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It’s common knowledge that massage relaxes tense muscles and triggers a relaxation response in the entire body. But how exactly does therapeutic massage achieve these effects? If you’ve ever found yourself wondering “What does a massage do to make tense muscles relax?”, continue reading to discover what exactly happens to the muscles during a massage.

With a basic understanding of how massage works to aid sore muscles, you can work more closely with your massage therapist to address different problem areas, such as a soreness in the lower back or an injured extremity.

What a Massage Does: The Physical Mechanics of Massage

Muscle is living tissue that undergoes changes daily as we use our bodies. For example, muscles may become tight due to small tears that develop during muscle toning exercise. Alternatively, mental stress can cause certain muscles like those in the cervical spine and hips tense up, causing regular soreness and discomfort.

Whatever the cause of muscle tension, massage can provide relief by triggering relaxation in specific parts of the body. While there are several different types of massage that all use unique stroke mechanics, any type of therapeutic massage will have the following physical effects on the body.

  • Generate heat – During a massage, heat is generated through friction caused by physically rubbing the skin. Heat helps to loosen the muscles as blood flow increases. This can increase flexibility, allowing your massage therapist to go even deeper into damaged muscle tissue. Certain types of massage, such as hot stone massage, strategically utilize heat to further target sore areas.
  • Increase blood circulation – As the muscles begin to relax during a massage, more blood flow is allowed through the muscle tissue. This increase in blood circulation assists in the body’s natural healing process to repair damaged tissue. If you’ve never had a professional massage before, your may feel some new sensations as your muscle tissue kickstarts its own healing response. Expect some mild stiffness and soreness immediately after your massage, with greater relaxation and tension relief later.
  • Pressure point relief – Certain types of muscle soreness can be pinpointed to a small knot or adhesion within the muscle tissue. You might even feel a hardened section of muscle tissue just beneath the skin. Massage helps to release pressure points where tension builds up to cause knots. In addition, relieving pressure points helps the body break down waste products that build up in the muscle tissue. So, you may feel even better a day or two after your massage than you do immediately afterwards.
  • Myofascial tissue repair – Muscles in the body are wrapped in a thin film called myofascial tissue, which may experience tension unevenly as the muscles contract. Massage helps to relax and repair the myofascial tissue, so the entire muscle can relax.

    The Body’s Relaxation Response

    Essentially, the mechanical response in the body during a massage allows the muscle tissue to become softer and more supple. As the muscle tissue softens, it can better repair itself from damage. In addition, your entire body receives the message that it’s time to slow down and relax.

    Massage stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for its rest and relaxation response. As physical touch stimulates the parasympathetic nerves, your body will naturally slow its heart rate. Subsequently, your breathing will slow down, and your blood pressure will lower. Production of stress hormones like cortisol will drop off as the available levels of feel-good brain chemicals like serotonin spike. You’ll probably leave your massage appointment not only feeling less sore, but also in a better mood.

    Benefits of Regular Muscle Manipulation

    Muscle manipulation through massage does more than cause the muscles to relax. This process has widespread positive effects on the body. For example, regular massage can help align the muscle fibers, so that you have better balance and posture. As a result, you may experience tension and soreness less often. You might even be less prone to injury, since you’ll have a better sense of balance and symmetry throughout your body. In addition, addressing muscle tension can also benefit your organ health. For example, you may notice that menstrual cramps are amplified by lower back pain. By using massage to address the back pain, you may have more tolerable cramps during your menstrual cycle as organ function improves.

    If you want to experience the benefits of massage for yourself, schedule an appointment with Spa Solai. With two beautiful, rejuvenating spa locations in Tucson, we can help you find relief from any type of muscle tension or soreness. Contact Spa Solai on Campbell at (520) 447-7727 ext. 1 or Spa Solai 6th at (520) 447-7727 ext. 3 to schedule your services.