4 Science-Backed Benefits of Massage That Go Beyond Relaxation

By Dana Poblete
Medical massage closeup.
credit: Gudenko-Alex/iStock/GettyImages

Taking time out for a massage is one of the most loving and luxurious experiences ever in life. (That is, unless you're extremely ticklish or squeamish about being touched by a stranger, in which case, reiki, aromatherapy, or good old fashioned meditation might be more your thing.) The best therapists can leave you feeling like a blissful, fluffy marshmallow moving in slow motion.

Aside from the obvious objectives, like relieving pain and relaxing the muscles, massage offers some surprising benefits that'll make you wish it could be a daily indulgence. But here's the secret: you actually can reap the benefits at home in between appointments. Read on to learn of the almighty powers of the massage.

Lessens Anxiety and Depression

If you're feeling edgy or sad, massage just might be the cure. "Massage activates your parasympathetic nervous system, connected to relaxation, and can decrease the stress hormone cortisol up to 50 percent," say Gara Post, co-founder of The NOW massage boutique, and Helen Lim, manager of The NOW Studio City. "Both brain neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin, increase as well, which can elevate your mood. Heart rate decreases and the mind can slow down and be more present. These are all good remedies for anxiety and depression."

Relieves Migraines and Headaches

In the midst of a pounding headache or killer migraine, reaching for a bottle of ibuprofen seems like the quickest and easiest fix. But opting for a massage instead addresses the root of the problem: muscle tension in the neck, face, and jaw. "When we massage the neck muscles and the ligaments that attach to the base of neck, we create blood flow, greater range of motion, and elongate those short and tight muscle bands, helping to alleviate the headache or impending migraine," say Post and Lim. They also blame an over scheduled lifestyle and eye strain and bad posture from driving and sitting at a computer for creating the tension in the first place. Try being more conscious of these habits and you might find your chronic headaches diminish.

Boosts Immune System

The Swedish massage, known for its long, gliding strokes, has shown positive effects on the immune system. A study out of Cedars-Sinai's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences found that after receiving a 45-minute Swedish massage, subjects had an increase of lymphocytes, white blood cells that help defend the body from disease, as well as lower levels of cytokines, which are linked to inflammation.

Improves Sleep Quality

When your body is in relax mode after a session, better sleep is a byproduct of that. Several studies have shown that people report greater sleep hours, less sleep movements, and improvements in insomnia after receiving massage therapy. So if you find yourself tossing and turning at night, or zapped of energy during the day, a massage could be the trick to getting your sleep back on track.

How to Reap the Benefits at Home

Okay, not everyone has the luxury of seeing a massage therapist every single day, but there are a few tricks to getting the amazing benefits in between appointments. Post and Lim suggest self-massaging your feet, which have many nerve endings. "Take an essential oil mixed with a little cream and apply it to the bottoms of your feet. You will immediately feel more grounded and relaxed. Dry brushing is another great way to circulate lymph nodes and blood towards the heart and move toxins out of the system. You can also add some Naturopathica Sweet Birch Magnesium Bath Flakes to a warm bath. Magnesium is an essential mineral for proper muscle function and supports repair of sore muscles and stiff joints."

Whether you're looking for some stress relief or an ultimate migraine cure, massage has you covered. As if you needed more reasons to rationalize treating yourself.