How Does Massage Therapy Work?

how does massage work

It is widely accepted that massage therapy feels good, but why does it work?

Massage in one form or another has been used by most societies throughout history to treat people with illnesses and disabilities. It is widely accepted that massage feels good, but it is only recently that scientists began asking, how does massage therapy work?

The beneficial effects of massage therapy can be described as a collection of interconnected responses.

In the past treatments may have been based on a biomedical model. Looking forward, the biopsychosocial model of health and disease provides a practical paradigm for investigating the complex interplay between massage therapy and clinical outcomes.

Combing through the available evidence it is clear that the best way to describe the effects of massage therapy, is not in a single unified response. As the responses to massage therapy are multifactorial (physiological and psychological factors interplay in a complex manner).

Here are four science backed ways massage helps you feel better

Massage therapists use a clinically-oriented multi-modal treatment based on the biopsychosocial model.

Based off the biopsychosocial model, investigation into mechanisms of action should extend beyond local tissue changes and include peripheral and central pain modulation. An observed favorable outcome may be explained by a number of overlapping responses in the periphery, spinal cord, and brain, including but not limited to: 

• Affective Touch - Interpersonal touch and therapeutic stimulation of somatosensory nerves (C-tactile afferent) mediates the release of oxytocin and endogenous opioids. Which can result in reduce physiological and behavioral reactivity to stressors and improved mood/affect.

• Contextual Factors - A positive therapeutic encounter is tied to clinical outcomes; the magnitude of a response is influenced by mood, expectation, and conditioning.

• Endogenous Pain Modulation - Input from somatosensory nerves (Aβ, Aδ and C fibers) inhibits nociceptive processing and activate descending inhibitory mechanisms. This influences neuroimmune processes correlated with the experience of pain.

• Mechanical Factors - Applied forces induce a molecular response that helps diminish intraneural edema and expedite clearance of noxious biochemical by-products (pro-inflammatory cytokines, and creatine kinase).


A Summarized Contemporary Framework of Massage Therapy

With massage therapy a favorable outcome can be explained by a number of overlapping mechanism in the periphery, spinal cord, and brain.


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