The Scientific Link Between Massage and Stress
A good massage feels great, we all know that. Is it all just a feeling? Based on science, the answer is no. Massage can actually help lower the body’s hormonal markers of stress, and that’s supported 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 this is surprising. After all, stress has become but an ordinary part of life. It’s no different from having to get a shower each day. The next day, we get dirty again, take another shower to keep us clean, and so on. You have to keep getting a massage if you want to maintain safe stress hormone levels.
This study was conducted around seven years ago. 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. By the end of the fourth week, nurses in the intervention set were found to have significantly lower cortisol levels. This strengthens earlier findings that it is possible to remain in a low-stress state with regular massage.
Though we can all see that massage can help reduce stress, why it creates that effect is still unknown. Some say “massage” is no more than an excuse to relieve the guilt of lying down and being unproductive. But true or not, it probably shouldn’t even 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 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.