Massage can help relax tight and painful muscles, improve range of motion in the joints, enhance circulation and lower stress levels. Stress is considered a risk factor for many chronic diseases, and can make your symptoms worse. Since there are many different massage therapies available, it may require some trial and error to find the right therapist and massage technique to reduce your stress level.
Massage therapy encompasses many techniques. With some, the client undresses and is covered with sheets during the session, while with others the client remains clothed. The massage therapist may use her hands, elbows or feet to administer the treatment. According to the Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the main forms of massage include Swedish, deep tissue, sports, reflexology and trigger point. Some forms of massage use oils and others use warm stones to release tension and promote relaxation. Talk to several massage therapists about their specific type of massage and how it may reduce your stress.
Stress can be a positive motivator when striving for a promotion or accomplishing an important task. Stress may be temporary, such as being stuck in traffic or delayed at the airport. However, the American Psychological Association states that stress may also be chronic -- during financial difficulties, chronic illness or dealing with family issues. It is not necessarily the event, but rather your body's response to the event that causes stress. When the brain senses any kind of stress, your heart rate and blood pressure rise, and your muscles tighten. Feelings of stress that continue for long periods have a detrimental effect on the body. Massage helps you relax, calming the mind and body and relieving your stress.
When administered by a well-trained and licensed practitioner, massage therapy may help with conditions that affect your state of mind, including stress, depression and anxiety. A massage helps you shift your thoughts away from everyday worries and allows your body and mind to relax. Massage also helps you feel that you're in control over your health and plays an active role in managing chronic illnesses. Many massage techniques are practiced in a quiet and dimly lit room. Some therapists have soft music in the background and use candles or incense to help you relax.
Activation of the stress response causes muscles throughout the body to tense up. When the event ends, the muscles relax. However, if stress is constant, the muscles may remain in a slightly tensed state. This may lead to joint aches and pains, headaches, chronic back and neck pain and other symptoms. According to the National Institutes of Health, massage therapy may help relieve your muscle tension. A massage therapist uses various techniques to rub, stroke, stretch or apply pressure to the muscles to help them return to a relaxed state, which in turn reduces your stress-related aches and pains.
Immune and Digestive System Benefits
When responding to stress, the body conserves energy by suppressing the digestive and immune systems. Circulation is increased to the heart, muscles and lungs. With chronic stress, this reaction may lead to decreased immune system activity, which increases the risk of colds, flus and immune system diseases. Problems with digestion and elimination may also accompany chronic stress. Massage may help restore normal circulation, improve immune system activity and play a role in restoring normal digestive system function, according to the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center.
- Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Massage Therapy: An Introduction
- American Psychological Association: Mind/Body Health: Stress
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Massage
- National Institutes of Health: Massage Therapy Patient Tutorial
- Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center: Therapeutic Massage