles, reduced stress, elevated mood and a boost for your immunity. Hand-down, massage is one activity to add to the “to do” list.