The concept of a massage is kind of weird if you think about it. You take off all of your clothes, lie down on a table, and let a stranger rub the stress out of your body for an hour. Despite the odd setup, massages are a super effective way to destress, and the physical and mental benefits are totally worth any potential momentary awkwardness for many people. But did you know in addition to the great way you feel after a session with your therapist, there can also be some creepy effects on your body during a massage?
Before I get into the weird stuff, let's break down why massages are such a good stress reliever. Although massages are fairly common — about 19 percent of the American adult population reported getting a massage in 2017 according to a report by the American Massage Therapy Association — not that many people know about the actual reasons they make your body feel so good. The positive impact of a visit to a spa is caused by many factors in addition to the relaxation of your muscles, like an increase in serotonin and dopamine, the hormones that make you happy; your brain's response to aromatherapy; and improved brain function from the relief of stress to the muscles, as Canyon Ranch explains.
But the changes to your bod are more than just what you can feel immediately; some of the impacts can last long after the actual session, and a lot of them are just downright freaky. So read on for some of the weird ways your body responds to a professional rub down; hopefully you can still relax during your next appointment after these discoveries.
1. Your Cortisol Levels Literally Decrease
Massages are designed to relax you, but it's surprising to discover they can actually influence how much stress you're carrying in your body. They're proven to decrease cortisol levels, which is the main stress hormone the human body produces as WebMD explains. A study in the International Journal of Neuroscience from 2005 found that cortisol levels decreased by an average of 31 percent per person after they got a professional back rub, highlighting how much control contact with pressure points on the skin can have on the actual chemicals in your bloodstream.
2. If You Have A Drink Before, You Might Get Drunker Faster
Many people indulge in a beverage before heading in for some well deserved relaxation time, especially in a spa setting, but as it turns out, settling in with a buzz might not be such a good idea. As massage trainer Wil Lewis explained to Greatist, “If someone is intoxicated, a massage will speed up circulation so much that the alcohol will flush into the tissues and hit the blood faster and stronger. The body also filters it faster, so instead of a rush of drunkenness, you just get sick.” So next time you're about to throw back a glass of champagne before lying down on the table, think again.
3. Your White Blood Cell Count Can Increase
According to the American Massage Therapy Association, getting a massage can improve your immune system's function because it "increases the activity level of the body’s white blood cells that work to combat viruses," which is especially helpful during cold and flu season. It's weird to think about your skin being rubbed actually increasing the number of a certain kind of cell in your body, but it's definitely good to know you can get a quick boost to your system through a session if you need it.
4. You Might Become Exhausted
Overwhelming exhaustion is a known side effect of Deep Tissue Massages, which is a type of massage that "involves applying firm pressure and slow strokes to reach deeper layers of muscle and fascia (the connective tissue surrounding muscles)," as Very Well Health explains. The sleepy feeling comes from the release of stress and the relaxation of your muscles, and while it might be a little inconvenient to feel so tired all of a sudden, the Back Pain Clinic reports that this fatigue will only last for a day after your session at most. It's probably best to be prepared to feel sleepy if you're going to get a DTM, just in case.
5. Your Blood Vessels Can Constrict And Relax Abnormally
During a massage, the applied pressure to your muscles can interrupt and change the flow of your blood, leading to the atypical constriction of your blood vessels. The altering of your blood flow can cause a headache, according to Livestrong, so that might explain while you feel like you have a migraine every time you leave your salon. But the site warns that dehydration or drops in blood sugar might also be the cause of post-massage head pain, so make sure you're well fed and have had enough water before you go blaming your blood vessels. (Another good reason not to have a drink before a session.)
6. You Might Develop A Blood Clot In Your Legs Or Groin
Developing a blood clot from a massage isn't common, but it does happen. Explained by World Thrombosis Day, Venous thromboembolism (VTE) is a little-known type of blood clot that can develop in the legs or groin, which can then travel up the bloodstream to the lungs, potentially causing a pulmonary embolism, a life-threatening condition. Deep Tissue Massages have been linked to a number of cases of VTE, and it's likely there have been more instances that have gone unreported according to a study in Phys Sportsmed. The pressure applied to the muscles in a DTM is so intense that it can actually be traumatic if you have sensitive muscles, particularly as you age.
If you're prone to blood clots, definitely talk to a doctor before you make an appointment for an intense massage, and look out for early symptoms of VTE, like pain or swelling in your legs or arms, red or warm skin, and red streaks on the skin, as WebMD reports.
7. You Might Get Aroused
The point of a massage is to get your body to relax, and when that happens, there can be some unexpected side effects, i.e. arousal (we've all seen that infamous Couples Retreat scene). It makes total sense that relaxation might lead to some incidental excitement for you — as the Institute for Integrative Healthcare explains, "Touch administered to any part of the body can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which can result in a partial or complete erection" for men and a similar response for women, though it obviously wouldn't be as noticeable for females.
Getting a little excited during a massage is totally normal and doesn't necessarily indicate the desire to be touched sexually, but it is still pretty creepy. However, massage therapists know its a common side effect, so they'll just ignore it if anything pops up, as Very Well Health explains. Phew.
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