Why Does Massage Feel So Good? The Science Behind Soothing Sore Muscles

If you’ve ever gotten a massage, you know just how good it can make your body feel. Those skilled hands pressing on sore muscles seem to melt pain and tension away.

But why exactly does massage feel so amazingly soothing?

The Key Facts:

  • Massage releases endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine to trigger natural pain relief and euphoria – these “feel good” hormones make you feel relaxed, happy and calm.
  • Stress hormones like cortisol are decreased with massage, allowing muscles to relax – lowering high cortisol levels allows tension to melt away.
  • Massage techniques ease sore, stiff muscles by flushing out lactic acid and increasing circulation – reducing muscle soreness and increasing mobility feels soothing.
  • Soothing touch signals safety and caring, inducing relaxation on a physiological level – being nurtured through touch elicits a deeply relaxed state.
  • Enhanced circulation from massage provides fresh oxygen and nutrients while removing inflammatory compounds – improved circulation nourishes the body and enhances energy.

It’s more than just taking a relaxing spa retreat. Massage causes measurable changes in your physiology, brain and biochemistry that come together to create that sweet, sweet relief.

Keep reading to learn why massage feels so good, from activating feel-good hormones to reducing muscle soreness.

Understanding the science behind massage’s effects will help you make the most of your next rubdown!

Massage Releases “Feel Good” Hormones

One of the main reasons massage feels so nice is it stimulates your body to release its own natural pain-relieving and mood-boosting chemicals.

Having more of these feel-good hormones circulating makes you feel relaxed, calm and happy.

Here’s a breakdown of those hormones – that make you go ‘aahhhhh’.

Endorphins - illustration


Have you experienced a “runner’s high” after exercise?

That euphoric feeling comes from endorphins, hormones that act as natural opiates to reduce pain. Massage techniques activate nerve receptors that signal the brain to release more endorphins.

These hormones bind to opiate receptors, blocking pain signals and producing analgesic effects.

In fact you can read more about this in our article does massage release endorphins here.


Sometimes called the “love hormone”, oxytocin promotes bonding, intimacy and trust. Massage boosts oxytocin levels which enhances the relaxing, stress-reducing effects. Oxytocin is also associated with contentment and optimism.


This neurotransmitter regulates mood, sleep, cognition and more.

Massage increases circulation of serotonin precursors to promote synthesis. More serotonin equals a better mood!


Dopamine is involved in the brain’s pleasure and reward pathways.

Massage has been shown to increase dopamine levels, making you feel rejuvenated and mentally focused after a session.

Massage Reduces Stress Hormones

In contrast to the feel-good chemicals massage produces, it decreases hormones that make you feel lousy. Namely, massage reduces cortisol and adrenaline – the main stress hormones.

stress and anxiety

Cortisol and adrenaline are part of your body’s “fight or flight” response. Chronic stress keeps these hormones elevated, making it harder to relax.

By lowering cortisol/adrenaline and triggering a parasympathetic “rest and digest” response, massage helps melt accumulated tension away.

Massage Eases Sore Muscles

Ever pressed on an aching muscle and felt instant relief? Massage works similarly by applying pressure to sore areas and triggering a cascade of reactions:

  • Massage movements physically break up lactic acid buildup and muscle adhesions that cause pain.
  • Increased blood flow flushes out inflammatory compounds, while delivering fresh oxygen and nutrients to aid muscle recovery.
  • Massaging sore muscles helps release endorphins which block pain signals to the brain.
  • Kneading and compression stretches stiff muscle fibres and connective tissue to improve flexibility and range of motion.

All of these mechanical and biochemical effects team up to ease muscle soreness and related discomfort.

Massage Stimulates Circulation

Enhanced circulation provides many of massage’s benefits.

Massage techniques like stroking, compression, vibration and tapping physically pump blood and lymph fluid throughout the body.

Better circulation nourishes tissues with oxygen and nutrients, removes waste, and distributes those feel-good hormones we discussed earlier. Plus, improved blood flow to the brain can lift mental fog.

Massage Induces a Relaxed State

Between releasing endorphins and oxytocin while reducing cortisol, massage elicits a deep state of relaxation throughout the mind and body.

Zen massage - photo of woman meditating

Soothing touch sends signals that you are safe, allowing muscles to unravel and your sympathetic nervous system activity to decrease. Being immersed in this parasympathetic “rest and digest” state just feels wonderful.

Massage Enhances Immune Function

From reducing inflammation-causing cortisol to boosting circulation, massage improves your immune response. More white blood cells are produced and distributed to keep you healthy.

