Massage really does work to ease those sore muscles after a tough workout. Just 10 minutes can reduce inflammation, which can help your body recover.
However, the health benefits of touch extend beyond simply soothing aches and pains. Of course, the stressed-out have been proponents of the anxiety-busting procedure for decades. But a growing body of research suggests that a rubdown is even better for you than you think.
1. Manage anxiety and depression. For the same reasons that a massage is relaxing, it can also soothe anxiety and depression. Massage reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, resulting in lifted spirits and often lower blood pressure. It can also boost the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which are involved in depression.
2. Ease pain. Eight out of 10 Americans will experience debilitating back pain, but a massage can help. According to a 2011 study, massage helped people in pain feel and function better compared to people who didn't receive any massage treatment. Massage has also been linked to decreased stiffness and pain, as well as better range of motion in people with osteoarthritis.
3. Improve sleep. If you've ever dozed off on a massage table, you don't need to be convinced that a massage can promote healthy sleep. A number of studies have examined this link and chalk it up to massage's affect on delta waves, the kind of brain waves connected to deep sleep.
4. Boost immunity. Multiple studies, although often small, have linked massage to better functioning of the immune system. In one study, researchers found massage increased a person's disease-fighting white blood cells. The stress-reducing powers of massage can also help keep you healthy.
5. Beat PMS. At least one small study found that massage can kick pesky PMS symptoms, like bloating and mood swings, to the curb.
6. Raise alertness. Want to boost your brainpower? Adults who were given a 15-minute chair massage in a small 1996 Touch Research Institute (TRI) study were more alert and completed a series of math questions faster and more accurately.
7. Curb headaches. Just like muscle and back pain, headaches can also be alleviated by massage. A regular rubdown can reduce a person's number of migraines, as well as limit how painful each migraine feels.
A 2009 study found that a 30-minute massage decreased pain for people with tension headaches, and even curbed some of the stress and anger associated with that pounding head.
8. Save face. A little prodding in the right places can even have beauty benefits. "Massage increases blood flow, which plumps up slack skin, encourages lymphatic drainage (the shuttling of toxins out and away from cells so that more nutrients can travel in) and adds vitality to a dull complexion and lackluster hair," said Kimara Ahnert, a New York City skin-care studio owner. And you don't even have to make an appointment — simply rubbing your face and scalp for a few minutes can make a big difference.
9. Ease cancer treatment. Because of many of the benefits listed above, massage is particularly helpful for people living with or undergoing treatment for serious illnesses, like cancer. Various studies have shown that massage can relieve fatigue, pain, anxiety, depression and nausea in cancer patients.