This article is from the Alternative Medicine Therapies guide.
Most types of massage affect the body in a similar way. When muscles are overworked, body waste products such as lactic acid can accumulate, causing soreness, stiffness, and even muscle spasms. Massage in general--and Swedish massage in particular--improves blood and lymph circulation and brings fresh oxygen and other nutrients to the affected tissues. This helps to flush out the toxins and enhance recovery.
Tense muscles may also compress blood vessels and stretch nerves, restricting blood flow and causing pain. As the affected area is massaged, the muscles gradually release their strangle hold on the irritated nerves, and the pain eases. The same mechanisms also make massage helpful in the recovery process for an injured muscle.
In addition, massage has been shown to increase the body's production of pain-killing endorphins and the mood-altering hormone serotonin. It can also slow the release of the stress hormone cortisol. For this reason, massage is often prescribed as an adjunctive therapy for people whose immune systems are compromised by stress.