Often when we need to tighten our budgets, the first things that go are the ones we enjoy the most-even simple luxuries! Eating in restaurants, shopping, and massage therapy are all a part of this category. There are very significant physiological benefits that are gained for your bodies health that differentiate massage from other treats. I am using the word massage therapy, but it can be considered a general word in which many forms of bodywork too numerous to mention fall under. Certain modalities effect certain systems of the body primarily but they can have secondary benefits. For example Swedish massage therapy which is primarily used to help break up adhesion in the muscles and connective tissue also effects the circulatory system and lymphatic system such as increasing venous return and boosting the bodies immunological response. The digestion improves through the stimulation of the “rest and digest” autonomic response and so on.
Four physiological effects massage has on the body.
1. Neuromuscular effect refers to the nervous systems control and responses to the muscular system. This constant interaction is moderated via proprioceptors (nerve receptors) in the nerves. “These propriceptors receive and transmit information regarding muscle tension, static tone, degree of stretch, joint position, and speed of movement. When a group of muscles are tense or in a dysfunctional position there is usually a hyperactivity of proprioceptive response accompanied by a hypoactivity of opposing muscle groups. “Simply a tight muscle area results in or from a weakened muscle area and vice versa.” Massage helps muscles by sending more organized messages to the nerve receptors. Essentially it helps to “reset” the muscles resting length and to re-educate them through lengthening and taking the joint through an increased range of motion through stretching them.
2. Fascia is connective tissue that surrounds and protects the muscles, nerves, bones, organs, blood vessels and other structures. The book entitled, ” The Endless Web” which in its very title aptly describes what the connective matrix is-an endless web of connective tissue. This three dimensional tissue supports, protects and is a shock absorber throughout the entire body. Many vital transmissions of immunological responses happen via the fascia. At times because of dysfunctional structural integrity and lack of proper circulation adhesion occurs. An adhesion is defined as two things stuck together that are not meant to be. Massage helps to un-stick them by bringing circulation (oxygenated blood and fluids) to an area that is stagnant. By the use of techniques such as effleurage (stroking), Friction (a back and forth movement), and compression adhesion melts away and the body returns to better structural alignment.
3. Circulatory Systems of the body are all directly effected by massage therapy and other forms of bodywork such as Cranialsacral Therapy and Lymphatic Drainage. Massage Therapy simulates a pumping action of the muscles which increases venous return of blood flow to the heart. Lymphatic massage and Cranialsacral Therapy enhance the immunological responses to help you heal faster and prevent illness. When these systems are functioning at their optimal levels we are better able to prevent illness. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention goes a long way.
4. The autonomic( think automatic) Nervous System (ANS) is best known for the “flight or fight response” and its opposite response, “rest and digest.” Massage Therapy stimulates the Rest and Digest response. It improves digestion and sleep. During the stress response (fight or flight) the endocrine system releases cortisol. Excessive release of cortisol has been linked to be one of the major causes of weight gain. Massage therapy does not make you lose weight but it can help your body to rest and digest better. Lack of sleep is also a major cause of obesity. So, stress can lead to lack of sleep and eventually weight gain. The book, “Why Zebras don’t Get Ulcers” documents the effect of the stress response on each system of the body.
Nerves, Muscles, Connective tissue matrix, all circulatory systems including: arterial flow, venous return flow, lymphatic drainage, respiratory and cerebral spinal fluid are all affected and enhanced for optimal homeostasis by massage therapy. In addition there is the endocrine system that has an influence on our bodies’ efficient weight management and sleep habits. The enhancement of the body-mind connection is another elaborate subject too involved to discuss in its entirety but it deserves mention.
So the next time you think “I can’t afford a pampering massage”, know that you are really benefiting your body in numerous ways and that those benefits will help you have better health for a long time saving you doctor visits and malaise in the long run.
Please consult your doctor for diagnoses and evaluation before receiving massage therapy as it is not a substitute for medical treatment or medication.
Mosby’s Fundamentals of Therapeutic Massage by Sandy Fritz.
Physician’s Guide to Therapeutic Massage by Dr. John Yates,
The Endless Web: Fascial Anatomy and Physical Reality: R. Louis Schultz, Rosemary Feitis, Diana Salles, Ronald Thompson: Books.
Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky