While many people rely on massage as an alternative treatment in combination with conventional medical treatment to help alleviate pain and other symptoms associated with chronic health conditions, a relaxation massage offers additional benefits. Swedish massage in particular is a form of gentle massage that involves the use of kneading, deep circular movements, tapping, and slow, light stroking to relax you. Like other forms of massage, relaxation massage can help you manage a number of different conditions.
Stress and Anxiety
A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that Swedish massage helps lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol (CORT). High levels of cortisol slow the body's metabolic rate, which interferes with the function of other crucial hormones such as insulin, growth hormone, and serotonin. As a result, you can gain body fat, feel fatigued or depressed, or see an increase in your blood sugar levels–all factors that can be harmful to your overall well-being.
Massage relaxes the body by reducing muscle tension and releasing endorphins–brain chemicals that bring on a feeling of euphoria. Research shows that just 10 minutes of gentle massage can lower anxiety and increase an individual's sense of relaxation. Along with endorphins, massage releases adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine–chemicals that work together to boost your mood naturally.
Intermittent or Chronic Depression
According to the American Massage Therapy Association, evidence suggests that massage may be effective in the management of depression. Massage increases the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the body. Both are neurotransmitters that can help reduce depression. The hormone serotonin has a relaxing effect, and along with its many other functions, dopamine plays a role in motivation, attention, and pleasure.
While lower levels of both these chemicals can make it more difficult to manage stress, low levels of dopamine can also affect memory, thinking, motivation, and the ability to feel pleasure. Low serotonin levels may contribute to anxiety, mood swings, feelings of extreme sadness, and insomnia.
Although therapeutic massage isn't a cure for depression, besides increasing the levels of these neurotransmitters, it may help relieve some of the physical symptoms, such as fatigue, generalized aches and pains, and lower back pain, that often accompany depression.
Chronic sleep deprivation may not only have a detrimental effect on your physical health, it can lead to irritability, lack of concentration, memory problems, and an exaggerated response to stress. However, regular massage may help you sleep better by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing your heart rate and relaxing your body.
If you are looking for help to promote more restful sleep, massage–which triggers the release of serotonin–may be just the thing to help improve the quality of your sleep. While serotonin produces a calming effect, massage can also help alleviate pain that may be disturbing your sleep.