When people ask me why they feel relaxed after their massage, my answer is that a reflexive action of massage is to encourage your parasympathetic nervous system – the one that lets you rest, and makes you sleepy while you digest food, and turns down the action of your sympathetic nervous system – the one that keeps you wired so that you can get through a stressful situation.
The studies that prove the effect of therapeutic massage on your central nervous system primarily look at levels of 3 hormones in blood, urine and saliva before and after massage therapy: cortisol, dopamine and serotonin. There has also been preliminary research on the effects of massage therapy on oxytocin (another feel-good hormone) and norepinephrine (another stress –hormone) which support these findings.
With increased serotonin and dopamine, and reduced cortisol, massage therapy can help in the treatment of depression, pain, chronic fatigue and stress linked to a variety of situations. When you understand each of these hormones, you see why you feel so much better after a massage.
Cortisol goes down after massage therapy. Cortisol is a stress hormone that constricts your blood vessels to increase your blood pressure. It puts your central nervous system in an alert state, so that you can respond to physical danger, and ensures that your body is using food in your diet to increase glucose.
Dopamine is increased after a massage. Dopamine is well known as being a major ‘reward’ chemical in our brain. Increased levels of dopamine are found when we engage in a pleasurable activity, encouraging us to repeat it. Having a healthy dopamine level helps the brain to regulate emotional responses and movement. People who are deficient in dopamine can develop Parkinson’s disease.
Serotonin is increased after a massage. Serotonin is known for its role in depression, but as well as mood balance, serotonin also helps with pain regulation, digestive function, and maintaining a healthy sleep cycle.
At Lakeside Natural Health Centre, your massage therapists understand how massage therapy effects multiple systems at the same time. Understanding the benefits of massage therapy means looking at healthcare in a holistic way, and the integration of the muscles, joints, skin, immune system, cardiovascular, neurological and endocrine health as a starting point. We integrate this information into a treatment that is safe and effective for our patients.
Field T, Hernandez-Reif M, Diego M, Schanberg S, Kuhn C. Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy. Int J Neurosci. 2005 Oct;115(10):1397-413. PubMed PMID: 16162447. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16162447?report=docsum&format=text
Morhenn V, Beavin LE, Zak PJ. Massage increases oxytocin and reduces adrenocorticotropin hormone in humans. Altern Ther Health Med. 2012 Nov-Dec;18(6):11-8. PubMed PMID: 23251939. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23251939