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Stress and the Benefits of Massage

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Stress is just part of living. Some stress is good. This type of stress is called “eustress” and results in things like motivation, feelings of excitement and improving performance. The other, more common type of stress is “distress” which can initially cause the same response but over time plays havoc on our bodies. (To learn more about this type of stress read, The Effects of Stress.)

In this prolonged situation of distress, we tend to hold our bodies in a tight or contracted state. Our breath shortens and our muscles start to ‘hold’ onto that tightness. Often we carry our stress in certain parts of our bodies. The more common areas are shoulders/neck, low back and the abdominal area.

At first we don’t really pay much attention to the fact that we are tightening that area. It is at an unconscious level. However over time those muscles that are continually contracted start to cause us pain or discomfort. Hopefully this wakes us up!

The cycle looks something like this:

 We become stressed out about something.
 We then hold tension unconsciously in certain muscles.
 Those muscles are contracting for an extended period of time.
 The more they contract, the more waste products they produce.
 Meanwhile, when they contract, they limit the amount of blood that flows to them. This is known as vasoconstriction.
 Since there is a lack of blood flowing to the muscle, the waste products cannot be flushed out but rather accumulate in the tissues.
 This causes an irritation to the nerve endings and the result is PAIN.
 Along with pain comes more tension.
 Then the cycle continues to move beyond the original tight muscles into the surrounding muscles. This is the body’s way of protecting itself.
 Those muscles start to stay contracted and the pattern starts all over again in those outlying muscles.

As you can see, this cycle can go on and on. In addition to pain, often we end up with other symptoms like headaches, numbness, fatigue, weakness, stomach aches, or shortness of breath; just to name a few.

Add a Comment5 Comments


What a fascinating post. I knew massage was good for us, but I didn't know the reasons why.

A group of girlfriends and I get together each summer for a four-day "retreat" from our lives, husbands, jobs, kids, etc. We've been doing it for nearly 15 years now (we've known each other even longer than that). Part of the annual retreat is usually a massage, and each year when I get one I swear to myself I'll do it more often -- and then I never do. I think that the task of finding a massage therapist and starting a routine always seems difficult. Thanks for reminding me that I really do want to do this. And thanks for giving us such good reasons why.

January 28, 2010 - 9:23am

I appreciate your detailed explanation of how muscles in the body react to distress. I never realize how much stress can impact my body, muscle tension and my breathing patterns.

January 27, 2010 - 8:43am
Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger

Hi Anon - Oh yes, and it was lovely! :-)

December 22, 2009 - 5:38pm
EmpowHER Guest

Hi Pat- So did you get that massage?? :-)

December 22, 2009 - 11:39am
Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger

Right you are, Julie, massage is a wonderful remedy for the stresses we face. As women, though, we're sometimes reluctant to do things for ourselves. For those who may doubt the benefits of massage therapy, know that it also helps us avoid back injuries and is good for our overall health.


I'm going to go schedule one right now. Thanks, Julie!

December 16, 2009 - 5:33pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.