Massage therapy works by manipulating the soft tissues of the body, including the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and connective tissue. The therapist uses various techniques, such as kneading, stroking, rubbing, and vibration, to apply pressure to the soft tissues. This can help to improve circulation, increase flexibility and range of motion, reduce muscle tension, and promote relaxation.
There are several different types of massage therapy, including Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, and sports massage, each with its own specific set of techniques and goals. The effectiveness of massage therapy can vary depending on the individual and their specific condition. However, some of the benefits that have been associated with massage therapy include:
-Reducing pain and muscle tension
• Improved circulation
• Increased flexibility and range of motion
• Improved overall relaxation
• Reduced stress and anxiety
• Improved sleep
• Enhanced well-being
The effects of massage therapy can be both immediate and long-term. A single massage session can provide a sense of relaxation and immediate pain relief, while multiple sessions can provide longer-term benefits such as improved flexibility and range of motion.
But how does it work?
Massage therapy works on several levels. First, let's look at the massage environment, or the contextual factors, that set the tone for the client's experience. Establishing a positive, relaxing environment for healing through your personal manner, the room setting, and the overall experience at the facility directly influences the outcome of the clinical experience. A patient in a positive environment has better chances of unlocking their body's innate healing capacity. In short, the ability to foster a relaxation response in the client influences their health outcomes, and allows them to gain the maximum benefits of your efforts.
Scientists and researchers have been studying the effects of massage therapy on the body at the cellular level. This is known as mechanotherapy. They are finding that massage therapy can prevent the development of fibrosis (a condition where the connective tissue in the body becomes thick and stiff), improve nerve mobility, increase the number of cells that repair muscles, and reduce inflammation in the body.
One study, published in The Journal of Neurological Sciences, showed that soft-tissue massage prevented the buildup of collagen and a protein called transforming growth factor beta-1 in the nerves and connective tissues of the forearm. Other studies have also shown that massage therapy can prevent fibrogenic changes in the nerves, muscles, and tendons of the forearm.
Research has also shown that massage therapy can improve local circulation and blood flow in the massaged limb and in the limb on the opposite side of the body. Studies also show that massage therapy can increase the number of cells that repair muscles, and can change the way certain cells in the body respond to inflammation.
Overall, the research suggests that massage therapy can improve the body's ability to respond to other forms of treatment, such as physical therapy, by positively impacting cellular signaling and tissue remodeling. It helps the body flush out toxins, and return to its original state after healing with less damage or scarring. Massage allows for better distribution of collagen, and helps prevent collagen deposits that lead to scarring and slower healing.
There are five sensory receptors that massage therapists should be aware of: Two of these receptors called Merkel cells and Meissner corpuscles, are found in the top layers of the skin. Two other receptors, called Pacinian corpuscles and Ruffini endings, are located in deeper layers of tissue such as joint capsules, and subcutaneous tissue. The fifth type of receptor is called C-tactile fibers, which play a special role in transmitting the pleasant feelings of touch. Stimulation of these receptors through therapeutic massage help signal neuro-immune systems, and can signal a reduction in pain. By utilizing a well-rounded vocabulary of massage techniques to reach all five receptor types, a therapist can ensure the best outcome for the patient.
Understanding the nature as to why massage therapy works can help develop an effective practice that strives to unlock all the key benefits of therapeutic massage.
It's important to note that massage therapy is not a substitute for medical treatment, and it should not be used in place of seeing a doctor or other healthcare professional. It's a complementary therapy that is recommended in conjunction with other forms of treatment.
Rossettini et al., 2018; Ellingsen et al., 2020; Rossettini et al., 2020; Barbe et al., 2021; Bove et al., 2019; Waters-Banker et al., 2014; Seo et al., 2021.