“Why does a massage feel so good?”
My clients ask me this all the time as they walk out of my office after their massage sessions. The easiest answer would be, “It just does.” But perhaps that’s a dissatisfying answer. The science behind why massage feels so darn good is quite interesting and scientifically proven, as well.
A Rush of Feel-Good Chemicals
A lot happens in your body and in your brain when you get a massage. For one thing, massage has been proven to release a rush of dopamine and serotonin in the brain while decreasing the stress hormone cortisol, leading to overall relaxation. Massage also stimulates pressure receptors, which enhance vagal activity.
The vagus nerve is one of the 12 cranial nerves in the brain. This nerve is responsible for certain tasks within your body, particularly your heart rate. When activated during massage, your heart rate slows, which lowers blood pressure and decreases stress hormones. According to Tiffany Field, Ph.D., in the article Massage and Addiction: “You will sleep better, be less anxious. It’s a whole chemical reaction that is happening.”
Another reason why massage feels so good is because the neurons in your brain respond in different ways to the stimuli of touch—something researchers are just beginning to understand. For example, researchers have found that gentle massage and deep tissue massage have the same effectiveness on back pain. How can that be? It’s hard to know at this point, but we do know one thing—chemically speaking, there’s a lot happening inside your body when you receive a massage.
The Real Reason Massage Feels So Good
Now that you have some idea of the inner scientific workings of massage, maybe we should be content to think that massage feels so good simply because it does. As someone who uses touch to bring relief and relaxation to others, I can speak firsthand of the transformative nature of touch and its impact on a person’s health and well-being. As I discussed in the article, Why You Need More Touch in Your Life, touch is a requirement for proper human development when we are infants…and we never stop needing it as we grow older, even if we won’t admit it out loud. All the scientific facts regarding chemicals and hormones and nerve stimulation do little to fully articulate how utterly at peace you can feel during and after a massage.
I believe this is because touch helps communicate what words simply can’t sometimes. It allows you to get in touch with thoughts and emotions you may not even realize you’ve been carrying around, much less be able to speak aloud to someone. It’s not uncommon for someone to start crying while on the massage table—which means the body needs an emotional release in order to let go of some stored up stress or tension.
Science can explain to some degree why massage feels so good. But I truly believe it’s doing something good for the soul, as well…something you may have never realized your body needed in the first place.