What is the relaxation response?
The relaxation response is a state in which your heart and breathing rate slows down, your blood pressure goes down, your production of stress hormones decreases, and your muscles relax. The relaxation response also seems to increase the available level of serotonin, which is a chemical in the body that positively affects emotions and thoughts.
The relaxation response may reduce the risks associated with physical, mental and emotional stress, such as hypertension, cardiac arrhythmias, anxiety, insomnia, persistent fatigue, sexual dysfunction, digestive disorders and other psychological issues. Studies have shown that by putting ourselves in a relaxed state daily, we can boost our immune systems, accomplish more and stay healthier.
The physical manipulation in massage has two major physical effects:
- Increase in blood and lymph circulation
- Relaxation and normalization of the soft tissue (muscle, connective tissue, tendons, ligaments), which releases nerves and deeper connective tissues
Massage is believed to improve blood and lymph circulation. This is probably due partly to the physical manipulation of soft tissue and partly to the chemicals released as part of the relaxation response.
Improved circulation can enhance the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to muscle cells. As cellular health improves, tissues function more efficiently. More efficient functioning leads to the removal of waste products and may increase the absorption of excess fluids and reduce swelling in soft tissues.
Massage Therapy relaxes muscle tissue, which reduces painful contractions and spasms. Massage can also reduce nerve compression. To understand this, consider that when muscles are contracted, they sometimes compress the nerves around them. When these muscles are relaxed, the nerves are no longer compressed, and, in theory, can get proper nutrients and operate more efficiently. The nerves can assume their normal work of transmitting messages to and from the brain, which improves functioning of the muscles and organs.
Touching the skin or applying pressure relaxes muscles, tendons, and ligaments. In addition, while some of the deeper tissues of the body, such as deep spinal musculature, cannot be easily accessed by a massage therapist, the release of more superficial layers of muscles may also affect these deeper layers. This can lead to both superficial and deep tissues finding a better alignment and balance.
Organs can also benefit from massage, as they share neurological pain pathways with muscles, bones, and nerves. When muscles, bones, or nerves are distressed, organs can sometimes reflect distress and dysfunction. For example, low back pain can intensify menstrual cramps and menstrual cramps can cause low back muscles to tense. Massage can therefore improve the functioning of both the organ and the muscles.
In the words of Dr. Andrew Weil, MD, “Many people think of massage as an indulgence or luxury, but there is also ample evidence that massage can benefit many health conditions, from anxiety and back pain to sports injuries and tension headaches.” Common benefits people experience from massage therapy include:
- Improves and increases circulation
- Relieves muscular tension and stress
- Facilitates the natural healing processes of the body
- Promotes healing (especially after injuries)
- Relieves pain and stiffness
- Aids in drainage of excessive fluids and toxins
- Restores mobility to injured tissue
- Balances energy flow throughout the body
- Stimulates feelings of well-being
- Helps connect mind, body, and spirit
- Helps athletes with flexibility and range of motion
Types of Massage:
There are several different types of massage available. Some of the most common are:
Deep Tissue Massage: Deep Tissue is similar to Swedish massage, but the technique focuses on the deepest layer of muscles to target knots and release chronic muscle tension.
Reflexology: Reflexology applies pressure to areas in the hands and feet called “reflex zones”, which relieves stress, addresses conditions of the feet and ankle and promotes overall relaxation.
Sports Massage: For athletes of every kind, each therapeutic massage is specific to your sport of choice, with focus on a particular troublesome area like a knee or shoulder.
To find a Licensed Massage Therapist near you, visit The American Massage Therapy Association website, or call below.
AMTA is a professional association of more than 56,000 members. AMTA provides information about massage therapy to the public and works to improve the professional climate for massage therapists. The association also helps consumers and healthcare professionals locate professional massage therapists nationwide, through AMTA’s Find a Massage Therapist® free national locator service available at www.findamassagetherapist.org or toll-free at 888-843-2682 [888-THE-AMTA].
Further Research Citations on the Efficacy of Massage Therapy
are many. See below for some interesting studies using massage as a therapeutic tool in many different settings.
Can Massage Therapy improve work production and boost employee morale in the office?
