The Science Behind Why Massage Feels So Good

The sensation of a massage is something that has been enjoyed by humans for centuries. But why does it feel so good? Recent research has revealed the science behind why massage feels so good, and the results are amazing. The therapist's touch causes an immediate reaction in the brain. As soon as nerve cells in the skin feel pressure, they tell the brain to release feel-good chemicals called endorphins, which improve mood and cause a natural high.

A lot happens in your body and brain when you get a massage. On the one hand, massage has been shown to release a surge of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, while reducing cortisol, the stress hormone, leading to general relaxation. The massage also stimulates pressure receptors, which improve vagal activity. An Australian study found that a 10-minute muscle massage after a workout could reduce pain by 30%.

Another review study on massage found that levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, fell 31% after a massage, while levels of feel-good hormones, such as dopamine and serotonin, increased by approximately 30%. The sensation of a massage also produces feel-good hormones, called endogenous opioids, that prevent painful messages from reaching the brain. These “pain reliever” opioids are the same type of medication as morphine, but they are produced in our own bodies. Massage can also cause the release of serotonin, the same chemical substance that gives us that good feeling after exercise and can significantly affect pain modulation.

When you get a good quality massage, it also affects you on an emotional level. Research shows that meaningful touch stimulates the brain's orbitofrontal cortex, which is related to feelings of reward, compassion, security and trust. While this could be part of the endorphin pathway, other mechanisms are probably involved as well. Massage is known to promote relaxation.

It does so by releasing happiness hormones, including serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. Serotonin binds to serotonergic receptors in the brain and causes feelings of happiness. This study confirms something that human beings have known for centuries: a good massage works wonders after training.

The massage therapist

should perform a touch evaluation to locate sore or tense areas and determine how much pressure to apply. From relieving muscle pain after exercise to reducing stress, dozens of studies dating back several decades have linked massage to real physical and psychological benefits. It is not until a nerve impulse reaches the somatosensory cortex that it is interpreted as a sensation of touch, such as a sensation of sharpness, heat, cold or vibration. An article published in Exercise Physiology suggests that people who receive massages after 24 hours of intense exercise develop less muscle pain compared to those who didn't.

All the scientific facts about chemicals and hormones and nerve stimulation do little to fully articulate the peace that can be felt during and after a massage. Conversely, massage can be a powerful tool to help you take charge of your health and well-being, whether you have a specific health condition or are simply looking for another stress reliever. Regardless of the type of massage you choose, you should feel calm and relaxed during and after the massage. After all, there is no version of sugar pill massage that can be compared to a “real” massage to discover the non-placebo effects of the treatment. Look for evidence that a massage will improve your health and you'll have no trouble finding research to back you up. But why does the massage feel so good? Is there any scientific reasoning behind this? What are the health benefits of massage? What about risks? Some of the answers are amazing.

Mark Szymonik
Mark Szymonik

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