Massage & Brain Health
Updated: Jan 9, 2022
By Elisa Juarez
What’s good for the body is good for the brain, as they say, and massage is a wonderful way to optimize overall health and well-being! I have been enjoying the experience of a regular massage for the past several years and realizing the many benefits. Now that I am studying brain health I decided to look into the effects of therapeutic massage on the brain. I found that there are numerous scientific studies showing both immediate and cumulative benefits of massage therapy for brain and body!
Anyone who has had a good massage can attest to the experience of relaxation and stress relief. The body’s relaxation response is generated, slowing the breath and lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones. Additionally, massage can increase the production of serotonin which, when out of balance, is implicated in anxiety and depression. Low serotonin levels can also cause sleep difficulties and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Massage tends to elevate dopamine levels in the brain as well. This neurohormone influences fine motor skills, intuition, inspiration, joy and enthusiasm. In fact, people lacking in dopamine often exhibit clumsiness, poor focus, and are easily distracted.
Neurohormones are produced by the nervous system and affect an individual’s behavior and general well-being. Scientific studies show that massage increases the availability of all neurohormones affecting brain chemistry. A 15-minute chair massage stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, thus elevating epinephrine (adrenaline) levels which can increase a person’s alertness. A slower, longer, deeper massage, on the other hand, can reduce epinephrine levels, creating a feeling of relaxation and facilitating deep sleep (Alex A. Kecskes, “Neurohormonal Effects of Massage Therapy,” www.pacificcollege.edu/news/blog).
Oxytocin is another neurohormone produced by massage therapy. This hormone supports feelings of attachment and can help during pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation. Massage therapy has been shown to reduce the stress hormone, cortisol, which is produced by the adrenal glands. It also supports the immune system by encouraging deeper sleep, thereby increasing the availability of growth hormones which promote cell division and tissue repair, regeneration, and healing. A stronger immune system is one of the long-term benefits of massage therapy, along with improved range of motion and sense of well-being.
Acupressure and trigger point therapy are two other forms of massage that also provide important health benefits. These techniques create endorphins which are known to reduce pain and produce a sense of euphoria, which is why endorphins are known as the “feel good hormone.”
The immediate and cumulative benefits of therapeutic massage make it a valuable component of a healthy lifestyle. However, it should be preceded by a consultation with your physician or chiropractor in order to determine the best course of action. It is also important to find a licensed massage therapist who is nationally certified through either the National Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (www.ncbtmb.org) or the American Massage Therapy Association (www.amtamasage.org).
“Neurohormonal Effects of Massage Therapy,” Alex A. Kecskes, Pacific College of Oriental Medicine; www.pacificcollege.edu/news/blog