I hear a lot of conversation about what does massage and bodywork do, does it really work and, if so, how does it work? A study from the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in 2012 provides some clues. The study looked at the changes in muscles cells in young men who received massage after doing a hard workout. The analysis of the muscle tissue revealed that massage reduced the production of compounds that cause inflammation. Researcher Dr Simon Melov suggests that the reduction in pain associated with massage may be similar to the mechanism of conventional anti-inflammatory drugs. In addition, massage promoted the formation of mitochondria, organelles in our cells that are responsible for energy production.
Other ways our bodies respond to hands-on work include shifting into the “relaxation response”
The relaxation response is a state of deep rest that changes the short- and long-term physical and emotional responses to stress (e.g., decreases in heart rate, blood pressure, rate of breathing, and muscle tension). – Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital
Touching the skin and/or compression can facilitate relaxation of muscle contractions or knots. One possible mechanism is that the work guides muscles spindles to release if they are stuck in contraction. Muscle spindles provide information about changes in muscle length and are important in motor control. Some believe massage and other hands-on techniques also improve blood or lymph flow.
Muscle Spindles from Massage and Bodywork Magazine, March/April 2016
And here is a short primer on how the muscle spindles and Golgi tendon organs work by Steven L Gourley.