Massage for healing: Why do massages heal the human body?

Heather Campbell
 min read

Massage for healing has been popular since the beginning of time. Massage was first used to alleviate minor body disorders and scientists were for the most part, skeptical.

Massage for healing: Why do massages heal the human body?But in many different cultures, the applying of hands on the body through determined movements was found to have healing propensities.

Massage has gone through high periods of popularity, and times when it was associated with obscure practices with esoteric connotations.

As a whole, massage for healing has been around forever and outlived civilizations. Scientists agree that massage heals through the draining of toxins and other waste which lead to physical, mental and aesthetic afflictions. It also increases our pain threshold.

Read on to learn more about the therapeutic effects of massages and the most common disorders they can help with.

Massage for healing: Introduction

Fortunately, as knowledge of anatomy, physiology and medicine has progressed, the how and why of a massage’s effectiveness is easily explained.

The origins of the term “massage” are complex,  having Greek, Arabic and Hebrew roots.

We do know that it has been used for therapeutic purposes in Eastern countries for over 4,100 years. It is probably one of the most universal techniques of traditional medicine.

Massage and its therapeutic effects

In ancient times, massage administered by intuition to soothe minor ailments.

Each of us knows from experience that by applying our hands on a painful area of our body, pain seems to reduce (analgesic effect).

We now how to vary massages to heal various disorders and the reason for its therapeutic effectiveness.

Smooth muscle stimulation

There are other small ailments that massage can alleviate, such as common digestive system disorders:

  • Smooth muscle spasms
  • Transit problems
  • Colic
  • Flatulence
  • Acid Reflux
  • Constipation, etc.

In most cases, the problem is due to movements of the digestive tract, caused by the smooth muscles, so the situation can be improved by stimulating these muscles correctly.

The sensory receptors

Manipulation of the body using specific massage techniques allows for the desensitization of skin tissue, but not a loss of sensitivity.

On the contrary, the sensory stimulation of the free endings increases our pain threshold.

Thus, the stimuli will have to be more powerful to activate our sensory receptors, the same as reduction in pain felt.

Other sensory receptors in the skin can be stimulated by massage due to the increased temperature. These thermoreceptors also play an important role in pain management.

Vicarious relaxation and reduction of pain

Psychological and muscular tension are intimately linked.

A massage allows the muscles to relax because the central nervous system is relaxed, and vice versa.

It helps to reduce or prevent anxiety, stress, agitation, insomnia, exhaustion and pain.

Direct mechanical effects

Soft tissue benefits mainly through pressure and hand movement.

By kneading we obtain a reduction, even an elimination, of the muscular contractures.

Sometimes, areas of the body are frozen, have adhesions or fibers that do not heal well. This gives rise to irritated nerve endings, and the supply of nutrients and the elimination of cellular waste are impaired.

The masseur can mobilize these tissues or obtain better healing of their fibers which will then eliminate pain.

Analgesic substances released by the body

Our body produces itself, via synthesis mechanisms, substances capable of reducing pain, called “analgesics”:

  • Histamine causes capillaries to open, thus increasing blood flow and body temperature.
  • Endorphin is a derivative of opium. It reduces pain by acting on the brain, the bone marrow and the injured area of the body.

Sexual stimulation

Sexual stimulation is part of a complex physical mechanism in which hormones play an important role.

The massage can also release these hormones because of the many sensations it provokes and so is a useful aid to resolve any dysfunctions.

The modification of the blood circulation

Disorders often hit parts of the body that are poorly supplied with blood, and that gives rise to inflammation.

The manipulation of the body by the hands will cause an increase in temperature and blood flow in the area concerned.

By helping the flow of nutrients and oxygen to the affected area, the subsequent elimination of waste products from the cells is thus improved.

Without massage, inflammation can spread from tissue to tissue as waste products build up in the body.

Specific massages are adapted to lymphatic circulation disorders, such as manual lymphatic drainage.

The aim is to promote lymph circulation and avoid waste accumulation in the tissues.

For more detailed info on lymphatic drainage massage, have a look at our other article Lymphatic drainage massage: What it is, Benefits & How-to guide

Specific manipulations can also be used to obtain the effects of emptying or pumping venous blood in individuals who suffer from circulatory disorders.

The gate-control theory

The nerve fibers that receive sensory and painful messages from the same part of the body have different characteristics.

They may vary in thickness, transmission speed and conduit.

On the other hand, each stimulus is apprehended by various receptors and reaches the brain following an independent path.

So the cutaneous stimulation of touch receptors inhibits the transmission of painful stimuli by their own nerve fibers.

Moreover, we all naturally use this physical mechanism which has the effect of reducing pain.

Have you ever rubbed a spot you just hit? This massage strongly stimulates the touch receptors, and as a result, reduces the pain felt.

Traditional indications for therapeutic massage

We thought it opportune to give you a summary of the most common disorders for which massage is traditionally used.

Although it does not always have a curative effect, it can prevent ailments or relieve the unpleasant symptoms they cause.

Nervous system disorders

Neuralgia (sciatica), relaxation of the muscular tonus during central nervous system lesions, insomnia, agitation, exhaustion, and pain of central origin.

Sexual stimulation and general fitness.

Improvement of skin and muscle tone.

Blood circulation or vascular disorders

Edema, lymphatic edema, arteriosclerosis, improvement of peripheral circulation and hematoma.

Digestive system disorders

Mild transit disorders such as constipation, flatulence, colic and spasms.

Skin and/or aesthetic problems

Cellulite, scars, obesity, lack of skin and muscle tone, water retention.

Cancer treatment

Massage can also be used as part of cancer treatment. For more information on this so-called oncology massage, refer to our other article Massage for cancer patients: Benefits & precautions for oncology massage

Posture problems

Spinal deviation includes scoliosis and kyphosis, flat feet, valgus, or abnormal posture.

It is known today that massage does not have a corrective effect but does serve to eliminate muscular contractures and pains caused by incorrect posture.

Traumatic injuries of the musculoskeletal system

Sprains, tissue distensions and bruises.

The patient should never be massaged during the period of acute pain, i.e. immediately after the trauma. Massage, on the other hand, will help with post-injury recovery.

Non-traumatic injuries of the musculoskeletal system

  • Tension headaches and dizziness
  • Spasms
  • Scoliosis
  • Tendinitis and tenosynovitis
  • Adhesions
  • Preparation of the musculoskeletal system for competition and recovery care after exercise
  • Myalgia (muscle pain)
  • Back pain
  • Chronic rheumatism such as arthritis and osteoarthritis
  • Cramps
  • Low back pain
  • Muscle atrophies
  • Joint pain
  • Muscular contractures (of muscular or nervous origin)
  • Cervicalgia (neck pain)

Massage for healing: Conclusion

With scientists now backing massage for healing, it is widely accepted that the soothing touch of hands on skin will help deal with many ailments and besides that, increase our pain threshold and therefore become stronger.

About Heather Campbell

As a nutritionist, my field of specialization is science-based nutritional advice but more importantly, it is my goal to share capturing and inspiring stories, examples and solutions which can help plus-size individuals overcome their specific difficulties. Read More