Why Massage Works
The first goal of Massage Therapy is to put you and your body into healing mode, the second is to address dysfunction within the soft tissue structures. The body responds to touch in two ways, mechanically and reflexively. Mechanical effects refer to the systems that respond to manual manipulation. (muscles, connective tissue, joints, circulatory and lymphatic systems) Reflexive effects are governed by the body’s neurological systems and are an indirect response to manual manipulation. (nervous system, digestive system, endocrine system, immune system)
The Body is a network of systems in constant communication. They all work together for the greater good of the whole. By simply touching an area of the body, it sends a message to brain, “Hey, pay attention to what’s going on here.” When muscles are tight, stuck or constricted they are cut off from communication and nutrition. The intent is to release the muscle and surrounding structures and restore the flow of blood, lymph, neuromuscular and cellular communication.
How do muscles communicate? Muscles connect to bones via tendons. At the junction of muscle and tendon there are proprioceptive nerve receptors known as Golgi Tendon Organs. These little guys are part of a muscle-tension monitoring system which helps to protect muscles from injury or rupture. Specific Massage Therapy techniques allow the practitioner to communicate with these sensory organs signaling them to tell the muscle to relax. Within the muscle itself, there are similar sensory receptors which respond to tension, temperature and touch. Muscle tissue and its surrounding connective tissues can form adhesions or get stuck together. Massage Therapists are trained to find these areas of congestion and manually work through and with the tissue to break up adhesions, scar tissue, and create more space within the structures to allow for increased circulation and range of motion.
Muscles are meant to move!
What does “increased circulation” really do? Blood and the circulatory system deliver nutrients and oxygen to cells and tissue, carries hormones from their sights of origins to the organ they affect, and transport waste products from cells to the sites where they are removed. The lymphatic system is largely known as the waste removal system carrying away toxins and dead cells, but it also plays a role in our immune system by regenerating and deploying white blood cells (infection fighters) and aids in the breakdown and digestion of certain fats.
These are a pretty big deal if you think about it, is there any part of your body that you can afford to not have these two systems functioning optimally?
What’s the big deal about Relaxing? Our Body is one of three states at any given time, Stress Response, Neutral, or Repair Mode. Neutral mode is similar to “off” or “standby”. Nothing is going on but the basics, like when we are watching TV or sitting in a meeting. When we are in a stress response, also known as “Fight or Flight” or “Survival Mode”, all non-vital functions shut down. Our brain is telling the body to prepare for immediate action or imminent danger. The body does not discern whether or not the source of stress is a true threat to our survival, it dutifully follows protocol. Blood pressure increase, blood is re-routed to increase supply to the heart and skeletal muscles, digestive system and urinary systems halt, cellular repair and regeneration stalls, brain function is limited, immune response is put on hold, stress hormones are pumped thought out the body. Our day to day doesn’t usually require us to physically run for our lives but our mind can get so worked up that the body fires up in response. Work, family, traffic, social commitments and obligations, emotionally charged situations all can trigger our stress response. Too much time spent in this state causes our circuits to blow, systems go haywire, and structures breakdown. When we allow ourselves to relax, to let go of all that doing and thinking, we let our body get back to balance. It can begin to heal and repair, restore and recharge. Disseminate nutrients, regenerate cells, regulate hormones production, fight infections, and increase brain activity. It brings all systems back on line and allows for optimal communication and function.
So when was the last time you took an hour or so to let your body take care of you, to do what it was meant to do? What changes could you see if you created time and space in your life to rest for a bit?