Why Does Therapeutic Massage Feel Sooooo Good?
Positive touch can be therapeutic, with feelings of safety, comfort, stress relief, pain relief and improved range of movement all being reported by clients.
This is achieved through the relationship (therapeutic alliance) between client and therapist - building trust in the therapist by presenting a positive experience through listening to the client, their expectations and their goals, and communicating clearly, to achieve positive outcomes by working together.
Contextual factors such as the environment of the clinic/treatment room, presentation of the therapist, tone of voice, providing a warm welcome and acting with kindness etc can also affect the experience of the client and impact on the outcomes of treatment, as it can impact on how relaxed or stressed they may feel. In fact it is commonly referenced that 60% of the work is done when you walk through the door, as this will set your expectation and can strongly influence the outcome of the massage.
This is important because the brain interprets stressors as a sign of danger and so creates sensations of pain, whilst it can interpret relaxation as a sign of safety and so can reduce pain. For this reason we know that therapeutic massage and movement in a relaxing atmosphere with a therapist you feel at ease with and trust in, can have a pain relieving effect.
Affective touch also helps to regulate chemicals in the brain which affect how we react to stressors, thereby affecting our moods and ability to deal with stress. Our ‘good’ hormones’ such as the love hormone oxytocin and natural pain relieving endorphins, are increased; while stress hormones can be reduced; leaving us with that relaxed feeling and ready to take life’s stressors more easily in our stride.
This is achieved because we have lots of different types of nerve endings feeding back information to the brain about the area being touched, the different type of touch a therapist can provide (such as fast or slow strokes, light or deep pressure) and the environment around us. This information is processed by the brain who decides if it is safe (and so will allow us to feel calm / relax) or in danger (and so make us feel alert / stressed).
Effective touch can help depression and anxiety, depression is the 2nd risk factor for lower back pain, therefore a positive experience of a therepeutic massage can also help in this way.
The brain also has an image of your body in it’s mind, and activating nerve endings in your body gives it more information about what is going on in each area, creating a more accurate picture. As the brain is in charge, if we can provide feedback via these nerve endings that ‘all is well’, it can dictate the necessary changes in our bodies to help us feel good in our own skin and move more freely.
Add this to the pain relieving effect explained above and this is why some people report ‘floating out the door’ after their massage!
We cannot underline enough, that the benefits of therapeutic massage are felt not because we are changing your tissues, but because we are activating nerve endings, which is the direct link to the brain who decides if you are safe or in danger, and the rest follows.