A 1996 study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience found that a 15 minute chair massage given twice weekly for a period of five weeks lowered anxiety, improved alertness and even increased speed and accuracy on math computations. [‘Massage therapy reduces anxiety and enhances EEG pattern of alertness and math computations”, PMID 8884390].
Americans Are Reaching to Massage for Pain Relief
More Than Half of Those Surveyed Have Received Massage to Relieve Pain
• 54 percent of Americans who had a massage in the past 5 years say they have had a massage to relieve pain
• In the last 12 months, 15 percent of Americans got a massage to reduce pain or manage pain and seven percent got a massage to relieve muscle soreness or stiffness
• This year, 86 percent of Americans agree that massage can be beneficial for health and wellness, including pain relief
See the Benefits of Massage, Particularly Those Who are Stressed
• 40 percent of Americans are getting massages to relieve stress
• 65 percent of those earning $35,000-50,000 a year and had a massage in the past 5 years say they have considered regular massage to manage stress; 37 percent of this group sites stress as their primary reason for having the massage
Recommending Massage to Others
• Sixty-two percent of Americans have or would recommend a massage therapy to a relative or someone else they know
Finding a professional massage therapist is vital to a positive massage experience. American Massage Therapy Association (“AMTA”) massage therapists have demonstrated a high level of ability through education and/or testing. They adhere to a code of ethics and must meet continuing education requirements. AMTA offers a free professional massage therapist locator service at www.findamassagetherapist.org or toll-free at 888-843-2682 [888-THE-AMTA].
A growing body of research confirms the efficacy of massage for a variety of illnesses and ailments. Massage has been shown to reduce blood pressure and heart rate; increase cytotoxic capacity (activity level of the body’s natural “killer cells”); enhance weight gain in pre-term infants; increase lymph flow and reduce edema; relieve and reduce certain types of back pain; and, reduce anxiety and relieve stress.
Cherkin, D.C., Eisenberg, D., et.al. Randomized Trial Comparing Traditional Chinese Medical Acupuncture, Therapeutic Massage, and Self-care Education for Chronic Low Back Pain. Arch Intern Med. 161(8):1081-8; Apr 23, 2001.
Preyde, M. Effectiveness of Massage Therapy for Subacute Low-back Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial. CMAJ. 162(13):1815-20; Jn 27, 2000.
Wilkinson, S. Aromatherapy and Massage in Palliative Care. Int. J. Palliat. Nurs. 1 (1): 21-30; Jan/Mar 1995.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Comparison of a Targeted and General Massage Protocol on Strength, Function, and Symptoms Associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Randomized Pilot Study Albert Moraska, Clint Chandler, Amanda Edmiston-Schaetzel, Gaye Franklin, Elaine L. Calenda, Brian Enebo. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. April 1, 2008: 259-267.
Chronic Illness or Pain
Piotrowski, M., Paterson, C., Mitchinson, A., Kim, H. M., Kirsh, M., Hinshaw, D. B. (2003). Massage as Adjuvant Therapy in the Management of Acute Postoperative Pain: A Preliminary Study in Men. Journal of the American College of Surgeons, 197(6), 1037-1046.
Circulatory & Respiratory
(2005) “CAM Health Services and Policy Research in Canada – New Directions: Abstracts from the First Annual IN-CAM Symposium, December 4 & 5, 2004, Toronto, Canada”, Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine: Vol. 2: No. 1, Article 3.
(2005) “CAM Research in Canada: Sharing Successes and Challenges – Abstracts from the 2nd Annual IN-CAM Symposium, November 12 & 13, 2005, Toronto, Canada”, Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine: Vol.2: No.1, Article 12.
Buckle, J, Newberg, A, Wintering, N, Hutton, E, Lido, C, Farrar, J, Measurement of Regional Cerebral Blood Flow Associated with the M Technique-Light Massage Therapy: A Case Series and Longitudinal Study using SPECT, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2008:14(8).
“Cell Biology Meets Rolfing” by David Grimm-Biomedical Research. Volume 318(5854):1234-5, Science 23 November 2007. BOSTON–A diverse group of researchers wants to create a new discipline from scratch by bringing together experts in fascia and deep-tissue massage.
