What is massage therapy and how does it work?

Massage is a type of integrative medicine in which a massage therapist manipulates the skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. In massage therapy, a certified and trained medical professional (massage therapist) manipulates the soft tissues of the muscles, connective tissue, tendons, ligaments, and skin of the body. Massage therapy relaxes muscle tissue, reducing painful contractions and spasms. Massage can also reduce nerve compression.

To understand this, consider that when muscles contract, they sometimes compress the nerves around them. When these muscles are relaxed, the nerves are no longer compressed and, in theory, they can get the right nutrients and work more efficiently. Nerves can take on their normal job of transmitting messages to and from the brain, which improves the functioning of muscles and organs. The latest research has shown (at the cellular level) that massage therapy helps the body heal.

Even after a session, the body begins to respond to massage therapy. Researchers did blood and muscle tests on people before and after vigorous training; one group received massage therapy after exercise and the other did not. The results of the “after massage” surprised the researchers. Post-massage blood and muscle tissue showed an increase in a gene responsible for mitochondria development.

Mitochondria are known for cell growth and energy production. Lifting and kneading muscle tissue (common Swedish and deep tissue technique) was also shown to “turn off” genes associated with inflammation. The research also contradicted a long-believed idea that massage therapy expels lactic acid from muscles. A massage therapist treats clients by using touch and pressure to manipulate the soft tissue muscles of the body.