All the body’s cells need a good supply of blood, which contains all the substances required for their nutrition, repair and growth. The cells also need to dispose of waste products and other harmful toxins which are brought about by the generation of energy, and debris caused by tissue damage or inflammation. This is the job of the circulatory system, and massage can have a positive influence on it.
The arterial circulation
The arterial circulation carries oxygenated blood from the heart around the body to the tissues. The vessels leading away from the heart are arteries. They extend and divide within the deeper tissues to form smaller, thinner walled vessels called arterioles. Arterioles further branch and divide and form narrow, thin-walled capillaries. Arterioles permeate deep throughout the body and surround the organs and tissues and are the site of exchange for gases, wastes and nutrients that allow the body’s tissues to function properly.
The blood carried by the arterial capillaries is oxygen-rich and contains nutrients, minerals and hormones which are delivered to the target tissues and organs.
The venous circulation
The venous circulation is responsible for delivering the body’s waste products and toxins to organs such as the liver and kidneys, before returning deoxygenated blood back to the heart.
The capillaries of the arterial circulation eventually lead on to venous capillaries into which the waste products of cellular metabolism (i.e. carbon dioxide) are diffused. As they leave the deeper tissues, the venous capillaries combine to form progressively larger and thicker-walled vessels called venules. In turn, the venules branch into larger vessels to become veins, which eventually carry deoxygenated blood to the heart.
Massage mimics skeletal movement, enhancing venous return
Whereas oxygen-rich blood is transported at high pressure around the body via the arterial circulation courtesy of the pumping heart, the venous circulation relies on other methods of pushing harmful toxins through the body to the organs that are responsible for excreting them. One of these methods is via skeletal movement – and this is where massage can be affective. By mimicking skeletal movement via massage strokes, the enhanced transport of toxic venous blood can be achieved.
Promotes improved blood circulation
As well as the enhanced transport of waste materials from the cells, the improved blood circulation that massage promotes also increases the flow of oxygen, hormones and nutrients to cells, tissues and organs.
The increased and more efficient circulation of blood to tissues and organs can help to relieve muscular and joint pain, and also has a beneficial effect on muscle recovery and growth, as well as promoting the natural healing process.
Massage results in an increase in the number of red and white blood cells, which enables more oxygen to be carried around the body (via haemoglobin on red blood cells) and helps to improve the body’s defence mechanisms (via the action of white bloods cells, or leukocytes) (McGill, S., 2008/9).
Helps to lower blood pressure
Massage also has a positive effect on blood pressure, by helping to lower it. This is achieved in two ways:
- the heart rate is slowed due to the body being in a more relaxed state, and as a consequence, the blood pressure is lowered.
- tight muscles do not allow blood to flow through them easily, which leads to an increase in pressure. However, more relaxed muscles, brought about by massage will allow blood to flow more freely, therefore reducing blood pressure.
It has also been suggested that massage improves the surface circulation which lessens the heart’s workload and stimulates blood flow throughout the deeper veins and arteries (Hingle, L., 2011).
- Health Reviser, 2010. The Physical and Mental Benefits of Massage. Available at: http://www.healthreviser.com/content/physical-and-mental-benefits-massage.
- Hingle, L., 2011. Physiological Benefits of Massage. Available at: http://www.livestrong.com/article/34829-physiological-benefits-massage/
- McGill, S., 2008/9. The Effects of Massage, SR134, Sports Massage, St Mary’s University College, unpublished.
- Natural Therapy Pages, 2013. How Your Body Benefits From Massage. Available at: http://www.naturaltherapypages.co.uk/article/massage_benefits.
- Robertson, J., 2010. The Complete Dog Massage Manual. Dorset: Veloce Publishing Ltd.