Price, Cynthia (2005) ” Body-Oriented Therapy in Recovery from Childhood Sexual Abuse: An Efficacy Study.” Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine: 11(5). “This article appears courtesy of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, a publication of InnoVision Health Media, Inc., © 2005. All right reserved.
Kozak, L, Kayes, L, McCarty, R, Walkinshaw, C, Congdon, S, Kleinberger, J, Hartman, V, Standish, L, Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) by Washington State Hospices, American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, December/January, 2009: 25(6).
Billhult A, Lindholm C, Gunnarsson R, Stener-Victorin E. The effect of massage on immune function and stress in women with breast cancer – A randomized controlled trial. Auton Neurosci. 2009 Apr 17.
Zeitlin, D., et.al. Immunological Effects of Massage Therapy During Academic Stress. Psychosomatic Medicine. 62:83-87; Jan/Feb 2000.
Infants and Children
Beider S, Mahrer NE, Gold JI. Pediatric massage therapy: an overview for clinicians. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2007 Dec;54(6):1025-41; xii-xiii. Review. PMID: 18061789 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE].
Field, T. Massage Therapy for Infants and Children. J. Dev. Behav. Pediatr. 16 (2): 105-11; Apr 1995.
Bunce, I.H., Mirolo, B.R., Hennessy, J.M., et. al. Post-mastectomy Lymphedema Treatment and Measurement. Med. J. Aust. 161: 125-28; 1994.
Kriederman B, Myloyde T, Bernas M, Lee-Donaldson L, Preciado S, Lynch M, Stea B, Summers P, Witte C, Witte M. Limb volume reduction after physical treatment by compression and/or massage in a rodent model of peripheral lymphedema. Lymphology. 2002 Mar;35(1):23-7.
Baumann, J.U. Effect of Manual Medicine in the Treatment of Cerebral Palsy. Manuelle Medizin (Berlin). 34:127-133; 1996.
Ezzo, Jeanette PhD, CMT; Haraldsson, Bodhi G., RMT; Gross, Anita R. MSc; Myers, Cynthia D. PhD, LMT; Morien, Annie PhD, PA-C, LMT; Goldsmith, Charlie H. PhD; Bronfort, Gert PhD, DC; Peloso, Paul M. MD, MSc; the Cervical Overview Group (2007) ” Massage for Mechanical Neck Disorders: A Systematic Review.” Spine.
Karen J. Sherman, Marian W. Dixon, Diana Thompson and Daniel C. Cherkin (2006) ” Development of a Taxonomy to Describe Massage Treatments for Musculoskeletal Pain”, BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Sunshine, W., Field, T., et. al. Fibromyalgia Benefits From Massage Therapy and Transcutaneous Electrical Stimulation. J. Clin. Rheum. 2(1): 18-22; Feb 1996.
Nabb MT, Kimber L, Haines A, McCourt C. Does regular massage from late pregnancy to birth decrease maternal pain perception during labour and birth?–A feasibility study to investigate a programme of massage, controlled breathing and visualization, from 36 weeks of pregnancy until birth.Psychological/Emotional. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2006 Aug;12(3):222-31. Epub 2006 Jun 5.
Smith, L.L., et.al. The Effects of Athletic Massage on Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, Creatine Kinase, and Neutrophil Count: A Preliminary Report. J. Orthop Sports Phys. Ther. 19 (2): 93-99; Feb 1994.
Culpepper-Richards, K., Effect of a Back Massage and Relaxation Intervention on Sleep in Critically Ill Patients. Am. J. Crit. Care. 7(4): 288-299; Jul 1998.
Korn, L, Logsdon, R, Polissar, N, Gomez-Beloz, A, Waters, T, Rÿser, R, A Randomized Trial of a CAM Therapy for Stress Reduction in American Indian and Alaskan Native Family Caregivers, The Gerontologist Advance Access, April 18, 2009.
Physiological Adjustments to Stress Measures Following Massage Therapy: A Review of the Literature. Albert Moraska; Robin A. Pollini; Karen Boulanger; Marissa Z. Brooks; Lesley Teitlebaum. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2008; doi: 10.1093/ecam/nen029.