So many people hail the benefits of massage and say how great they feel afterwards, people are willing to pay serious money to get it done professionally and they come out of it glad they paid for the service. So is this all a placebo effect or do we actually receive positive physical effects from massage?
One study performed in 1999 performed by hemmings et al shows that the effects could be mostly psychological. The study was performed on amateur boxers who were asked to have two sessions on a boxing ergonometer and in between the two sessions they were either given a massage or a rest period.
The participants in the massage condition reported much higher levels of recovery than the rest participants but the physiological effects were shown to be insignificant. The participants had no difference in heart rate, blood lactate or blood glucose levels after either performance.
The only significant difference found was that after the second performance the subjects in the massage condition had higher blood lactate levels which would suggest that if you have a massage half way through physical exercise it could actually be bad for your muscles!
Positive Physiological Effects of Massage
There are some studies however which would suggest that massage can have both a positive physiological and psychological effect. The study by Field et al (2004) asked depressed, pregnant women to have massage sessions with their significant other for 20 minutes each week.
Immediately the women reported lower levels of anxiety, depression and pain but perhaps more surprisingly by the time they had come to full term their bodies contained far more of the positive hormones dopamine and seretonin than the control group.
This could suggest that the immediate effects of massage are very minimal but the psychological benefits of having that attention paid to you and the relaxing nature of massage over the long term could help you in general to become a more positive person.
Psychological Effects of Massage
These two studies both hail the positive and relaxing attitude that massage can have on people. Most come away from a session feeling better and more positive about themselves but do these effects last into the long term and does long term massage therapy actually make you a happier person?
Another very interesting study performed by field et al, 1986 suggests that the physical contact that comes with massage could have long term benefits to premature babies suggesting long term benefits in older people as well.
The psychologists running the study organised massages to be given to babies that were premature and a control group that didn’t receive any massage. Compared to the control group the massaged babies put on weight faster, were more ‘socially responsive’ than the control and on average went home 6 days earlier.
These results give great evidence of the benefits of massage and show that it can improve health. It also makes me think though that it could be the physical contact that helps the development of babies and not just the action of massage.
Having a premature baby myself I was told a lot in the hospital that children really need skin to skin contact and that you being there and touching them will help them to recover faster so why can’t this be true in adults?
We all need physical contact of some kind or another and we are driven to seek it out with a partner so perhaps massage fills that need for contact with another human being and that skin to skin contact still has benefits of making people feel loved as we move through adulthood.
When we do have skin to skin contact it releases the hormone oxytocin, sometimes known as the cuddle hormone, so what effect could that have on the body and mind if released on a regular basis?
Do you think that massage has health benefits or is it just a very expensive way to spend 20 minutes? Tell us about your experiences in the comments section.