Several mechanisms for deep massage’s natural stress-relieving effects include its ability to dilate blood vessels and also lower activity of the limbic system (including the hypothalamus), which is responsible for autonomic nervous system regulation and cortisol secretion. Massage has been shown to improve relaxation by boosting activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, as measured by heart rate, blood pressure and heart rate variability. (8, 9)
Trust and pain. Bear in mind that feeling safe is critical to the experience of good pain. Tiny differences in trust and comfort can make the difference between an intense pain being good or bad. Much of the “goodness” of good pain comes from mental context, from knowing that a pain is not dangerous or pointless, that it will not increase suddenly, or anything else yucky or shocking.
If you are dealing with a serious injury, and don’t have a diagnosis, definitely see a sports doctor. “Massage therapists do not diagnose,” says Denunzio. “It’s not part of our discipline.” And while a therapist can identify and attempt to alleviate any tightness and inflammation in the body, if a problem area doesn’t feel significantly better three days post-massage, you should likely consult a sports doctor then, as well. Once a diagnosis is given, your massage therapist can work with that information and use massage as a helpful tool in recovery.
The second reason it is not that commonly found is that it requires special training. Many American massage therapists are serious students who have traveled to Asia for intensive programs, but others might have to take a weekend workshop. You might want to inquire about their training before you sign up. If you live in a major city, you might be able to get a high quality, no-frills Thai massage for a reasonable price.
“The ritual process brings us renewed balance, empowerment, energy and comfort,” writes Jennifer Louden in her book The Woman’s Comfort Book: A Self-Nurturing Guide for Restoring Balance in Your Life. This gives you a specific time to focus on nurturing yourself and your needs. The key, according to Louden, in creating a daily ritual is repetition. Here’s an example from the book: