Contrary to popular belief, massage is about much more than simply “rubbing the skin” for a relaxing effect. Massage therapy has a number of side effects on almost every system in the body.

Side Effects of Massage on the Integumentary System

Massage therapy has a very direct impact on the integumentary system (aka the skin). The friction caused by massage increases the body’s temperature and causes the dilation of blood vessels, which in turn allows nutrient rich blood to reach the surface. Massage stimulates both the sebaceous (oil) and sudoriferous (sweat) glands, leading to an improvement in the overall condition of the skin and the natural cooling of the body.
Massage therapy isn’t right for everyone with skin conditions. Individuals suffering from the following disorders should discuss with her therapist whether massage is appropriate. In some cases massage is contraindicated (or not allowed) while in others the massage can be adapted. These include but are not limited to acne, athlete’s foot, blisters, burns, ulcers, eczema, herpes, impetigo, lice, psoriasis, ringworm, rosacea, scabies and warts.

Side Effects of Massage on the Muscular and Skeletal Systems

Individuals often seek massage therapy because of the effects it has on the muscular system. The most obvious side effects are the relief of muscular tension, reduction of soreness and fatigue, and increased flexibility. Because certain massage techniques manually separate the fibers of the muscles, some individuals experience a reduction in the frequency and severity of muscle spasms. Individuals who receive frequent massages sometimes see an improvement in motor skill function, and those with weak muscles find that because of the increased spindle activity the muscles begin to contract, which leads to better muscle tone. Effects on the skeletal system include increased mineral retention and the promotion of faster healing of fractures because of the increased circulation to the blood vessels around the break.
Massage has been used to aid in the treatment of a number of muscular conditions, though it must be adapted for some. These include fibromyalgia, hypertrophy, muscle fatigue or cramping, muscular dystrophy, shin splints, muscle strains, tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, arthritis, fractures, kyphosis, lordosis, scoliosis, ligament sprains, TMJ and whiplash.

Side Effects of Massage on the Nervous System

The side effects of massage therapy on the nervous system are many as well. They include a reduction in stress and anxiety, and relaxation. Individuals who receive frequent massage also report a reduction in the level of pain they feel on a regular basis, a side effect caused by the increase of endorphins in the body. In turn, they can also reduce the dosage and frequency of analgesic usage. Massage decreases beta wave activity and increases both delta and alpha wave activity in the brain. Decreased beta wave activity promotes relaxation, while increased delta and alpha waves contribute to relaxation and more restful sleep.

There are several medical conditions that can be helped with regular massage therapy. These include carpal tunnel syndrome, multiple sclerosis (in between flareups), nerve entrapment, Bell’s and cerebral palsy, paralysis, sciatica, thoracic outlet syndrome, and even transient ischemic attack (strokes).

Side Effects of Massage on the Endocrine System

Massage therapy triggers the release of certain hormones into the body. An increase in dopamine, for example, leads to reduced levels of stress or depression. Increased serotonin levels and norepinephrine levels also trigger relaxation. Massage helps to decrease cortisol levels in the body, which in turn lowers stress levels and heightens the functioning of the immune system.
Because of the effects massage has on the endocrine system, it is important to discuss any medical conditions you have with your massage therapist because you may need medical clearance before proceeding. These conditions include but are not limited to acromegaly, Cushing’s disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, hypoglycemia and hypothyroidism.

Side Effects of Massage on the Circulatory System

Massage therapy has a number of incredible benefits on the circulatory system, including the lymphatic and immune systems. Massage helps to promote the circulation of lymph, which usually depends on your body’s natural movement to flush it through the body. Swelling caused by lymphedema can be decreased and, as such, cause weight loss as the body stops retaining fluids. Massage is also known to stimulate the number of lymphocytes in the blood, thus increasing the function of the immune system.
Individuals with the following disorders may benefit from massage but should discuss their conditions with their physicians and massage therapists first. The conditions include anemia, angina, congestive heart failure, controlled hypertension, migraines (between attacks, not during), strokes (during rehabilitation), chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus (between flareups) and lymphedema.

Side Effects of Massage on the Respiratory System

Massage therapy is believed to have a number of long-term benefits on the respiratory system as well. Frequent massage helps to strengthen the respiratory muscles, thus leading to an overall improvement in pulmonary function (i.e. the vital capacity of the lungs, expiratory volume, and peak expiratory flow). Massage also helps to promote fluid discharge from the lungs and reduces tension in the laryngeal region.
The following respiratory conditions are known to benefit from massage therapy: apnea, asthma, bronchitis, laryngitis and sinusitis.

Side Effects of Massage on the Digestive & Urinary Systems

The digestive and urinary systems also stand to benefit from massage therapy. For the digestive system, massage helps to promote proper function of the colon, can relieve constipation and gas, and can stimulate the overall digestive process. For the urinary system, massage may help to increase urine output while at the same time increasing the levels of metabolic waste found in the urine, thus cleansing the body.
Individuals with the following digestive and urinary conditions may benefit from massage: anorexia and bulimia (because of decreased anxiety benefits), constipation, diverticulosis, hemorrhoids, hepatitis (after the infectious phase ends), obesity, ulcers, gout (after the acute phase) and urinary incontinence.