Monday, January 31, 2011

Massage Monday Number Two: The Benefits of Massage

It's Monday again and we all know what that means. It means Jess rambling on about massage therapy and trying to bring unsuspecting victims over to the dark side. Mwahahahaha...erm, ahem, I mean...
Let us discuss the numerous benefits of massage and then you can decide on your own if massage is a treatment you would be interested in.

Depending on the types of massage-see last Monday's post-massage therapy can have varying effects on a person's body. The more obvious results would be seen/felt in muscles and joints, while unseen and usually unnoticed changes occur in the nervous system. I want to start with the most general benefit and work my way into the very specific impact. Hopefully that keeps me on track and makes things a bit easier to understand.
Let's talk muscles: we all have them and we all get sore and fatigued muscles from time to time. This soreness and fatigue all depends on the individual. Such factors include, but are not limited to lifestyle, eating habits, working environment and illnesses or disabilities a person may be dealing with. The most obvious and publicly recognised benefit of massage is the decrease in muscle tension. Therapists use varying techniques to soothe and relax aching, tired muscles. Stretches may be applied to problem areas to try to convince the hyper tonic-AKA tight-area to relax. Heat can also be used to encourage muscle tissue to become more pliable; thus releasing tension and providing therapists with a more cooperative muscle to work with. The application of heat has many benefits of its own, but I will use that as a primary focus of another post. Muscles are often sore after a person has used a muscle group that they may have not used in a while. This delayed soreness is often due to the micro tears your muscles endure when you have worked out or called into the line of duty when they have been retired for a while. Don't worry-micro tears are not bad. As long as you eat properly when exercising, drink water and stretch, the muscles repair themselves. This is kind of part of muscle expansion, but it does not feel good. Massage therapy does not repair these tears, but it encourages nourishment into the area and that will help with the healing process.
Massage can also be beneficial for joint health. Joints are lubricated by a substance your body produces naturally, called synovial fluid.A lot of joint supplements humans, and pets, are designed to help the body to produce the lubricant when it can no longer make enough of it on its own. Joint mobilisations and passive range of motion are two of the many techniques that could benefit joints. Passive range of motion is the gentle movement of a joint through its natural movements. The client does not help the therapist; essentially, the client must trust the therapist to gently move the joint without dropping it. The movements are often repeated seven to ten times and are slow and methodical. There is not any bouncing or sharp, quick movements. By moving the joint passively through its natural motions, the therapist is encouraging the lubrication to push through the joint. This both lubricates and nourishes the joint. The passive range of motion technique also helps to flush stagnant or unhealthy joint fluid out. Nutrients is brought to the joint via blood vessels and this is encourage by passive range of motion as well. Moving joints on your own also does that, but passive range of motion relieves the joint of the stress from body weight or muscles pulling on it. The best exercise that mimics passive range of motion that a person could do on their own, would be swimming. The water acts to support the body and lets the joints move through their range of motion with minimal amounts of stress placed on the joints. There is also no pounding or aggressive actions on the joints as there are in other exercises such as running. This technique is particularly beneficial to clients with Arthritis in the chronic stage, or when the joint is not inflamed. It is also useful for people who are unable to move joints on their own due to disability.
Remember I mentioned the influx of nutrients to joints via blood vessels? Joints are not the only part of the body that enjoys increased circulation due to massage therapy. Now we all know that we have millions and millions of blood vessels running throughout our bodies. Without these networks of arteries, capillaries and veins, our body's tissues would not receive the nutrients it needs or dispose of waste products. Now let me give you a small anatomy lesson and that will hopefully make my point clearer. Most arteries carry oxygenated blood away from the heart out to the body's tissues, while most veins carry de-oxygenated blood back to the heart. Arteries are special in that they have a small muscular layer that helps to push the blood to its destination, but veins do not possess this layer. Veins' interesting characteristic is the little valves that stop the back flow of blood. In other words, de-oxygenated blood cannot move backwards because there are valves preventing this from occurring. Okay, so how does the blood get back to the heart if there is no muscular layer forcing it in the correct direction,? You might ask. (Well, at least that is what I asked). The answer is simple my attentive readers. (You are being attentive right)? Anyway, back to our simple answer...
The de-oxygenated blood is forced back to our hearts via muscle contractions. Basically, if you walk to the fridge to retrieve a glass of lemonade, or if you are involved in any kind of exercise, you are forcing your de-oxygenated blood back to your heart. Your diaphragm, which is your primary muscle of breathing, also helps to squish the veins and bring the de-oxygenated blood to its ultimate destination; your heart.So, by just breathing your blood is moving. What does all of this have to do with massage therapy?

Massage is a series of squeezing, squishing, compressing and other such techniques, which are applied to the muscles. Through these squeezings, squishings and compressings, the therapist is assisting the de-oxygenated blood through your system.. So don't be surprised if you have to go pee after your treatment. If massage helps move that waste product rich de-oxygenated blood through your body, it is forcing your other systems to clean up. A way to expel these waste products is going to the bathroom. A therapist may ask you to drink extra water after your massage to ensure your system has the fluids it needs to clean itself out. Simply put, massage increases metabolic rate. No, massage does not help you lose weight. That is not a benefit massage can claim. If your therapist says that it does, ask for the literature that supports this.. Back to improved circulation: this also means, that in most cases, the therapist must be using strokes that move toward the heart. For example, if your therapist is working on your arm, they will start closest to your shoulder with their fingertips pointing toward your shoulder. When they put pressure on the stroke, it will be directed up. The pressure of the stroke should not go down to the elbow/wrist direction because this is the opposite of the flow of blood. We are trying to improve circulation. Now, notice that I did not say "never" and that is because there are always exceptions to the rule. So, ask your therapist "why" if the strokes are not going with your blood flow. I believe what I am trying to convey in a very, long and convoluted explanation is that another benefit of massage therapy is improved circulation.

Muscle relief, joint health and improved circulation are not the only benefits massage has on the human body. The effects are evident even at the nervous system level. The use of fast quick techniques can stimulate the nervous system, or slow gentle ones can activate the parasympathetic nervous system; otherwise known as your "rest and digest" nervous system. The Parasympathetic system is responsible for organ functions such as decreased heart rate and increased activity by the intestine. Your body uses chemicals called neurotransmitters to either stimulate or depress this part of your nervous system. Soothing or relaxation massages can decrease your nerves firing rapidly and decrease your heart rate. All of these things impact your stress levels and we all know the negative effects stress has on the body. You may feel hungry after a massage and that is a good thing. I always gauged the success of my treatment on the volume of my client's tummy rumblings. Because the parasympathetic system increases the activity of the digestive system, it would make sense that you would get hungry after a good massage. If it is your first time having a massage, your therapist should take your blood pressure. For interest sake, after the treatment you could ask them to take it again. Your blood pressure should have decreased. This means that your parasympathetic nervous system is secreting the neurotransmitters to tell you to relax. If you fall asleep during the massage or feel sleepy during or after, that also means that your "rest and digest" system has kicked in. All of this is beneficial as we all could use a little less stress in our lives. Stress can cause heart issues, digestion problems, illnesses and even just your regular old flu. Taking time to relax and have your parasympathetic nervous system stimulated is good for you. So, you see? Another reason why massage therapy is beneficial.
It would seem as though our Monday session of massage Mumbo-jumbo has come to a close. As mentioned above, massage is beneficial in several different ways, some of which I didn't even touch on. I hope this has been enlightening, even just a little bit, and that you will come back next Monday for some more Massage shop talk. As always please feel free to leave your comments and suggestions for future posts.
Happy Monday.

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