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Massage Therapy for Health

Yes, massage feels good. But, more importantly, massage helps maintain and promote good health.

Three of the primary health benefits of massage are improved circulation, reduced muscle tension, and relief from the effects of stress.

Massage increases lymph flow and blood circulation. Your body depends on the flow of lymph and blood to remove metabolic waste and by-products of tissue damage and inflammation and to deliver oxygen and nutrients to tissue cells.

Secondly, massage reduces muscle tension. Tense muscles lead to stiffness, reduced movement potential, impaired circulation, and pain. Massage relaxes muscles through the mechanical effects of pressure on muscle tissue and the soothing effects of focused, skilled touch on the nervous system, which controls muscle tension.

A third important benefit of massage is relief from the effects of stress. Negative stress is a major factor in many of the diseases that plague our lives. Various sources estimate that 70-90% of visits to general physicians are for stress-related illness.

The effects of stress on the body are the result of the fight-or-flight response. Here’s how the fight-or-flight response works. Let’s say that during a backcountry hike an angry cougar confronts you. You have two choices--run or fight.

Your body prepares for action: your muscles tense, your heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure all increase, your liver dumps sugar into your blood stream for energy, and your adrenal glands pump adrenaline into your system. Your body also shuts down the digestive, urinary, and reproductive systems, which are not needed for immediate survival.

Then after your successful fight or flight, your body pretty much returns to normal as a result of the intense physical exertion.

Most of the stresses we face in today’s world are subtler than a cougar. But when someone yells at you for no apparent reason, your body has much the same response that it has to that cougar. Since it’s not acceptable to either fight or run, you just stand there and your body does not as easily return to a normal state.

The effects of such stresses are cumulative: over time your body spends more time in the hyped-up fight-or-flight state. You can see where this state could lead to chronically tense muscles and to heart, blood pressure, blood sugar, digestive, urinary, or reproductive problems.

Massage therapy helps reverse the effects of stress by creating the opposite of the fight-or-flight response: the relaxation response, which lowers heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure and increases the blood supply to all the body’s systems.

Although massage has many wonderful benefits, it is not for everyone. Most types of massage are not appropriate for someone with advanced heart disease, uncontrolled high blood pressure or diabetes, blood clots, and a few other conditions. Massage therapists take a health history to ensure that you receive safe and effective massage.

Regular massage helps you maintain good health. The effects of massage are cumulative. If you have a massage only when you are totally stressed or in pain, you start over each time. Receiving massage as often as you can physically, time-wise, and financially afford is an excellent investment in your health.

Carol Wiley, LMP, is a massage therapist in Bellevue, WA. Visit for more information about massage, a guide to massage resources and products, and self-care tips (including stretching, exercise, stress management, and more). Also, sign up for Carol's free monthly newsletter, Just the Right Touch, to learn more about the wide world of massage, bodywork, somatics, and related health/wellness topics.

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