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The Scientific Art of Massage: Why Massage Is Effective

The Scientific Art of Massage:

Why Massage Is Effective

Many of you ask while being massaged, how does it all work? What makes massage effective in reducing my pain, or making me feel relaxed?
So here is a brief overview of some of the physiologic effects of massage. They can be broken down into two categories: Reflexive Methods and Mechanical Methods.
Reflexive Methods stimulate the nervous system, endocrine (hormones) system and the chemicals of the body. A reflex is an involuntary response to a stimulus, which can be provided by massage.
Mechanical Methods directly affect the soft tissue through techniques that normalise the connective tissue or move body fluids and intestinal contents.

Firstly lets have a look at The Nervous System and the effects massage can have on it.

The nervous system responds to therapeutic massage through stimulation of sensory receptors. The sensory stimulation from massage disrupts an existing pattern in the Central Nervous System (CNS) control centres, resulting in a shift of motor impulses, which reestablishes homeostasis or as we like to say here...Balance is restored.

Massage also has an effect on the endocrine system via the nervous system and vice versa, the two systems work together as a feedback loop. This is a forever changing and regulating system as influences from the outside world (eg: massage) put more or less demands on the body.The immune system also produces and responds to these communication substances. The "chemical soup" that these substances make up is forever changing it's ratio of chemical mix as it responds to message transmissions. The "flavour" of the soup which is determined by the ratio of the chemical mix, affects such factors as mood, attentiveness, ability to sleep, receptivity to touch, response to touch, connectedness, loneliness etc...

Much of the research on massage, especially that done at the Touch Research Institute in Miami, revolves around shifts in the proportion and ratio of the composition of the body's "chemical soup" brought about by massage.
Some of the main neuroendocrine chemicals influenced by massage are as follows:

Dopamine (massage seems to increase the available levels)
Serotonin (massage seems to increase the available levels)
Adrenaline (massage seems to have a regulating effect)
Noradrenaline (massage seems to have a regulating effect)
Endorphins (massage increases the available levels)
Oxytocin (massage increases the available levels)
Cortisol (massage decreases the levels)
Growth hormone (massage increase levels indirectly by encouraging sleep and reducing cortisol levels)
To give you some real life examples of how massage can affect these chemicals in your body and the resulting feeling or behaviour:

A stressed / depressed executive feels more alive after a massage due to the increase in serotonin and oxytocin and a decrease in cortisol levels.
A person suffering from chronic pain functions better after a massage due to increase in endorphins, serotonin and oxytocin.
A smoker trying to quit can forestall a craving for a cigarette after a massage due to an increase in noradrenaline, serotonin and endorphin.
A person who has had surgery heals faster with massage as it decreases cortisol and adrenaline; increase in restorative sleep through pain reduction; increase in endorphin and serotonin, resulting in greater availability of growth hormone.
The effects of certain neurotransmitters released during massage may explain and validate the use of sensory stimulation methods for treating chronic pain, anxiety and depression.

Neuromuscular Mechanisms

Nerve cells stimulate muscle to contract or relax and specialised nerve receptors called proprioceptors provide constant monitoring...receiving and transmitting information about muscle tension, static tone, degree of stretch, joint position and speed of movement, they basically tell your body where it is in space.
Proprioceptive hyperactivity causes tense or spastic muscles and hypoactivity of opposing muscle groups, put simply, a tight muscle area results in or from a weakened muscle area and vice versa.

We can effect the muscle tone through different massage techniques and what we are trying to achieve is to substitute a different neurologic signal stimulation to support a normal muscle resting length through lengthening and stretching of muscles and connective tissue and also to re-educate the muscles involved.

Mechanical Methods

These involve directly affecting the muscle tissue and connective tissue through various degrees of pressure and direction across or with the muscle fibres. By working with the muscle fibres we achieve a smoother flushing stroke, often helping circulation of blood into the tissue. This brings in fresh nutrients and oxygen to the muscle tissue which helps the healing process.
By working across the muscle fibres this helps to break down any adhesions that can build up between muscle fibres especially in areas of scar tissue.
Finally massage can help realign the muscle fibres which re-establishes the integrity of the muscle tissue back to it's normal resting length.


So you can see how massage can work on several different levels at the same time.
The beauty of massage is that you can achieve those treatment based results as we work on re-educating the muscle tissue and realigning muscle fibres as well as coming out of your session feeling relaxed or re-energised because the massage has affected the "chemical soup" that can effect our sense of wellbeing.
A truly holistic experience!!!

Reference: Mosby's Fundamentals of Therapeutic Massage 2nd Edition. Sandy Fritz

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