Healing Touch

Find out how massage therapy can lead to significant health benefits
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We often think of massage as an occasional indulgence—a way to “treat” ourselves after a particularly stressful week or month. But that time spent on personal pampering is also doing the body good: Scientific evidence points to tangible health benefits resulting from regular massage, including better digestion, better circulation, faster healing times and relief from pain. In fact, some hospitals have begun offering therapeutic massage therapy. Here, experts answer some common questions relating to stress and massage:

What effect does stress have on the body?

When we are feeling stressed, the body activates its sympathetic nervous system, explains Patty DiZenzo, a certified massage therapist at the Active Center for Health & Wellness in Hackensack. The body prepares itself to either battle a threat or flee for safety by releasing special hormones, including cortisol and norepinephrine. “When the body believes it’s in danger, our hearts work harder, respiration is quickened, our muscles are tight, we no longer can digest our food, our immune system is slowed down and we have no bodily reserves,” DiZenzo adds. If we were actually fighting or fleeing, this reaction would be beneficial, as we’d be using this excess energy for self-protective action. “Since we’re not, it actually has an adverse effect,” says DiZenzo.

What are “toxins”?

When the body is healthy and relaxed, it’s able to purge itself of hormones naturally through the bloodstream once it realizes that the threat has subsided. But when stress is continual, the muscles stay taut, which prevents fresh blood from flowing into them and pushing out the old blood. The hormones are then stored in the fat cells, where they become toxins. Also, when we become tired from stress, exercise or lack of sleep, the body creates another toxin— lactic acid. “Lactic acid is a waste product of our muscles, like exhaust in a car,” explains John Marco, founder and COO of Hand and Stone Massage and Facial Spa, a national company headquartered in Hamilton with a location in Emerson. When the body is consistently producing lactic acid without releasing it, it creates a buildup, which leads to an achy feeling.

How can massage help?

“Massage detoxifies the body,” says DiZenzo. “It flushes lactic acid and metabolic waste out of the system by wringing out the muscles so that rich, oxygenated blood can get in.” Your therapist will likely advise you to drink water after your massage. This is because when those toxins are released, they enter the bloodstream and need to pass through the liver and the kidneys to leave the body.

Massage also activates the parasympathetic nervous system—the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system—which lets the body “rest and digest.” “When this occurs, we begin to release endorphins, the ‘feel good,’ pain-relieving natural opiates,” says DiZenzo. “Basically, you’ve just told your body, ‘All is well, I’m safe and life is good.’ It communicates back with a positive biological process: slowing your heart rate, expanding your breath, relaxing your muscles, increasing your appetite and rebuilding its reserves.” Now relaxed, the body allows itself to heal and recharge, resulting in that tranquil, blissful state we experience after a relaxing massage.

“When we connect massage to healthy lifestyle, it’s a proven modality backed by hospitals,” says Marco. “We wish we could put the entire country on a once-a-month massage program.” And with Valentine’s Day specials in many salons, now is the perfect time to start.


Related Read: The Ultimate Bergen County Spa Guide

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