A bit more technical:
“Under which mechanisms does massage relieve stress?”
S. Cochran-Fritz (1993) states that massage has a mechanical, neural, chemical and psychological impact to the body.
To support this theory, E. Lerderman (1998) reveals the existence of two different underlying mechanisms : the somatovisceral pathway and the psychosomatic pathway.
As part of the somatovisceral effect, it is the reflex arc at a given spinal segment that is solicited when continuous and intermittent manual pressures on tendons are shown to decrease motor-neurone excitability. Eyal Lederman also builds a cross-referenced table (1998, p96) listing all massage techniques and their impact on the motor neurone excitability. As a result, all the following techniques : massage, effleurage, passive muscle stretching, manual tapping of muscle belly inhibit the motor neurones but their action does not seem to last.
On an other hand, as part of the psychosomatic response the central nervous system elaborates as well a response in the limbic system (E. Lederman, 1998, p183). This system is where the muscular and visceral ‘meets the emotional’ or where ‘emotion meets the soma’.
In recent studies, the stroke of the back of animals has been demonstrated to stimulate the hypothalamic part of the limbic system, resulting in a modification of the autonomic, neuroendocrine and motor systems.
The output is an altered cortical activity, diminished gamma discharges and muscle relaxation.
This fact is also set in evidence for infants born without cerebral hemispheres, who stop crying under massage, proof that the limbic system does not need the help of the cerebral cortex to respond to a manual stimulus.
More specifically, the control of the autonomic pathway by the limbic system induces after a massage, a drop in heart beat and blood pressure even in the case of comatose patients.
And at the same time, the limbic system also controls the neuroendocrine pathway which is responsible for more long term effects, observed in animal brain, liver, heart, kidney, lung and spleen (S. Shanberg et al, 1984).
For instance, B. Harris & R. Lewis (1994) notice that as part of the endocrine response, Plasma b endorphin level increase, which reduces pain and promote an enhanced mood.
R. Sands (1996) also points out that massage might in certain condition help relieving deep traumas located mainly in the viscera, and this event would also increase the arousal.
After finding that massage does not only impact the nervous system locally, but also the limbic system (e.g. vascular, endocrine and mood effects), the next question that comes to mind is : “Have the effects of massage on stress level been quantified”
All articles in Bibliography describe similar experiences where a group of subjects is given a standard massage and physiological data are recorded before and after the event.
Steven H. Cady and Gwen E.Jones (1997) mention that numerous studies performed on massage reported a significant decrease in blood pressure, and their study for a 15 mn onsite massage draws the same conclusion with a “non significant moderating effect for age, sex and number of children living at home”. The blood pressure seems then sufficient to be monitored on its own.
Besides the heart rate and blood pressure, B. Harris and R. Lewis (1994) distinguish 2 types of indicators, the physiological and the psychological ones.
Listed physiological indicators are serum b endorphin levels (linked with pain relief and with feelings of euphoria), plasma and salivary cortisol levels (an indicator of adrenal cortex activity in response to stress), and electromyography (measurement of muscle electrical activity and galvanic skin response).
The psychological indicators are extracted of visual Analogue Scales or state-anxiety indicators.
M. Norton et al. (1997) in a self relaxation experiment, divide the relaxation measurements in the same 2 categories but with different content:
(a) physiological : muscle activity, skin conductance, heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate
(b) psychological : Stress Arousal Checklist (SACL), 2 dimensional questionnaire measuring anger and anxiety levels + a visual analog scale (VAS) .
She also uses a pre-defined Behavioural Rating Scale (BRS) created by R. Poppen (1988), and her research proved this scale efficient for measuring relaxation.
Agnew P. (1996), ‘Release that tension’, Here’s health, 5, p40-43
Burton G. (1996), ‘On-site massage: a technique to combat stress’, Connections, 28, p19-20
Cady, SH & Jones, GE (1997), ‘Massage therapy as a workplace intervention for reduction of stress,Perceptual and Motor Skills, 84(1), p157-158
Cassar M., (1999), ‘Psychogenesis and massage’, International Journal of Alternative Complementary Medecine ,17 (6), p26-29
Cochran-Fritz, S, (1993), ‘Physiological effects of therapeutic massage on the nervous system’, International Journal of Alternative Complementary Medecine, 11(9), p21-25
Evans C., (1995), ‘Touch and stress’,Bagshot, England, JACM Bookclub, L8
Fielder D. & Farquharson M. (1996), ‘Relaxation at your fingertips’,Here’s health, 9 Suppl, p12-13
Harris, B & Lewis, R (1994), ‘The use of massage and touch in stress management’, International Journal of Alternative Complementary Medecine, 12 (5), p12
Sands R., (1996), ‘Stress and biodynamic massage’, International Journal of Alternative Complementary Medecine, 14(8), p24-26
Bibliography : books
Ganong, W.F. (1998), ‘Review of medical physiology’, 17th edition, San Francisco: Appleton and Lange
Grove B.(1997) ‘The practise of nursing Research, conduct, critique & utilization’, 3rd edition, Texas: W. B. Sauders Company
Lederman E., (1997), ‘Fundamentals of Manual therapy’, 1rst Edition, London, Churchill Livingstone
Noback R.&Demarest R. J.(1981) ‘The human nervous system, basic principles of neurobiology’, third edition, Mc Graw-Hill International Book Company
Poppen R.(1988),’Behavioural relaxation training and assessement’, Elmsford, NY: Pergamon Press