Immune system - illustration

Human touch also communicates safety to your body on a primal level, further reducing stress reactions that suppress immunity.

The Soothing Power of Human Touch

Speaking of touch, the very act of skin-to-skin contact during massage activates brain pathways associated with emotional bonding and social connection.

Being touched in caring ways signals safety, trust and empathy (seriously!). 

Having a massage therapist nurture your body with their healing hands feels comforting on a deep physiological level.

Key Takeaways on Why Massage Feels So Good

  • Massage releases endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine to produce natural pain relief and feelings of euphoria
  • Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are decreased with massage, allowing your body to deeply relax
  • Massage techniques ease sore, stiff muscles by flushing out lactic acid, increasing circulation and releasing endorphins
  • Enhanced circulation provides fresh oxygen and nutrients while removing inflammatory compounds
  • Massage elicits a parasympathetic “rest and digest” state through soothing touch and feel-good chemicals
  • Human touch signals safety and social bonding, part of massage’s soothing effects
  • A massage that makes you sigh in relief is the result of measurable changes in your nerves, tissues, hormones and brain activity. Understanding this science lets you enhance the experience!

The next time you’re sore and stressed, consider booking a massage.

Your body intuitively craves the myriad benefits. Trust those feelings and let healing touch transport you to a blissful state of relaxation.


Q: Why does massage feel so good?

A: Massage feels good because it helps to release feel-good chemicals in our bodies. When we get a massage, our muscles are being manipulated, pressed, and stretched, which can help to relieve muscle tension and stress. This manipulation of the muscle fibers also helps to increase blood and lymphatic flow, which can promote healing and relaxation.

Q: How does massage therapy work?

A: Massage therapy works by manipulating the soft tissues of the body, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Different techniques, such as deep tissue massage or Swedish massage, are used to target specific areas of the body and provide different benefits. By applying pressure and kneading the muscles, massage can help to relieve muscle soreness, tension, and stress.

Q: Why do sore muscles feel good during a massage?

A: Sore muscles often feel good during a massage because the pressure applied to them can help to release muscle tension and promote relaxation. When the muscles are manipulated, it stimulates the nerve receptors in the area, which can block pain signals and provide a pleasurable sensation.

Q: What causes muscle soreness after a massage?

A: Muscle soreness after a massage can be caused by several factors. The pressure applied during the massage can cause micro-tears in the muscle fibers, which can lead to post-massage soreness. Additionally, the manipulation of the muscles can also release stored lactic acid and other waste products, which may contribute to muscle soreness.

Q: How long does the feel-good effect of a massage last?

A: The duration of the feel-good effect after a massage can vary depending on the individual and the type of massage received. Some people may experience immediate relaxation and feelings of well-being that can last for several hours. Others may find that the effects gradually wear off over the course of a day or two.

Q: Why does massaging sore muscles make us feel so good?

A: Massaging sore muscles can make us feel good because it stimulates the release of feel-good chemicals in our bodies, such as endorphins. These chemicals can help to reduce pain and promote a sense of well-being and relaxation.

Q: What is happening inside our body when we get a massage?

A: When we get a massage, several things are happening inside our body. The pressure applied to the muscles stimulates the nerve receptors in the area, which can block pain signals and promote a pleasurable sensation. Additionally, the manipulation of the muscles can increase blood and lymphatic flow, which can promote healing and relaxation. The release of feel-good chemicals, such as endorphins, can also contribute to the overall good feeling we experience during and after a massage.

Q: How is massage therapy used for muscle recovery?

A: Massage therapy is often used for muscle recovery because it can help to relieve muscle soreness, reduce inflammation, and promote healing. The manipulation of the muscles during a massage can help to break up scar tissue and adhesions, improve blood flow to the area, and reduce muscle tension and stiffness. This can speed up the recovery process and help the muscles to heal more quickly.

Q: How does massage therapy affect the brain?

A: Massage therapy can have several effects on the brain. The manipulation of the muscles and the release of feel-good chemicals, such as endorphins, can promote a sense of relaxation and well-being. Massage can also help to reduce the production of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can have positive effects on mood and overall mental health. Additionally, certain types of massage, such as aromatherapy massage, can stimulate the olfactory senses and have a direct impact on the brain.

Q: Is self-massage as effective as getting a professional massage?

A: While self-massage can provide some relief for muscle soreness and tension, it may not be as effective as getting a professional massage. Professional massage therapists are trained in various techniques and have a deep understanding of the body and its muscles. They can provide targeted and specific treatments that may be more effective in addressing specific issues. However, self-massage can still be beneficial for minor muscle aches and relaxation.