Do you need that massage?

Most people worldwide would love to get a massage done on their body. Body massage is an ancient practice that still prevails in many cultures worldwide. Massage and spa centres are as common as hospitals and clinics in modern society. Many modern people prefer to go for a massage since they find it relaxing and believe they get rejuvenated after a massage. In almost all Massages, some form of oil or lubricant is used. In Indian tradition, oil massage is intrinsically connected to our life, and every household will have some form of oil, like eucalyptus oil, castor oil, coconut oil etc. 

Typically, the massage is done under the pretext of recovery from a workout or improving the vitality of the body tissues and for rejuvenation. Aromatic oils and massage rooms are common if you go to any five-star hotels or resorts. 

Different people prefer different types of massage. Here are a few types of massage.

  1. Sweedish MassageGentle touch at the skin level. 
  2. Ayurvedic MassageGentle and firm with heated Ayurvedic oil extracts to cure ailments.
  3. Lymphatic MassageFirm with oil lubricant but aimed to drain the lymph in oedema.
  4. Sports Massage/Deep Tissue MassageHigh-Pressure massage to an extent to cause discomfort and sometimes soreness or fever. 
  5. Therapeutic massageWhat we learnt in physiotherapy. Stroking, effleurage, friction, Kneading etc. 
  6. Other Massage typesThai Massage, Aromatherapy, Craniosacral Therapy, Shiatsu Massage, Hot Stone massage etc.
  7. IASTM and Foam RollingThese are also a type of deep tissue massage using a tool. In deep tissue massage, you do massage all over the body. With IASTM/Foam Rolling, you target an anatomical structure like the hamstring, IT Band, or Trapezius. The tool is different, but the mode of action is the same.

Perceived General Benefits of Massage:

  1. It improves mood and helps in relaxation.
  2. It improves circulation and thereby drains waste products.
  3. Improves Flexibility
  4. Relieves aches and pains.

Perceived Overarching Benefits of Massage:

  1. Improves immunity.
  2. Improves performance in sports.
  3. Cures ailments like thyroid, PCOD, varicose veins, disc prolapse, constipation etc
  4. Headache, Fibromyalgia, Arthritis

The reality:

  • Massage oil can’t penetrate inside the skin deep. The skin has five layers of epidermis, one layer of dermis and hypodermis. Everything is tightly sealed to protect us from environmental dangers. 
  • Even if it penetrates, it can’t go to the blood level. If in case it goes, technically, it can lead to fat embolism. But don’t worry; oil can’t go to the blood level no matter how much oil is poured on you.


  • The massage oil has no self-guided navigation system to identify and target the tissue at fault.  (Ex) The medicated oil can’t identify or recognize a torn meniscus or degenerated disc as the oil travels inside the body.


  • Even if the oil penetrates, it can’t heal the tissues because we need blood as a medium for every healing. A fish can’t breathe air when it comes out of the water. The Fish needs water as a medium to breathe air. Similarly, every cell in the body needs blood as a medium, not oil. So, massage oils don’t can’t do any healing. 

Effect Of Stimulating Mechanoreceptors: Pain Gate Mechanism in Action.

The mother tends to rub the pain spot when a child gets hurt. It is a learned behaviour that has been practised for many generations. Such rubbing action stimulates the mechanoreceptors (the end of the nerve terminal that picks up the sensation) to modulate or mitigate pain perception. Our brain can only feel one sensation at a given point of time. This is called as Pain Gate Mechanism. The superficially applied massage will help reduce deep-seated pain. It is a stage trick that works for some time. But the source of pain will remain intact until the natural resolution of pain take effect. Till then, hot packs, cold packs, pain balms or internal medicines are the ways to keep the pain at bay. Some will improve with time, and some won’t. It all depends on what type of tissue injury has happened. 


Generation of Heat: 

In traditional massage, heated oil is used. Heated oil, coupled with the rubbing action of the massage on the skin, generates more heat. Heat has been proven to dilate the superficial arteries. Heat also can cause transient improvement in local tissue pliability. So a sense of freeness or flexibility may be felt after that massage. But this effect lasts only a couple of hours. Since the original problem was not cured, whatever stiffness was there before the massage session would return in a few hours. It is such a costly affair for a few hours of benefit. 


Release of Happy Hormones:

Humans, in pain or otherwise, want to be touched and comforted. Touch is an important psychosocial aspect of our life. Physical touch like Hugging, Kissing, and Handshaking are all part of our life; we do it daily. Massaging in a nice ambient room filled with aromatic oil and hearing gentle, soothing music will feel so calm and relaxed that your body secretes happy hormones like endorphin and dopamine. Such hormones are important for our well-being and to counter stress. That is the reason why meditation and breathing practices are useful. But the same hormones will be least useful for pain relief when a fracture, heart attack, or kidney stones occur. In such cases, treat the real problem. So these happy hormones work largely at the psychological level, not the local tissue level. 


The Expectation of Improvement: The BIG Placebo

Beyond doubt, our attitudes and beliefs govern our physiology. If we truly believe something is very powerful and useful, it tends to bias ourselves with the benefit of it. In medicine, it is called a Placebo or contextual expectation of improvement. This Placebo occurs in all forms of treatment worldwide, including modern medicines, homoeopathy, ayurveda, IFT, US etc. It is very hard to discern the true effects of treatment, and the placebo effect of treatment, especially when the outcome to be measured is subjective, such as pain. So people believe that massage is good for the body, so they feel good. Some patients ask their husbands to massage their back or leg daily. Yes, it feels good. But will the pain go away permanently with that massage? It won’t. 


Summary of Effects of Massage:

  • Pain gate mechanism
  • Local Increase in heat 
  • Release of happy hormones
  • Placebo effect


When all four effects join together, it appears big. But since the real medical problem is not addressed, the patient may not get better. Or maybe the body self-heals, which coincides with the massage sessions. Every massage centre has the same massing templates for all disease conditions. The massaging ritual is the same for sinus pain, asthma, low back pain, and menstrual cramps. 


Still, you can get the massage done. If, 

You want to be touched to get the feel-good effect. 

Don’t get the massage. If, 

You have a real medical problem or chronic pain in the body. Get it diagnosed and treated in a modern scientific method. 


The Final Messages: 

  • Massage can’t cure disc herniation, Sciatica, Plantar Fasciitis, Arthritis, Myelopathy, PCOD, Varicose veins, menstrual cramps, and migraines. Please don’t waste your time and money on it. 
  • Every disease has a cause, risk factor, pathophysiology, and the body’s adaptive mechanism differs. There can’t be one massage oil that can cure hundreds of ailments. 
  • The term “holistic” is a misnomer. There can’t be multiple treatments for one disease. Since they are uncertain what will work, they give you a cocktail. 
  • A disease is a manifestation of the anatomical, neurophysiological, cellular, organ or system-related problems and their interactions,  which exhibits its way. Just by putting some external oil, no disease can be cured. 
  • A perfectly healthy body is a body that does not require any massage. 
  • Sports Massage, Deep Tissue Massage, and Massage Gun- all do the same. No difference. 
  • Massage won’t prevent injuries; it won’t prevent post-workout soreness (sports massage indeed causes the soreness); it won’t improve performance or cure pain. Sports massage is actually a pain to both the giver and receiver. 
  • External application of the pressure does not change anything internally. Healing must happen from the inside out. It can’t heal from outside to inside. 


Stop Massaging, Start Diagnosing and Seek Scientific Intervention. 

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