We all love massage, but how does it actually work?

There are myriad massage techniques, as well as ways to receive it. Sometimes the massage therapist’s touch will be deep; other times, light. You may keep your clothes on and sit in a chair, or lay unclothed on a table underneath a sheet. The massage could last for a few minutes or an hour. Occasionally it’ll be a full body massage; other times the massage therapist will focus on an isolated muscle group.

However, all massages boil down to the same thing: the therapeutic manipulation of the body’s soft tissues using a series of pressured movements. A massage therapist uses his or her hands, elbows, fingers, knees or forearms to administer touches ranging from light strokes to deep kneading motions. Occasionally, therapists will also use a massage device.

Most people agree massage feels good. But does science support the notion that it’s good for you?

“We do not yet have a complete understanding of what happens physiologically during massage or why it works,” Cambron says. But a recent study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine suggests massage reduces the body’s production of cytokines – proteins that contribute to inflammation. Massage therapy was also shown to stimulate mitochondria, the energy-producing units in cells that aid in cell function and repair.

Plus, massage is thought to reduce cortisol levels and regulate the body’s sympathetic nervous system – both of which go haywire when you’re stressed, says Lisa Corbin, an associate professor at University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Division of General Internal Medicine.


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