Massage, Stress and Adrenal Fatigue – 3 Things to Consider

I admit, I love having massages.  But not just any old massage.  For one, the ambience needs to be right, and two, the therapist’s techniques and pressure needs to be a match to what I like.

I figure I’m allowed to be fussy, and you can too.  It is your body!  Ok, there’s a little more to it for me.  You may not know this, but I am a qualified massage therapist and have been providing massages here in Sydney for many years (ok since 2004!).  I am beginning to scale down with this now though as I focus more of my energy on helping you to heal from burnout!

Back to massage 🙂  Over the years I began to recognize what a stressed body felt like.  And while I don’t have scientific data on this, I do know that an overstumulated nervous system presents as a body that feels “blocked”, tight, hard and often in one big spasm from head to toe.  Doesn’t sound too great does it!

So, I wanted to spill just a little more juice on some aspects of massage that you may not know about.

Here are 3 things you may not know, but I encourage you to ponder whether you are suffering from a little stress or a lot of stress (and possible severe adrenal fatigue).

1)  A moderate pressure massage promotes the most calming response for the nervous system 

A 2009 study by Diego and Field (as presented in The International Journal of Neuroscience) assigned twenty healthy adults with either a moderate pressure massage or a light pressure massage.  EKG data was then used and the results discovered was that those who received the moderate pressure massage stimulated a parasympathetic nervous system response, and those who received the light pressure massage stimulated a sympathetic nervous system response.

The thing is, if you are dealing with a lot of stress in your life, your sympathetic nervous system is very likely overstimulated and the way to combat this is to heighten the parasympathetic nervous system which emits more calming hormones.

I was really surprised by this study, I certainly would have thought that a light pressure massage would have been deeply relaxing as well.  I feel that there may be a lot of variables here, such as what constitutes a light or a moderate pressure and also perhaps the person’s response to different therapist’s massages at the supposed same pressure.  These are very interesting findings, and just goes to show the very delicate balance of our precious nervous system.

2)  Massage increases oxytocin

In another study by Morhenn, Beavin and Zak as presented in the Nov-Dec 2012 Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine journal, it was shown that massage increases levels of oxytocin (and this is good news).  This is one of the calming hormones that is released when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated (as I referred to above in no.1)

In this study, they drew blood from two groups.  Immediately following this the first group had a 15 minute moderate pressure massage (interestingly moderate pressure again) on their upper back and the other group rested quietly for 15 minutes.  A second blood draw followed and the results showed that

  • Oxytocin levels increased
  • Adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH) decreased
  • Nitric Oxide levels decreased
  • Beta Endorphins levels decreased

Once again, in terms of activating the parasympathetic nervous system (good for reducing stress 🙂 ) and relaxing the sympathetic nervous system (good for reducing stress 🙂 ), this is great news!!!  The stress type hormones decreased and the calming hormone of oxytocin increased.

3) Your level of fatigue (especially issues with SEVERE adrenal fatigue) is a big consideration with massage

Ok, so no studies here.  Just a little insight from my own personal experience and what I have seen in others.

I do believe that massage (and a moderate pressure massage it would seem) is great for anyone dealing with mild or moderate levels of stress (or mild or moderate levels of adrenal fatigue or other fatigue related issues).   It very obviously helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and this is great news in helping to lower the effects of stress in our body.

HOWEVER, if you are suffering with extreme adrenal fatigue, your body is working very hard to maintain its normal processes.  Many symptoms are compromised at this point and one system of the body may be drawing on other systems of the body to get a little help.  Toxic waste can build up and create many symptoms such as achiness, weakness, nausea and many more that may have you feeling extremely fatigued and unwell.

I remember having a massage when I was feeling like this a few years back (deep in the throws of severe adrenal fatigue) and the result was horrible.  What it did was intensify the symptoms I was already feeling and I felt completely “wiped out” for a few days afterwards.  Dr Lam in his book Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome, would refer to this as an adrenal crash, when the body’s already weakened reserves are further compromised.

So, while I don’t have scientific data on this, I would highly recommend that you do not have a massage if you are dealing with severe adrenal fatigue.

I would also suggest that you do not have a deep tissue massage or a very strong massage if you are dealing with even moderate adrenal fatigue.  There is just too much going on that the body is trying to deal with, and this kind of pressure is too intense.  Stick with the moderate pressure as talked about above.

In addition to this, please don’t turn up at the massage therapist’s clinic for any of the following reasons:

  • you have symptoms below the neck (eg flu, diarrhoea)
  • you have a heavy cold
  • you are undergoing cancer treatment (check with your doctor first)
  • you are dealing with a major health condition (check with your doctor first)
  • you are in the first trimester of pregnancy

Massage can be an extremely helpful part of maintaining a healthy and balanced life for yourself, and in lowering your stress levels.  BUT, always honour how you are feeling and trust that little intuitive voice that tells you whether this is something that is a good fit for you for right now.  You are always the boss of your own body! 🙂

Take good care.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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