Massage is one of the oldest healing methods, practiced across cultures for thousands of years. But only recently have scientists begun to understand the full effects of massage on the body and mind.
It turns out there is real science behind why massage makes you feel so good!
At a Glance:
- Massage increases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, by stimulating pressure receptors and boosting circulating endorphins
- Massage has been shown to increase serotonin levels by activating mechanical receptors and reducing cortisol levels
- Dopamine release is stimulated through massage due to activation of tactile receptors and increased circulation
- Oxytocin “love hormone” is increased from massage, promoting bonding and enhancing relaxation
When done correctly by an experienced therapist, massage has been shown to increase levels of endorphins, serotonin and dopamine – hormones and neurotransmitters that boost mood, relieve pain and reduce stress and anxiety.
In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn the physiological effects and science behind how massage increases these “feel good” chemicals in the body and brain.
We’ll also provide tips for maximizing the benefits from your next massage session.
How Does Massage Increase Endorphins?
Endorphins are hormones produced naturally by the central nervous system to help deal with pain or stress.
Often called the “body’s natural painkillers“, endorphins interact with opioid receptors in the brain to reduce pain perception and trigger positive feelings.
The most well-known endorphin is beta-endorphin, which has pain-relieving effects up to 30 times more powerful than morphine!
So how does massage increase endorphins?
There are a few key ways:
- Massage techniques activate pressure receptors – Deep tissue massage and other techniques physically stimulate pressure receptors under the skin, sending signals to the brain to release more endorphins.
- Touch signals safety and connection – The human touch of massage communicates safety to the nervous system. This triggers the release of endorphins and activates the parasympathetic “rest and digest” system.
- Massage reduces cortisol – Cortisol is the primary “stress hormone” produced by the adrenal glands. Massage has been shown to decrease cortisol levels. Lower cortisol allows endorphins to have greater effects.
In one study, just a single session of Swedish massage caused a significant increase in endorphins and decrease in cortisol. The more massage sessions participants had, the greater the endorphin boost.
So getting regular massage treatments is key for ongoing gains.
With the right techniques, you can maximize those feel-good endorphins!
Massage Boosts Serotonin Levels in the Body and Brain
Serotonin is a key neurotransmitter for regulating mood, sleep, digestion, learning and more. Low serotonin levels can lead to depression and anxiety.
How does massage help increase serotonin?
- Massage stimulates pressure receptors – Similar to endorphins, the mechanical pressure and massage movements activate receptors that signal the brain to release more serotonin.
- Massage boosts precursor availability – The amino acid tryptophan is required to produce serotonin. Massage helps circulate tryptophan, increasing serotonin synthesis.
- Massage reduces cortisol – High cortisol uses up tryptophan, resulting in lower serotonin. By decreasing cortisol, massage removes this blockade.
Small studies have confirmed that multiple weeks of massage lead to significant increases in serotonin production and reduced symptoms of depression/anxiety.
While not a replacement for psychiatric treatment, it can be an effective part of managing mood disorders, especially when combined with exercise and good sleep habits.
Massage Also Stimulates Dopamine Release
Dopamine is often called the “motivation molecule” or “pleasure chemical” due to its role in reward pathways, motor control, addiction and focus. Low dopamine levels are linked to depression, fatigue and cognitive decline.
How does massage stimulate the release of dopamine?
- Massage activates tactile receptors – The pressure and movement of massage activates neural receptors that signal the brain to increase dopamine production.
- Massage reduces cortisol– Similar to serotonin, high cortisol blocks dopamine synthesis. Massage lowers cortisol, releasing this blockade.
- Massage improves circulation– Increased blood flow from massage brings more dopamine precursors to the brain, increasing synthesis.
The boost in dopamine from massage therapies can help improve mood, energy, motivation and mental clarity – especially when combined with a healthy lifestyle. Consider getting a professional massage when you need an energizing or rejuvenating pick-me-up!
Other Massage Benefits: Oxytocin, Pain Relief and More
In addition to endorphins, serotonin and dopamine, massage also provides benefits by increasing oxytocin and reducing pain/inflammation:
- Increased oxytocin – Often called the “love hormone”, oxytocin promotes bonding, intimacy and trust. Massage boosts oxytocin levels which enhances the relaxing, stress-reducing effects.
- Decreased pain – By reducing muscle tension and increasing endorphins, massage therapies provide natural temporary pain relief without any side effects.
- Lower inflammation – Massage improves circulation and lymphatic drainage, removing inflammatory compounds that contribute to pain, stiffness, swelling and more.
- Enhanced immunity – Moderate pressure massage boosts immune function by increasing white blood cell counts and battling inflammation.
The science is clear – massage benefits the body and mind in myriad ways. While more research is still needed, we know enough to confirm that massage should be part of any self-care routine for reducing stress, anxiety, pain and more.
