The Effects of Massage on the Muscular System

Massage therapy is a manual treatment where a therapist presses, rubs and manipulates the muscles and other soft tissues. Therapists generally use their hands and fingers, but there are several tools that may be used as part of a massage therapy treatment. According to The National Center of Complementary And Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), massage therapy has been used for thousands of years and a 2007 study showed that approximately 18 million Americans receive massage therapy. The NCCAM also reports that massage therapy appears to have very few risks if delivered by a trained professional and has many benefits.

A woman getting a massage. (Image: ValuaVitaly/iStock/Getty Images)

Decrease Tension

The deep kneading strokes of massage therapy can help decrease tension that builds up within muscles and muscle coverings, called fascia. According to Unitedmassagetherapist.com, a transverse massage, one that moves across the grain of the muscle, helps separate muscle fibers and breakup adhesions that may be forming in the muscle belly. Muscle adhesions are responsible for decreased range of motion and improper function. Muscles that are subject to the added stress of poor posture or injury tend to shorten and tighten, adding tension to nearby joints. Massage therapy can reduce tension and help lengthen muscles, relieving the added stress.

Increased Blood Flow

When a muscle has become injured, increased blood flow to the area helps speed healing. Massage therapy dilates or opens blood vessels, restoring the flow of fluid, oxygen and other nutrients to the injured area. Massage accomplishes this without increasing metabolic waste products that would normally occur with muscle contraction. In many cases of injury, massage therapy can decrease the amount of time it takes for a muscle to properly heal.

Increased Range of Motion

In any injury and with chronic poor posture, range of motion can be decreased due to muscles that are short and tight or have built adhesions within them. The body's normal response to an injury is to try and lay down scar tissue in order to stabilize the area. This scar tissue will later cause decreased range of motion and other painful issues. Massage therapy breaks adhesions and lengthens muscles, thereby helping to restore proper range of motion. The full and fluid range of motion is necessary to maintain joint health.

Decreased Pain

Massage therapy has the ability to help decrease pain in many conditions, including low back pain, according to Massagetherapy.com. It accomplishes this in several ways. One way massage therapy helps is by blocking pain signals that originate within the musculoskeletal system from reaching the brain. Massage also helps move metabolic waste products, such as lactic and carbonic acid out of the muscle. These products generally build up within muscles after muscle activity and are responsible for the cramping and discomfort felt after stressful activity.

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