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Massage Therapy for Stress Management

Jan 28, 2014 AT 11:56 AM

Massage Therapy for Stress Management

by Boris Prilutsky

In order to understand why massage is so efficient in reducing side effects of stress, the mechanism of development of these side effects should be well understood. Imagine being confronted by a large angry dog. The human body responses to this shocking stress with the “fight or flight” reflex, expressed by a sharp increase in breathing rate, heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormone production. Such reflect is common to all mammals. In a situation of confrontation with the adversary mind is pumping blood to the extremities preparing the animal to either chase the prey, defend the kill, fighting for their life or running away.

In our daily life stress-causing factors are usually much different than that of the dog attack.  It could be small things like the news headlines of tragedies and disasters, job or business related stress, personal problems or responsibilities,  intellectual  pressure of studies or exams, etc.  So the stress causing factors could be different, but the mechanism is the same as it was when our remote ancestors had to make a split second decision of clubbing the cave bear or running away.  The stress causing factors impinge on our health little by little, but year after year their effect causes increasing imbalance of sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, resulting in high blood pressure, clinical depression, anxiety, diabetes, heart attack, etc. Stress management massage is the most powerful method in balancing the activities of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and therefore it is so effective in managing side-effects of stress.


Stress and Cardiovascular Abnormalities 

Arteries are equipped with smooth muscles and nerves to contract as well as dilate. Stress factors cause elevated activities of the sympathetic nervous system, which result in vasoconstriction (constriction of blood vessels). Constricted vessels cause an increase in blood pressure and significant amplification of peripheral vascular resistance, which is the main obstacle in a way of proper cardiac work. Under stressful conditions the heart must not only perform its non-stop function of pumping blood to all body systems, but it must also work extra hard to overcome the added peripheral vascular resistance.

With time this overload of cardiac work leads to heart attack and other heart diseases related to exhaustion of the cardiac muscle. Also, elevated level of cardiac work demands a greater amount of arterial blood supply, which is unavailable in the presence of vasoconstriction. The constant vasoconstriction and high blood pressure accelerates the development of arteriosclerosis. In turn, arteriosclerosis can be the main cause for heart diseases, kidney diseases, and strokes.

Stress and clinical depression

Additional stress related phenomenon that supports all negative reactions of our body to stress is an increased production of stress hormones. Constantly being overstressed, the central nervous system is excited sometimes to a point when it cannot take anymore. At this point, as an act of defense, the centers cause a reduction of the amount and activities of serotonin within the brain. One of the twelve neurotransmitters, serotonin is largely responsible for our waking state. Reduction of the quantities and activities of serotonin in the brain is clinically expressed as depression.


Stress and diabetes type 2(insulin receptor resistance) 

The constant increase of stress hormones is causing higher receptors resistance to insulin. Recapping the case of confronting an aggressive dog, a person needs an extra sugar level in blood to support the "fight or flight" action. In the daily stressful routine, many of non overweight people are developing diabetes. 

Physiological effect of massage on the human body

From the very first treatment, the positive changes occurring in the functions of organs and systems include reduction of the factors that constantly bombard/excite the central nervous system.


The two factors define the physiological effect of massage on humans.

  1. Local, mechanical factor - expressed by mechanical acceleration of venous blood drainage, some degree of lymph drainage acceleration, passive exercise for soft tissues, breaking down deposits of calcium in soft tissues and stimulation of its removal from the body.
  2. Reflex factor - there is no doubt that the main power of massage therapy is its reflexive therapy. By mobilizing skin, connective and muscular tissue, we deform the proprioreceptors, which in turn creates action potentials (electrical activities in the form of afferent impulses) that through neurological pathways stimulate motor and vasomotor centers. As a reflex to a series of massage procedures (reflex is involuntary reaction of organs and systems to original stimuli by massage) the body responds by muscular relaxation, vasodilation (muscular relaxation of blood vessels) and depression of stress hormone production.  In turn the reduction of stress hormones production significantly reduces receptor insulin resistance and allows insulin to control blood glucose level.  With time multiple positive changes in all body organs and systems caused by massage restore the serotonin level and the depressed condition improves.

Thus massage therapy tremendously helps in breaks the vicious cycle leading otherwise to the developments of illnesses related to stress.

For more information about Boris Prilutsky, check out his website and his youtube channel.

Judi Calvert, president of the Hands On Trade Association, with Boris Prilutsky at the World Massage Festival in 2013.


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