The endocrine system regulates our bodies by secreting chemicals into our blood. It affects just about every cell, organ, and function of the body, and also has a significant impact on our moods and mental state.
Massage can affect the mix ratio and proportions of some of these chemicals which in turn causes a shift in our state of being. It is helpful to know that the endocrine and nervous systems influence each other by a feedback loop.
The body’s response to the stimulus of touch and pressure on the nervous system are part of how massage can make a difference to the chemical balance of our bodies.
Chemicals Affected by Massage
Below is a quick overview of some of the chemicals affected by massage:
Dopamine is involved in the feeling of pleasure, enthusiasm, inspiration, fine motor movement, and ability to focus.
Massage can increase the available dopamine level in the body.
This chemical helps to reduce irritability, has calming effects, regulates urges and cravings and controls the sleep/wake cycle.
Low serotonin levels are evident in eating disorders, depression, obsessive-compulsive behaviour, and pain disorders.
It appears that massage increases serotonin levels helping to create a balancing effect.
Adrenaline and Noradrenaline
Adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) is what sets off alarm-bells for our fight-or-flight mode, it puts us in a state of alertness and arousal, ready for action! Too much of this chemical or wrong-timing in the release of it can be disruptive to our state of being and damaging to restorative sleep. If levels are too low, however, you can feel sluggish, fatigued and under-aroused.
By stimulating or inhibiting the sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system, massage helps balance the levels. Normally the first 15 minutes of massage will stimulate the nervous system before soothing the body into a parasympathetic (rest and digest) mode. The use of rhythm, long/short strokes and certain techniques can affect the body differently. This is why a shorter massage treatment is better for people who want to walk away feeling more focused and energised. A longer treatment is best for helping the body initiate the parasympathetic rest response and improving sleep.
Endorphins, Endocannabinoids, Enkephalins
Enkephalins, endorphins, and dynorphins are opiates that are naturally generated within the body. They are the body’s own pain-relief, mood-boosters and help support a sense of feeling satisfied.
Endocannabinoids are also naturally generated in the body. This happens ‘on-demand’. They stimulate the same receptors as cannabis. Cacao also triggers the endocannabinoid system and can thereby give you a nice even mood-boost! Endocannabinoids are a complex group of chemicals, which have a regulating effect on things like appetite, blood pressure, mood, and even combating cancer. Increased levels of endocannabinoids are associated with relaxation and pain reduction.
Massage applied at a moderate pressure can also help release endorphins in the body, this can increase euphoria and helps decrease pain naturally. This is an example of “good pain” when pressure is stimulating the release of endorphins. Exercise is another way to release endorphins. Research theorises that it is possible that same stimulus from massage also triggers the endocannabinoids.
Oxytocin is best-known for a sense of bonding and feelings of attachment or, for its role in pregnancy and post-natal functions.
Massage and caring human touch, in general, raise the levels of oxytocin which can explain the feeling of intimacy or connectedness sometimes associated with hands-on treatment.
Cortisol is a stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands when there has been on-going stress without reprieve. This is associated with being in a sympathetic state of the nervous system. When this continues it has a negative effect on health, for example, inhibiting sleep, unnecessary inflammation and low immunity.
Similar to adrenaline, massage can help the body regulate the levels of stress hormone by the effect on the nervous system and so decrease the amount of cortisol in the system.
Finally, the growth hormone is indirectly affected by massage because massage helps encourage restorative sleep and decreases cortisol. Because the growth hormone is most active during sleep this is what helps the process of tissue repair and regeneration.
Good sleep promotes more growth hormone which is necessary for healing!
All of this demonstrates how massage can benefit such a wide variety of conditions or promote a sense of balance and well-being. While massage is not always the answer nor a fix, it has the potential to aid in the road to recovery and just help you feel better and live better.
Written by – Anna Zayas – Remedial Massage Therapist
To book a Remedial Massage at either Burleigh Heads or Broadbeach please call 5535 5218
S. FRITZ, 2013, Mosby’s Fundamentals of Therapeutic Massage, 5th Edition
US National Library of Medicine, NCBI, D. Secko, Analgesia through endogenous cannabinoids, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1188217/, 12th June 2019