The loss of a loved one affects all aspects of a person's mind, body and spirit. Grief causes physiological changes including a stress response which results in an increase in cortisol. The stress from grief can result in a high level of cortisol in the blood, sometimes over 10-20x the normal level.(1) This increased cortisol level appears to remain elevated for at least the first six months after a loss and for some may continue and become chronic.(2) This in turn can cause, among other things, a decrease in immunity(3), heart problems (4,5), increase the perception of physical pain (6,7) and problems sleeping (8) and eating (9).
Two studies that have directly studied the effect of massage on grieving people have demonstrated that massage is helpful. From other studies on the use of massage during stressful situations it can be inferred that massage would similarly benefit grieving individuals.
1 Gray, T. (2016). Your Health and Grief. Psych Central. Retrieved from https//psychcentral.com/lib/your-health-and-grief/.
2 Buckley, T.B., Sunari, D., Marshall, A., Bartrop, R., McKinley, S., & Tofler, G. (2012). Physiological correlates of bereavement and the impact of bereavement interventions. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 14(2), 129-139.
3 See Gray, 2016 and Buckley et. al., 2012.
4 Mostofsky, E.S., Maclure, M., Sherwood, J.B., Tofler, G.H., Muller, J.E., & Mittleman, M.A. (2012). Risk of Acute Myocardial Infarction After the Death of a Significant Person in One's Life. Circulation, 125(3), 491-496.
5 Good Therapy Staff. (2018, August 27). When Loss Hurts: 6 Physical Effects of Grief. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/when-loss-hurts-6-physical-effects-of-grief-0520187.
6 Romm, C. (2014). Understanding How Grief Weakens the Body. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/09/understanding-how-grief-weakens-the-body/380006.
7 Bradbeer, M., Helme, R., Yong, H., Kendig, H. and Gibson, S. (2003). Widowhood and Other Demographic Associations of Pain in Independent Older People. The Clinical Journal of Pain, 19(4), 247-254.
8 Monk, T.H., Germain, A., & Teynolds, C. F. (2008). Sleep Distrubance in Bereavement. Psychiatric Annals, 38(10), 671-675.
9 See Good Therapy Staff, 2018.