How massage can reduce stress

Stress is ever present in many aspects of our lives these days. The cumulative effect of all our stresses makes it harder to have moments of calm. Although it is often hard to change those initial triggers, which include: work, sleepless nights with children, energy bills, and increasing costs of living, particularly all at once, it is important to understand how stress can impact us so that we can help our body recover and reset, restoring our energy and mental health.


How does massage help with stress?

There is promising data from biological studies looking at massage and its effect on brain chemistry, revealing improvements in levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.

Although much more research needs to be done around the subject, the findings support years of subjective outcomes experienced by many soft tissue therapists.

The powerful outcomes we observe on a daily basis should not be ignored, as it is ultimately the individual in the room that we aim to help and with support and treatment tailored to each client, we believe we can.

No two treatments are ever the same as we are all so different in body, mind and pain experience. But let's examine the potential benefits of massage to our all-important stress levels.

It is important to understand how stress can impact us so that we can help our body recover and reset, restoring our energy and mental health.

One study to find measurable data found a decrease in cortisol levels after a single session of massage in healthy young participants (Field, 2005).

A study of another demographic, cardiac patients with an average age of 58, also found that cortisol levels decreased following professional massage (Adib-Hajbaghery et al, 2015).

So what is cortisol?

Cortisol, a steroid hormone, is synthesised from cholesterol. Cortisol receptors (glucocorticoids) are present in almost all tissues in the body. Therefore, cortisol is able to affect nearly every organ system (Ramamoorthy, 2016):

  • nervous
  • immune
  • cardiovascular
  • respiratory
  • reproductive
  • musculoskeletal
  • integumentary

Cortisol has many functions in the human body, such as mediating the stress response, regulating metabolism, the inflammatory response, and immune function (Oakley, 2013).

What happens in times of stress?

The human body is continually responding to internal and external stressors. The body processes the stressful information and elicits a response depending on the degree of threat. This is a fantastic natural response to different situations and enables our body to cope with danger by switching off other less important systems giving our flight/fight response more energy by way of cortisol release.

The body's autonomic nervous system regulates this action, and can be broken down into the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). In times of stress, the SNS gets activated. The SNS is responsible for the fight or flight response, which causes a cascade of hormonal and physiological responses.

The PNS steps in to help lower the SNS and mostly works at night to help repair and recover. This is why sleep is really important as that is when the magic of repair happens! The SNS and PNS work in synergy like a seesaw effect, although with prolonged stress high levels of cortisol can disrupt this relationship. With prolonged or chronic stress the SNS becomes overactive and continues to release cortisol, keeping the body on high alert. This can lead to feelings of anxiety.

Other symptoms of prolonged high cortisol include:

  • weight gain, mostly around the midsection and upper back
  • weight gain and rounding of the face
  • acne
  • thinning skin
  • bruising easily
  • flushed face
  • slowed healing
  • muscle weakness

Considering these are all unwanted symptoms caused by constant stress, it is great that we are able to do something about it with just a single massage treatment.

Further studies are needed to determine the longer-lasting effect of massage therapy, however, if we take these results and use them to add improvements to the management of our daily stress then this will have beneficial effects on our physical health and wellbeing.

Book a massage today and improve your stress.


  • Adib-Hajbaghery, Rahman Rajabi-Beheshtabad, and Abolfazl Ardjmand ARYA Atheroscler. Comparing the effect of whole body massage by a specialist nurse and patients’ relatives on blood cortisol level in coronary patients. 11(2): 126–132. 2015.
  • Field T, Hernandez-Reif M, Diego M, Schanberg S, Kuhn C. Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy. Int J Neurosci.115(10):1397–413. 2005.
  • Oakley RH, Cidlowski JA. The biology of the glucocorticoid receptor: new signaling mechanisms in health and disease. J Allergy Clin Immunol. Nov;132(5):1033-44. 2013.
  • Ramamoorthy S, Cidlowski JA. Corticosteroids: Mechanisms of Action in Health and Disease. Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 42(1):15-31, vii. 2016

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Therapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
Northolt UB5 & Uxbridge UB8
Written by Laura Dalby, Portable Wellness Room Ltd
Northolt UB5 & Uxbridge UB8

I have a BSc in Injury rehabilitation, a level 5 diploma in sports massage and am qualified in acupuncture, cupping and pregnancy massage. I have seen the industry evolve over my 10 years practicing and would like to show you how soft tissue treatments can improve your body and mind.

Show comments

Find a therapist dealing with Massage therapy


All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals