Exploring the Hormonal Response to Massage Therapy

In a fast-paced world where stress is often an unwelcome companion, finding effective ways to relax and rejuvenate becomes essential for maintaining overall well-being. Among the myriad of relaxation techniques, massage therapy stands out as a popular choice for its ability to soothe both the body and the mind. While the immediate benefits of massage are often evident in the form of relaxation and pain relief, the underlying physiological mechanisms, particularly the hormonal response, are less understood. In this blog, we delve into the fascinating realm of the hormonal response to massage therapy, uncovering the intricate interplay between touch, hormones, and healing.

The Role of Hormones in the Body: Hormones serve as chemical messengers in the body, orchestrating various physiological processes ranging from metabolism and growth to stress response and mood regulation. Produced by glands such as the pituitary, adrenal, and thyroid glands, hormones travel through the bloodstream, exerting their effects on target organs and tissues. Among the plethora of hormones, cortisol, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine are of particular interest concerning massage therapy due to their roles in stress modulation, bonding, mood regulation, and pain perception.

Cortisol: The Stress Hormone: Cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone,” plays a central role in the body’s response to stress. When faced with a stressor, whether physical or psychological, cortisol levels surge, mobilizing energy reserves and priming the body for action. While acute cortisol release is essential for survival, chronic elevation of cortisol levels is associated with various health issues, including anxiety, depression, and cardiovascular disease. Studies have shown that massage therapy can help lower cortisol levels, promoting relaxation and reducing stress-related symptoms (Field, 2014).

Oxytocin: The Bonding Hormone: Oxytocin, often dubbed the “love hormone” or “bonding hormone,” is renowned for its role in fostering social connections, maternal behavior, and emotional bonding. Released in response to touch, particularly nurturing touch, oxytocin promotes feelings of trust, empathy, and connection. Massage therapy, with its emphasis on tactile stimulation, has been shown to elevate oxytocin levels, enhancing feelings of well-being and promoting a sense of emotional closeness between the therapist and the recipient (Morhenn et al., 2012).

Serotonin and Dopamine: The Mood Regulators: Serotonin and dopamine are neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation, pleasure, and reward pathways in the brain. Imbalances in these neurotransmitters are implicated in mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Massage therapy has been found to increase serotonin and dopamine levels, contributing to improved mood, enhanced relaxation, and a greater sense of overall well-being (Field, 2016). Furthermore, the tactile stimulation provided by massage activates sensory receptors, triggering the release of endorphins – the body’s natural painkillers – which further contributes to the mood-enhancing effects of massage (Diego et al., 2004).

Shifting Perspectives: Hormonal vs. Mechanical Benefits of Massage: Traditionally, the benefits of massage therapy were believed to stem primarily from mechanical factors such as improved circulation, increased flexibility, and reduced muscle tension. However, emerging research suggests that the therapeutic effects of massage may be more intricately tied to its influence on hormonal and neurotransmitter levels within the body. While the physical manipulation of soft tissues undoubtedly plays a role in alleviating musculoskeletal discomfort, it is the hormonal response elicited by massage that accounts for its profound effects on stress reduction, emotional well-being, and overall health.

The Mechanisms Behind the Hormonal Response: The precise mechanisms underlying the hormonal response to massage therapy are complex and multifaceted. Research suggests that the gentle pressure and rhythmic strokes applied during massage stimulate sensory receptors in the skin, muscles, and connective tissues, triggering neural pathways that lead to the release of hormones and neurotransmitters. Additionally, the relaxation induced by massage activates the parasympathetic nervous system, counteracting the “fight or flight” response associated with stress and promoting a state of calmness and tranquility conducive to hormonal balance (McGlone et al., 2007).

Practical Implications and Future Directions: Understanding the hormonal response to massage therapy has profound implications for both the practice of massage therapy and the promotion of holistic health and wellness. Incorporating massage into self-care routines can help individuals manage stress, alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression, and enhance overall quality of life. Moreover, further research exploring the long-term effects of massage on hormonal balance and health outcomes is warranted, paving the way for the integration of massage therapy into mainstream healthcare settings as a complementary approach to conventional treatments.

In a world where stress has become omnipresent, harnessing the therapeutic power of touch through massage therapy offers a beacon of hope for those seeking relief from the burdens of modern life. By unraveling the intricate interplay between touch, hormones, and healing, we gain deeper insights into the profound physiological effects of massage on the body and mind. As we continue to explore the science behind massage therapy, let us embrace its transformative potential in nurturing health, restoring balance, and fostering a deeper connection with ourselves and others.


  • Diego, M. A., Field, T., Hernandez-Reif, M., Shaw, K., Friedman, L., & Ironson, G. (2004). Aggressive adolescents benefit from massage therapy. Adolescence, 39(153), 597–607.
  • Field, T. (2014). Massage therapy research review. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 20(4), 224–229. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2014.07.002
  • Field, T. (2016). Massage therapy research review. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 24, 19–31. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2016.06.002
  • McGlone, F., Wessberg, J., & Olausson, H. (2007). Discriminative and affective touch: Sensing and feeling. Neuron, 53(4), 399–411. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2007.01.033
  • Morhenn, V., Beavin, L. E., & Zak, P. J. (2012). Massage increases oxytocin and reduces adrenocorticotropin hormone in humans. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 18(6), 11–18.