Stress Reduction Through Massage

Kirsten Schuder
Hot Stone Massage

Massage can be an excellent way to relieve the daily pressures that work, home, and family place on the mind and body. Treating stress with massage helps to relieve the pain caused by muscle tension, as the soothing touch also promotes a feeling of well-being and calm.

How Does Massage Help Stress?

During a massage, your soft tissues, skin, tendons, and muscles are manipulated, which provides stress relief by stimulating the body's relaxation response.

  • Massage increases circulation, releasing muscle tension and activating sensory receptors.
  • In addition to relaxing tense muscles and relieving the physical symptoms of stress, massage can help calm your mind and improve your mood.
  • Massage triggers the body to release natural painkillers called endorphins, which help counteract the effects of stress.
  • Massage stimulates hormones that encourage relaxation, serotonin and dopamine, and decreases the stress hormone cortisol.

According to Touch Research Institute, massage therapy can also effectively relieve anxiety and depression, which are more likely to occur when stress becomes chronic.

Types of Massage

Some examples of common massage techniques used to reduce stress are:

Swedish Massage

One of the more common types of massage, the Swedish massage is often used in spas and gyms. The massage therapist usually puts oil or lotion on your skin or his hands before beginning the massage. The massage strokes are long and are done in a sweeping or gliding motion mixed with kneading strokes. The therapist may also shake, tap or move various muscle areas and joints to further reduce the tension in the muscles and relieve the built up stress. It is ideal for stress relief and relaxation.

Hot Stone Massage

This massage technique involves the placement of heated stones and massage oils on tense areas of the body to decrease muscle stiffness and tension and relieve stress. There are many benefits of a heated stone massage including relieving stress, reducing pain and calming the mind. A hot stone massage also relaxes the body's tissues and deep muscles and improves circulation.

In preparing for a hot stone massage, the therapist heats smooth black basalt stones in water heated to 120-150 degrees Fahrenheit. He then holds a heated stone in each hand and using traditional Swedish massage movements rubs the stones over your body. He may place additional stones between your toes, in the palms of your hands or on your spine. The purpose of these stones is to open and improve the body's energy flow.

Deep Tissue Massage

In deep tissue massage the therapist uses strokes done in patterns combined with deep finger pressure where the muscles are very tight. The pain and stress felt from the tight knotted muscles, located in muscle layers deep below the skin's surface, is relieved by this type of massage.

Trigger Point Massage

During trigger point massages, a trained therapist delivers concentrated finger pressure to specific points to reduce pain and tension and alleviate muscle spasms. Trigger point massage is especially beneficial to those who develop headaches and muscle pain in response to stress.

Reflexology

Reflexology, also called zone massage, stimulates blood and lymphatic fluid circulation, reduces pain, and increases relaxation. This technique is similar to acupuncture in that it involves the application of pressure to specific points to stimulate bodily organs.

Finding a Local Massage Therapist

Massage is safest and most effective when performed by a trained massage therapist. To locate a licensed massage therapist in your area, check your local phone book or ask your doctor for a referral. You can also search for a licensed therapist online by visiting the American Massage Therapy Association website.

Before agreeing to treatment, carefully check your therapist's credentials, and be certain to mention any relevant medical history or existing health concerns.

At-Home Massage

If time or money are limiting factors in seeking help from a licensed massage therapist, you can still self-massage or perform massage with a partner as long as you follow safe practices. Start out with slow motions and soft touch to make certain the massage is relaxing and it doesn't hurt, whether performing massage on yourself or your partner.

Also, you should be aware that massage isn't healthy for all people and could result in injury. Some health considerations for massage are:

  • Do not massage into deep tissue when a person is taking heart medications that thin the blood, or if the person has a blood disorder.
  • Avoid areas of injury, such as broken bones, cuts in the skin or infections, and areas where there was a recent surgical procedure.
  • Deep tissue techniques should not be performed on people with disorders such as osteoporosis or illnesses such as cancer, especially around the area where the cancer is present.
  • Pregnant women should consult their doctors before using massage.

A doctor or a licensed massage therapist should be consulted in these instances before engaging in any massaging techniques.

Self-Massage Techniques

If you cannot make it to a massage therapist and you don't have a partner, you can still obtain relief from self-massage techniques. As long as you can reach an area on your body, you can massage it. For instance, in the Lockhart Method, you can massage your neck, shoulders, feet, and abdominal area, and perform the massage almost anywhere as long as you are in a comfortable position.

In this method, certain massaging techniques, such as a gentle, circular motion with a knuckle or thumb, gentle squeezing, and long strokes are used upon certain points on the body to help the muscles relax and release tension. The use of massage oil is recommended for bare skin so your fingers can glide along the skin when using long strokes or circular motions.

Massage with a Partner

Friends, family, and couples can enjoy massage as a way to help each other relax and de-stress. For spouses and partners, not only does the physical act of massage help with stress, but also the closeness in the relationship is enhanced with massage, which also helps with the effects of stress.

If you want to be able to deliver a great massage, consider attending a massage class. Massage classes are given at spas and centers around the country and are tailored toward purpose such as using massage to feel close to your partner, or helping a family member with chronic headaches. Some even provide you with a massage table to take home with you as part of the class.

In the classes, you will learn basic massage routines and techniques. The video below also provides instruction on a few basic techniques.

Considerations

Research supports the use of massage to alleviate the physical and emotional effects of stress but it is important to exercise caution. While rubbing someone's shoulders can seem harmless, if the person is not in good physical condition, the massage can produce more harm than good. It is important to check with your medical doctor first before engaging in massage, whether seeking the help of a licensed professional or massaging at home.

Stress Reduction Through Massage