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Effect of Massage on Circulation

Zheng Zhu (Jason) Li, RMT - Registered Massage Therapist

massage circulation

There are five basic types of circulation that have been recognized including arterial, venous, lymphatic, respiratory and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) circulation. All five depend on the pumping action of the skeletal muscles as they contract and relax.

Arterial Flow

Arteries carry blood under pressure from the heart as a result of the pumping action of the heart muscle. An increase in arterial flow is beneficial in any situation in which an increase in oxygenated blood is desirable.

Massage application that creates direct compression into the area of an artery effectively crimps the artery, much like crimping a hose, and allows some back pressure to build up. When the pressure is released, the blood rushes through like water released from a dam.

Arteries are accessible to compressive pressure on the soft medial areas of the arms and legs. Compressions should begin proximal to the heart to take advantage of the force of the heart pumping and move in a distal direction. Moderate pressure is used to pump rhythmically at the client's current heart rate as the practitioner moves distally toward the fingers or toes.

Venous Return Flow

Venous return flow largely depends on contraction of the muscles against the veins. Back flow of blood is prevented by valves.

Massage applications using short, pumping, gliding strokes are most effective in enhancing this flow. Passive and active joint movements also encourage the muscles to contract against the deeper vessels, assisting venous blood flow.

Placing the limb above the heart, allowing gravity to assist, is beneficial.

Lymphatic Drainage

The lymphatic system plays an important role in controlling the movement of fluid throughout the body. It consists of the tissues and organs that produce, store, and carry white blood cells that fight infection and other diseases. This system includes the bone marrow, spleen, thymus, lymph nodes, and lymphatic vessels.

The massage procedures for lymphatic drainage are similar to those for venous return. Because lymph vessels open into tissue space, surface work that pulls gently on the skin is performed over the entire affected body region rather than focused over only the major veins.

Pumping of jointed areas with passive joint movement seems to assist the movement of lymph through the areas of lymph node filtration.

Manual lymphatic drainage as a specific therapeutic intervention can be used in cases of a pathologic condition of the lymphatic system.


Inhalation and exhalation depend on unrestricted movement of the musculoskeletal components of the thorax. The muscles of respiration include the scalenes, intercostals, serratus anterior, diaphragm, abdominals and pelvic floor muscles.

All massage approaches that restore mobility to the thorax and the muscles of respiration affect the ability to breathe. Often massage can restore the normal function of the soft tissue involved with breathing, which enables breathing retraining to become effective.

Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) Circulation

CSF cools, nourishes, and protects the brain and nerves and influences breathing through carbon dioxide levels.

Craniosacral massage therapy techniques specifically target CSF circulation and general massage also influence this circulation indirectly.

To book a massage that will help with any circulation issues, contact Wellness for the Body at 905.465.4595 or book online at

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