Key Takeaways: Maximizing the Benefits of Massage
To wrap up, here are some key tips to get the most out of your next massage session:
The scientific evidence continues to build – massage is so much more than a luxurious treat.
By incorporating regular massage into your self-care routine, you can boost mood, achieve pain relief, support whole-body health, and simply feel better in both body and mind.
- NIH study – Effects of massage on pain, mood, relaxation, and sleep in Taiwanese patients with metastatic bone pain
- PubMed review – Neurochemical effects of massage-like stroking on the rat brain
- Cochrane systematic review – Massage for low back pain
- JAMA study – Massage therapy for osteoarthritis of the knee
- NIH analysis – Biological mechanisms behind the health benefits of massage therapy
- BMC Complementary Medicine study – Effects of massage on neurotransmitters and immunity
- American Massage Therapy Association – Overview of massage therapy research
Q: Does massage release endorphins?
A: Yes, massage can release endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters produced by the body that help reduce pain and promote feelings of relaxation and well-being. When you receive a massage, the pressure applied to your muscles and soft tissues can stimulate the release of endorphins, leading to a sense of happiness and stress relief.
Q: What is the science behind endorphins release during massage?
A: The science behind the release of endorphins during a massage is that the pressure applied to your muscles and soft tissues activates the autonomic nervous system. This activation triggers a chain reaction that leads to the release of endorphins. Additionally, massage can also increase blood and lymph flow, which helps to flush out toxins and reduce muscle tension, further promoting the release of endorphins.
Q: How can massage help with stress and anxiety?
A: Massage can help reduce stress and anxiety in several ways. First, the physical touch and manipulation of your muscles during a massage can relax your body and promote the release of “feel-good” hormones like endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine. These neurotransmitters are responsible for creating feelings of happiness and relaxation. Additionally, massage can help lower your heart rate and blood pressure, providing an overall calming effect.
Q: Can massage help with chronic pain?
A: Yes, massage can help with chronic pain. By targeting specific areas of pain and tension, massage therapists can knead and stretch the muscles, improving blood and lymph circulation. This increased circulation helps to reduce inflammation and promote healing, leading to a reduction in chronic pain. Additionally, massage can also help release tight connective tissues and trigger points, providing relief from muscle pain.
Q: What is the role of cortisol in massage therapy?
A: Cortisol is a stress hormone that is released by the body in response to physical or emotional stress. When cortisol levels are elevated, it can lead to feelings of anxiety, increased heart rate, and elevated blood pressure. Massage therapy can help to reduce cortisol levels by promoting relaxation and reducing stress. The physical manipulation of muscles during a massage can also help to release muscle tension, further reducing the release of cortisol.
Q: Is there any scientific evidence supporting the benefits of massage?
A: Yes, there is scientific evidence supporting the benefits of massage. Numerous studies have been conducted that demonstrate the positive effects of massage therapy on various conditions, including stress reduction, pain management, anxiety relief, and improved mood. If you are interested in reading more about the scientific research on massage therapy, you can visit websites like pubmed, where you can find published studies and articles on the subject.
Q: How does massage affect the nervous system?
A: Massage can affect the nervous system in multiple ways. First, the physical manipulation of your muscles and soft tissues activates the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary bodily functions like heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion. This activation can help to stimulate the relaxation response, reducing stress and promoting a sense of calm. Additionally, massage can also stimulate the release of hormones like serotonin and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters that play a role in mood regulation.
Q: What is the “runner’s high” and can massage help produce it?
A: The “runner’s high” is a euphoric feeling that is often experienced after intense exercise. During exercise, endorphins are released in the body, leading to feelings of happiness and well-being. Massage can help produce a similar effect by stimulating the release of endorphins. The pressure applied during a massage can trigger the release of these neurotransmitters, providing a sense of relaxation, happiness, and stress relief.
Q: What is the role of dopamine in massage therapy?
A: Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in motivation, pleasure, and reward. Massage therapy can help increase dopamine levels by stimulating the release of endorphins. When endorphins are released, they can interact with dopamine receptors in the brain, leading to feelings of pleasure and well-being. This can contribute to the overall positive effects of massage, such as improved mood and reduced stress.
Q: Can massage help improve sleep quality?
A: Yes, massage therapy can help improve sleep quality. By promoting relaxation and reducing stress, massage can help calm the mind and body, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. Additionally, massage can also increase the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. Serotonin is converted into melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating sleep-wake cycles. By increasing serotonin levels, massage can help balance sleep patterns and promote a more restful night’s sleep.
Q: How can massage reduce muscle pain?
A: Massage can reduce muscle pain by targeting specific areas of tension and applying pressure to release tight muscles. By manipulating the soft tissues, massage therapists can help increase blood and lymph flow, which helps flush out toxins and reduce inflammation. This improved circulation promotes healing and can provide relief from muscle pain. Additionally, massage can also help relax muscles and release trigger points, further alleviating muscle pain and discomfort.