The Scientific Link Between Massage and Stress
We all know how a good massage can make us feel relaxed and refreshed. Is it all just a feeling? According to science, no. Massage can actually help decrease hormonal markers of stress, and that’s backed by evidence.
Of course, we also know how important stress management is. From time to time, we hear about studies showing how stress can increase our vulnerability to all sorts of health problems, from weight gain to autoimmune diseases such as cancer. Still, many of us find it hard to keep ourselves from being stressed, and we’re often left without much of a solution. Fortunately, we can always get a massage, unless it’s contraindicated, such as after an acute muscle injury.
According to different studies, it was found that massage reduces cortisol (the infamous stress hormone) levels. Which is great, except that this effect doesn’t really last very long. To maintain the benefit, you have to maintain the massages.
Not that we should find this surprising. After all, our world has become stressful, whether we like it or not. It’s just like having to shower everyday. On the next day, we get dirty again, take a shower again, and so on and so forth. You have to keep getting a massage if you want to maintain safe stress hormone levels.
This study was done about seven years ago. Since then, a lot of other studies were done and proved that massage does has this stress reduction effect, although temporary. These latter studies also focused specifically on the benefits of massage if done continuously. As part of a particular research project, nurses were given either massage (25 minutes, 2x a week) or placebo for four weeks straight. At the end of the fourth week, lower cortisol levels were found in the subjects who belonged to the intervention group. This further strengthens earlier conclusions that regular massage can help you maintain a low-stress state.
While it’s now clear how massage affects stress, there is no clear explanation why. There are those who say that “massage” is just an excuse term for lying down and being totally unproductive for an hour or so. True or not, it doesn’t matter. As long as it provides the benefits it does, then we’re all for it.
Finally, there’s the other perception that massage is all about the human touch. And it could be partly true, because there’s a good amount of research proving that the human touch does provide health benefits. On the other hand, massage can also be effective in several other ways, knowing that different methods are used to produce different effects, from pain management to plain and simple reduction. In any case, it’s always good to get your massage from a trained professional.