How Massage Therapy Works

Written by Julieta Hernandez , Posted in Articles

If you have ever had a massage, you know it feels good. You also most likely experienced relaxation, as well as physical, emotional, and psychological benefits from your massage. Perhaps you are always in such a state of euphoria during and after a massage that you have never thought to wonder how massage therapy works.

Massage therapy works by causing physiological changes in your body, including mechanical responses and the relaxation response. When you receive massage therapy, you experience an involuntary and predictable nervous system response called the relaxation response. As physical pressure is applied during a massage to the soft tissues of your body, you experience the physical effects of the massage, or the mechanical response. As you experience both the relaxation response and the mechanical responses, you receive the physical and emotional benefits of massage therapy.

The Relaxation Response

Your body opens up during a massage and your personal barriers are removed, as you become more trusting in the massage therapist’s technique and touch. This trust is what allows you to relax. The feeling of relaxation, combined with the pain relief received during a massage, creates the relaxation response.

Physical signs of the relaxation response:

  • Slowed heart rate
  • Slowed breathing
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Reduced production of stress hormones
  • Relaxed muscles
  • Increased levels of available serotonin (possible)


Not only does the relaxation response provide immediate benefits, but it can also help prevent the onset of stress related ailments like persistent fatigue, anxiety, hypertension, psychological issues, insomnia, digestive disorders, sexual dysfunction, cardiac arrhythmias, and more.

Mechanical Responses

The two main benefits of the physical muscular manipulation during massage therapy are:

  1. The normalization and relaxation of the body’s soft tissues, connective tissues, and nerves.
  2. The improvement of the circulatory and lymphatic systems.

Improvement in Circulation

Massage therapy can bring improvement to the lymphatic and circulatory systems. When the circulatory system is improved, it improves the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the cells in your muscles. Healthier muscle cells lead to healthier and better performing muscles. Muscles are also able to remove waste products, further improving their health.

Relaxation of Tissue

Muscles get sore and can even experience spasms. Massage therapy relaxes the muscle tissue. Massage also eases nerve compression. During muscular contraction, not only is the muscle contracted and compressed, but also the nerves around the contracted muscle. By relaxing the muscle, the nerves around the muscle are also no longer compressed and are allowed to relax.

Pressure and touch applied to the skin and muscles of the body relaxes muscles and nerves. Even certain deep muscular structures can experience the side benefits of massage therapy. While it is not always possible for a massage therapist to relax and heal tissues situated deeper in the body, deeper tissues oftentimes relax, because the more superficial layers of muscle have relaxed and are no longer contributing to the contraction or compression of the deeper tissues.

Massage therapy works by triggering two responses in the body: the relaxation response and mechanical responses. Through technique, touch, and the manipulation of the muscles of the body, massage therapy is able to provide immediate and long term benefits to its recipients. Plus, it just plain feels good.

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Julieta Hernandez

Julieta is the owner of Matrix Spa & Massage in Salt Lake City, UT. She and her staff pride themselves on providing the best massages in a truly comfortable and relaxed environment.

Massage Therapy FAQ’s

The law always requires that you be appropriately covered with sheets or towels to keep you comfortable and warm. If you start feeling uncomfortable or exposed, speak up. Your therapist will respect your wishes and work with you to make the massage session a comfortable one.
No, only undress as much as you are comfortable with. Some people prefer undressing completely, while others prefer to keep undergarments on. You'll have privacy in your massage room to undress before the session and redress afterwards.
How often you should get a massage depends on your massage therapy goals. Some people get a monthly massage to manage stress or to prevent health problems. Others opt for weekly sessions if they need relief from injuries and chronic tension.
Licensing and certification mean that the massage therapist can legally practice massage in your city or state. To get this license, they must have performed several hours of training at an accredited school, passed the extensive licensure exam, and have paid any relevant licensing fees.
How much depends on how pleased you are with the service and how much the massage costs (the full price, not any discounted fees). One easy trick is to think about how you would tip a waiter after a similarly priced restaurant meal. This is often 15-20% or more if you received exceptional service.
Let your massage therapist know before the session if there are areas on your body that you don't want touched. They will have the training and experience to give you a therapeutic massage while working around ticklish or sensitive places like your feet or abdomen.
Yes, absolutely. You should always speak up if something is uncomfortable. Secondly, keep the lines of communication open during deep tissue massage or sports injury massages. Your therapist needs the feedback to work on you properly and without aggravating an injury.
On the other hand, if you are looking for relaxation, it's often best not to talk unless necessary. This lets your mind as well as your body release tension. With the right mindful breathing technique, you may even achieve a stress relieving meditative state during the massage.
Most likely, unless your doctor says otherwise. Prenatal massage can reduce and relieve common pregnancy issues like lower and upper back pain, sciatic nerve irritation, swelling, tension headaches, heartburn and constipation, and more. Let your massage therapist know that you're pregnant so they can use the right techniques during the session.
If you’re used to Swedish massages, it’s definitely going to feel a little rougher. However, you should always communicate with your massage therapist if the pressure is too much. If you’re tensing up and muscle guarding during a deep tissue massage, the benefits of the massage may be lessened.
It’s important to be realistic about what one deep tissue massage can achieve. Many people want just one session to get rid of all the tension they’ve built up in their body over decades. They ask for more pressure, thinking that if the therapist just pushes hard enough, all their knots will go away after an hour. They won’t. It’s going to take a few sessions for the best results, based on your body and lifestyle, and increasing the pressure a masseuse uses doesn’t necessarily help. Your problems likely amassed over a lifetime of strain, stress and poor posture. If you have chronic problems, it will probably take a combination of massage, exercise and relaxation techniques to stem the problem.

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