Understanding the Science of Massage: Neurological Effects

massage therapist portland oregonYou know massage does a body good. But what about your brain? In a previous post, we explored how massage changes the body—reducing stiffness, among other benefits. Today we’re taking a look at how massage impacts the brain and the overall nervous system.

Neurological Effects of Massage

Massage is not only fabulous for muscular issues. It is also a powerful healing approach for neurological issues. Massage can help:

  • Reduce Stress. When the brain detects stress, it signals the release of epinephrine and cortisol, commonly referred to as “stress hormones”. These hormones trigger a shift of hundreds of processes throughout the body. When we are stressed, the digestion and immune systems don’t work as effectively. Our hearts beat faster, we breathe faster and less efficiently, and the overall body becomes focused on responding to a perceived emergency, rather than healing. Prolonged, repeated and sustained exposure to the stress response state can lead to heart disease, immune disorders, and other serious health conditions. Massage helps by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, relaxing both the mind and the body. The brain responds by signaling the release of serotonin and oxytocin, often referred to as “feel-good hormones”. Overall health is improved and optimized as we spend more time in a restful and relaxed state.
  • Treat Nerve Problems and symptoms, such as prickling “pins and needles” sensations, burning pain, numbness, buzzing electrical feelings and/or tingling. Through detailed interviews and physical examinations, skilled massage therapists can determine the most effective modalities for treatment and can often alleviate most, if not all, symptoms. Massage is an excellent treatment for carpel tunnel syndrome, piriformis syndrome and other compression issues.
  • Improve Balance. Particularly for older people, falling can lead to disastrous consequences. A 2012 study found that an hour-long weekly massage stabilized balance in older individuals. Regular massage can increase proprioception, or the ability to sense the physical body in space, in people of all ages.
  • Alleviate MS Symptoms. Research has found that massage can help improve mood and digestive complaints for people with the neurological disorder Multiple Sclerosis (MS). According to an article published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, MS patients who received twice weekly 45-minute massages over 5 weeks showed improved moods, self-esteem, and social functioning. Another study from the Multiple Sclerosis Journal found that abdominal massage was effective for alleviating constipation, a common problem among MS sufferers.
  • After a Stroke. Strokes occur when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked or leaking. After a stroke, patients may experience localized pain, anxiety, and trouble focusing. Studies have found that massage is effective for treating these post-stroke symptoms. Even more important for long-term recovery, massage can also help decrease blood pressure, a key contributor to strokes.

Connective Tissue and Massage

Connective tissue can be gel-like or more liquid, according to whether the body is warmed up. You feel this when exercising—at first, you may feel stiff, until the connective tissue warms up and becomes more fluid. A massage therapist’s hands warm and loosen up connective tissue across the body, mobilizing muscles and alleviating stiffness.

At our Portland wellness clinic, our massage therapists work collaboratively with other health providers to treat your whole being—body, spirit, and mind. Throughout the healing process, we regard the patient as the key member of the healing team. Our collaborative care approach leads to improved health outcomes, cost-efficiency, and patient satisfaction. Call us today to set up your next massage therapy appointment.


[Photo by dcarson924 via Freeimages.com]