Need a boost during this hectic performance and competition season? Book a massage with a registered massage therapist to help muscles recover from injury and performance, increase your feeling of well-being, and release tension. Registered massage therapist Tracie Blair gives us an introduction into the benefits of massage and its influence on our nervous system.
We all know human touch is emotionally and physically healing.
While we’re quick to recognize this simple truth, most of us would be hard pressed to explain how or why touch can be so beneficial. So, in the spirit of exploration, let’s take a few moments to learn what makes massage therapy so effective.
In general, when soft tissue is manipulated, beneficial effects occur both directly at the local area, and indirectly, throughout the entire body and its systems. These indirect effects are delivered through signals that are sent via the body’s nervous system. These powerful signals help heal damaged muscle, stimulate circulation, clear waste products via the lymphatic system, boost the immune system and reduce pain and tension.
But we’re not done yet.
Reduction of symptoms associated with anxiety and depression have been shown to be among the most beneficial effects of massage therapy. Not only is massage therapy beneficial in alleviating the physiological effects of these chronic conditions, but studies have shown it improves mental alertness and may enhance feelings of wellbeing by stimulating the release of endorphins (natural painkillers and mood elevators) and reducing levels of certain stress hormones.
The body’s nervous system has two main divisions — the Central Nervous System (the brain and spinal cord) and the Peripheral Nervous System. Winding its way throughout the body, the Peripheral Nervous System’s function is to carry messages to and from the Central Nervous System. One key component of the Peripheral Nervous System is the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The ANS governs the body’s reaction to stress through the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS).
The Sympathetic Nervous System generates the “fight or flight” response, the body’s mechanism for coping with threat, danger or stress. When this response is mobilized, we can experience an increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased respiratory rate and increased muscle tension as the body prepares to react. Conversely, the Parasympathetic Nervous System settles the body, conserves energy and facilitates healing. It is our very own rest and repair system.
With this knowledge and an understanding of what ails you, a trained remedial massage therapist will apply specific massage techniques designed to either relax or stimulate the autonomic nervous system. These techniques will target either the parasympathetic nervous system (to produce relaxing effects) or the sympathetic nervous system (to produce stimulating effects).
Massage can decrease heart rate, decrease blood pressure, and decrease muscle tension. Massage decreases SNS activity. Massage therapy plays a huge role in alleviation of stress and stress disorders. By allowing a shift to the PNS or rest and repair system, massage therapy can facilitate healing, induce a feeling of calm, and promote well-being and general health.
In general, massage is believed to support healing, boost energy, reduce recovery time after an injury, ease pain and muscle tension, and enhance relaxation, mood, and well-being. It is useful for many musculoskeletal problems, such as low back pain, postural and muscle imbalances, and sprains and strains. Massage may also decrease swelling, alleviate sleep disorders, and improve self-image.
Author: Tracie Blair B.A., RMT, Dip Acup