Have you ever been told, “It’s all in your head”? No, we’re not out to tell you that your health concern is all just paranoia. Actually, quite the opposite. The brain is a powerful organ and can have some impressive effects on your overall health and well-being. So what happens when you experience something super-relaxing, such as a massage? There are physical benefits, which is why massage therapy is often included alongside treatments like chiropractic adjustments and physical therapy. But what about the effects on the brain?
Massage is typically supported because of the beneficial effects it has on the muscles. Tight muscles can press against your joints or nerves, which can result in pain or injury if it goes on too long. There’s a reason stretching is an important part of any fitness routine, after all. So, if muscles are tight or sore, massage therapy offers specialized manipulation to help them relax. The manipulations of a massage release pressure so joints have an improved range of motion and pain caused by the tightness can be alleviated. But that’s not all. Massage therapy impacts the brain, not just the body.
Anyone who has received a massage from a trained massage therapist can attest to the feeling of relaxation experienced when the session is over. As it turns out, that feeling of deep relaxation isn’t just ‘all in your head.’ Physiologically, a massage encourages the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter. You may mostly know serotonin as the cause of sleepy feelings, but it also affects mood and hunger. So, that feeling of relaxation you feel after a massage comes from your body releasing serotonin, which makes you feel a more positive mood.
Massage also encourages the release of dopamine. Like serotonin, dopamine is a neurotransmitter, which affects how you feel. Dopamine is commonly known for making up the reward center of the brain; it provides a rush of positive feelings when triggered. Dopamine is the same neurotransmitter that gets triggered when you experience other enjoyable things, like drinking a nice glass of wine or sharing a kiss with your sweetie.
And speaking of kisses from your sweetie, we also need to talk about oxytocin. Oxytocin is commonly referred to as “the love hormone.” It’s the hormone that causes the feeling of falling in love, when you start a new relationship. It’s also the hormone that helps new mothers bond with their babies. However, oxytocin isn’t an ongoing thing; the feeling will eventually fade over time. Those same feelings that you get from a new love can be triggered by a massage. Interestingly, oxytocin is most commonly released when a massage is gentle and calm, rather than a strong manipulation of your muscles.
Cortisol & Adrenaline
While a massage can cause chemical responses that are predominantly positive effects within the body, it also helps reduce some of the effects we typically consider negative. Cortisol, the stress hormone, and adrenaline, which impacts our fight-or-flight response, are both hormonal effects within the body that serve a necessary purpose, but are things we often view as negatives. Massage therapy helps to reduce cortisol levels, which can help lessen the feeling of stress. Likewise, massage also helps to lower the heart rate and blood pressure, which help lessen those heightened feelings that come with an adrenaline surge.
What It All Means
Speaking physiologically, a lot happens in your body during a massage, and the effects are pretty positive. Not only do you enjoy the physical benefits that come when tight muscles relax, but massage therapy also offers some positive changes in terms of the chemical balances within your brain and body. Massage can increase the release of neurotransmitters that promote positive and calming sensations. At the same time, massage also helps to reduce hormone levels that affect some less pleasant feelings. This combination can lead to that lingering feeling of relaxation after a massage. Over time, regular massages can lead to longer-lasting positive effects, both physically and physiologically — to the point that there is some research which suggests massage therapy can help with mental-based struggles like anxiety and depression.
Experience the benefits of massage therapy for yourself. Contact Senara Health and Healing Center & Spa in Peoria to schedule today!