Pressure, properly applied, has profound effects. Our cells are cleaned, realigned and recharged with actual electricity. Massage, similar to rubbing a balloon on hair, generates electricity at the cellular level by increasing the electrical charge of the fluid that bathes the body’s cells, giving us more energy and causing a chain of electrochemical reactions.
One chemical process triggered is the release of “happy hormones” into our bloodstream. Among these are endorphins, the body’s natural morphine. Endorphins relieve pain and create a sense of euphoria. Seratonin, of which 90% is located in our intestines and critical for its proper function, elevates mood, regulates appetite and improves sleep. Dopamine improves concentration and muscular performance. Massage literally changes brain chemistry.
Massage also realigns and adjusts the fiber lengths of our muscles and nerves, allowing them to move and glide easily past each other. Knots, trigger points and scar tissue restrict movement while tight muscles pull on our bones which are thickly covered with pain sensors. Nerves can get compressed or impinged by tight or growing muscles. All cause stiffness and tension. Targeted massage removes knots and scar tissue, frees entrapped nerves and restores normal muscle lengths, increasing joint range and ease of motion in as little as one session.
The body was designed to move. The effects of sitting or standing 6-8 hours a day wreaks havoc on postural muscles, causing imbalances in body mechanics, making good posture impossible. A good orthopedic massage therapist knows how to lengthen shortened muscles and helps you strengthen the weak ones to relieve pain and restore balance.
Other benefits not immediately felt
Massage greatly improves recovery time from injury by increasing collagen production. Collagen, the body’s repair material, forms the structure of all cells and is the primary ingredient of tendons, ligaments, cartilage & bone. Massage near a new injury, and eventually at it, ensures plentiful collagen supply for repair, assists in reduction of inflammation by moving waste into the lymphatic system for disposal and properly aligns the new cell fibers for maximum function. Look for an orthopedic massage therapist who is comfortable with this work.
Experts estimate 80 to 90 percent of illness is stress-related. Massage reduces elevated cortisol levels, a hormone indicating stress. Elevated cortisol levels depress the immune system by inhibiting the production of natural killer cells that destroy unwanted bacteria and viruses. In one study, ten thirty-minute massages given to depressed, stressed mothers over a five week period, reduced cortisol levels by 31%. Their fatigue was reduced and they had more energy available to handle stressful situations.
Studies show massage not only increases natural killer cells, but reduces high blood pressure, increases circulation, decreases glucose levels in diabetics and improves breathing for asthma patients. Experiments suggest massage improves quality and quantity of DNA and RNA reproduction.
Similar to defragging our computers, massage cleans, organizes and improves efficiency of all cells and systems. Maybe most importantly, massage integrates body and mind by producing a meditative or heightened state of awareness. Most of us live an “out of body” existence and massage is a great way to return to our bodies and enjoy time in them.
Tips for Maximizing Muscle Performance
Muscle fibers lock, forming knots or bands, when they run out of water, oxygen or fuel (ATP if you remember science class). To prevent injury and get the most from your muscles, consider the following:
- Warm-Up at least 8-12 minutes – eighty-five percent of blood supply is in the body’s core during rest. Depriving muscles of adequate access to their needs can result in immediate or delayed locking of fibers. Accumulations of these locked muscle fibers predisposes one to injury.
- Stretch After Activity – experts now advise stretching to be most effective when muscles are warm.
- Hydrate Often - before, during and after activity is ideal. The rule of eight 8-oz cups of water only was started by a corporation that began bottling water. Most experts accept water in all forms but keep in mind that caffeine’s effect is dehydrating, counteracting the water’s benefit.
- Eat Vegetables – their minerals are essential for the contraction action of muscles. Veggies also contain hundreds of phytonutrients that optimize performance at the cell level.
- Get Sleep/Naps – muscle repair is at its peak when we rest. Fatigue increases likelihood of injuries and decreases motivation to care for ourselves. Growth hormone which is critical for injury recovery is released during stage 3 sleep of sleep. Getting the proper amount of sleep is important for injury recovery. Stage 3 of sleep generally occurs between hours 4-6.
- Move Daily – immobilization can be as debilitating as an injury in that new cells will lay down randomly forming adhesions that become scar tissue. Regular movement is needed to align fibers, maintain full range of motion, and prevent stiffness.
- Massage – when movement isn’t enough to keep or regain range of motion, consider massage techniques to reduce inflammation and or remove adhesions and scar tissue.