Mmm … having a massage feels good. Perhaps you overdid it at the gym, or you were sitting too long through a tough project at work. Whatever the cause of stiffness or discomfort, therapeutic massage is often just the ticket to get your musculoskeletal system back to normal, freeing you from a variety of aches and pains.
Now that the hectic holiday season is out of the way (except for perhaps the bills), and the rest of the long winter is stretching before you, it may be time to turn your thoughts of health care maintenance toward your immune system. And that includes getting regular therapeutic massages.
Your immune system’s response is often tied to stress, which causes chemical changes in your body. Perhaps the release of cortisol is the most significant, since it suppresses your immune system’s function. Your endocrine system gets redirected by your brain away from maintenance healing, preparing the body to run or fight or whatever else is necessary to face your stressors. Chronic stress can leave you in a constant state of emergency preparedness.
White cell counts go down as do natural killer cells, which are white blood cells that kill cancerous mutations in your body. Cortisol reduces inflammation, a common part of maintenance healing. While you’re instinctively ready for the fight-or-flight response of a stressful situation, you’re now vulnerable to viruses and bacteria that would otherwise be held in check.
Even a tough massage that attacks achy trigger points in your body leaves you with a feeling of well-being. There’s usually a sense of relaxation, even if it’s only partial, and anxieties often seem less intense. Tension often evaporates. If you think all these effects seem like a prescription designed to kill the effects of stress, you’re right.
Massage releases endorphins, the feel-good neurotransmitters, as well as serotonin and dopamine, which help maintain your mood while helping with good sleep patterns and proper digestive system function. Cortisol, on the other hand, drops significantly, because if there’s an opposite to a stress situation, it just might be massage. Cortisol has its place, but as a chronic presence in your body it does more harm than good.
Until recently, there hasn’t been substantive research documenting the effects of massage on the human immune system, though both patients and practitioners have seen the effects for ages. White blood cells suppressed by cortisol see a dramatic change after massage. A hormone suspected of contributing to aggressive behavior has a sudden decrease too.
Combined with reductions in cortisol, your entire immune system gets a boost. It’s documented that massage can improve immune function in some HIV positive patients and women with stage 1 and stage 2 breast cancer.
Here at Reid Physicians Group, we wholeheartedly endorse the benefits of massage for stress relief and healthy immune system response as part of our integrative medicine services. Dr. Reid sees massage as part of a complete wellness plan for her patients.
Call the office today, or request an appointment using the online booking tool on the website to start enjoying the extended health benefits offered by massage. A long winter seems much shorter without a cold or bout with flu.