Massage: Knead it or Knot?

What I used to think I’d be like during a massage…


It often comes as a surprise to people that I don’t really ‘do’ spa days, given my love for any kinduva money-frittering activity. The last time I recall having regular massages was while island hopping in Thailand many, many, many full-moon parties ago and, truth be told, I was only using them as a handy way of SPF-ing my back and was only delighted to get back to my Pad Thai and coconut cocktail when it was all over.

But last week I had the pleasure of a mini-break in the fabulous Seafield Spa Hotel in Wexford where I splashed out on a facial, hot stone massage, pedicure and all that jazz. I emerged two hours later having never felt so relaxed in my life and have been thinking about how massages actually exert their magic ever since.


Slipper parking is a dream at Seafield!


From a practical point of view, a good massage can expedite the healing of an injury by reducing the amount of inflammatory chemicals at the scene and increasing the number of mitochondria (cell powerhouses) to get a wriggle on tissue remodelling. Whereas there exists a “theoretical concern that there is a maladaptive response in the long run if you’re constantly suppressing inflammation with drugs (mainly non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen)”, according to Prof. of Paediatrics and Medicine Dr. Tarnopolsky at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, “with massage, you can have your cake and eat it too – massage can suppress inflammation and actually help cell recovery.”



But I’ve been mainly thinking about the power of massages from a more fanciful perspective… The psychological effects that are mediated by neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) and hormones and the like.

The ‘stress hormones’, cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline are reduced during gentle massage which obviously results in a self-explanatory relaxing effect and promotes sleep.

Serotonin is a chemical messenger that has roles in regulating mood and sleep. Most antidepressant medications exert their effect by boosting its levels. Serotonin levels are stimulated during massage which explains why falling asleep is a relatively common phenomenon on a massage table.




Dopamine is another chemical messenger whose levels are promoted by massage. It is the main messenger of our brain’s reward system which is why massage can be so pleasurable and even addictive. A healthy addiction though!

Oxytocin is known as the ‘love hormone’ and is also elevated in breastfeeding women. It fosters a warm, Christmas-all-year-round feeling and gentle massage promotes its release.



So book a massage: #TreatYourselfTuesday…

Merry ChristMASSAGE people!*


Massage vouchers make the ideal Christmas gift!



*I’ll see myself out then…




My name is Michelle and I’m a Dublin-based GP (family doctor). Life is short: take the minimalist approach to maximise your health!

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