Massage as a Stress Buster (And Why It’s NOT All in Your Mind)
We all know how relaxing and uplifting a good massage can be. 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, the importance of stress management is also well-known to us. Every now and then, we read or hear about news confirming the big role stress plays in the development of various diseases and medical conditions, from cancer to obesity and everything else. Still, it always seems so difficult to avoid stress, and we’re usually left with hardly any 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 take a shower each and everyday. The following day, we go out into the big grimy world again and take another shower, and so on. If you want to maintain safe stress hormone levels, you need to get a massage regularly.
This study was performed some seven years back. Since then, many other studies have been performed, proving that massage indeed has this positive effect on stress levels, although short-lived. These consequent studies also particularly emphasized the benefits of massage when done on a continuous basis. In a particular research project, nurses were given either 25-minute massage sessions twice a week for four straight weeks, or placebo. At the end of the fourth week, lower cortisol levels were found in the subjects who belonged to the intervention group. This strengthens earlier findings that it is possible to remain in a low-stress state with regular massage.
While the positive effects of massage on stress are now established, the reasons are still unknown. Some say “massage” is no more than an excuse to relieve the guilt of lying down and being unproductive. True or not, it doesn’t matter. If it does what it does, then we’ll have it.
Finally, there’s the other perception that massage is all about the human touch. And this could be true in a way, considering there’s a good amount of research showing the health benefits of the human touch. On the other hand, it is logical to assume that massage also works in other ways, noting that unique methods are used to provide unique effects, such as pain reduction in cancer patients and everyday stress relief. In any case, it’s always good to get your massage from a trained professional.