Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Effects of Massage

From Wendy FaulknerMassage Therapy-By Wendy Faulkner

The effects of massage on the Autonomic Nervous System

What is known about the Autonomic Nervous System? The Autonomic Nervous System is concerned with the involuntary movements of the organs, blood vessels and glands. It divides into the Sympathetic Nervous System, which governs involuntary responses such as increased heartbeat, respiration and sweat, and the Parasympathetic Nervous System which is concerned with a reduction in activity and processes such as digestion and rest. These systems work together to maintain balanced body function. (Mumford) The new complete guide to Massage Anatomy guide P. 15

The effects of massage on the autonomic nervous system (ANS) are mostly reflexive. (Beck p297)
Stimulation of the peripheral nerve receptors could have reflex reactions affecting the ANS, neurotransmitters in the brain, pain perception, or the underlying joints and muscles of the area being massaged (Beck, p 296)

Massage has a powerful effect on the nervous system which, like a computer system controlling a complex machine is responsible for second-to-second control of all aspects of the body. Depending on the strokes you use. You can stimulate or relax the body in moments. Massaging the skin sends messages via the nervous system to the brain. Soothing strokes, for example, can act as a distraction and can induce a feeling of well-being and relaxation (Maxwell- Hudson)

The effects of massage strokes

Touch/holding: Simple positive hold provide moments of stillness in a massage. They can be used at the start to say hello with the hands; in the middle of a massage to connect one part of the body to another; or at the end as a farewell gesture. The aim is to communicate feelings of empathy and support. Confidence is vital as they will pick up on the unsure touch. (Maxwell -Hudson P 46)
Eastern medical traditions use touch and holding to maintain a balanced flow of energy in the body.
“Touch has always been a most effective method of healing” (Bernard Gunther)

Touch is probably one of our most highly used senses. The skin is the largest sense organ of the body, and touch is the first sense to develop in the human embryo, the one most vital for survival.( Sayre-Adams/Wright pg 5.)
“Slow gentle, loving touch is used in order to offer the patient a time of peace and quiet” A moment of quietness with the client allows a bond. You feel with your hands for example; changes in temperature, softening of the tissues primarily by using hands & fingers, pressing, rubbing and moving muscles and other soft tissue of the body. The aim is to increase the flow of blood and oxygen to the massaged area.
Effleurage is a smooth, even sliding/gliding stroke performed through the client’s clothes or directly on the skin using the fingertips, thumb, or the entire hand. Pressure is usually constant throughout the entire length of stroke, but may be increased or decreased on successive strokes. The most sedating stroke in all of massage, it is usually done parallel to the superficial muscle fibres and/or toward the heart (proximally/medially/centripetally). The direction of the extremities is extremely important, because of the somewhat fragile Venus valves, which resist distal blood flow. This allows the parasympathetic system to dominate allowing relaxation.
Petrissage: Typically follows effleurage, helps loosen scar tissue and adhesion's that might have built up in the connecting tissues which encourages absorption of wastes and promotes circulation. Grasping, kneading, and rolling tissues between the thumb & fingers using one hand, both hands together, or with alternating hands is used. This technique lifts the tissues away from the bone or off the deeper tissues separating layers of tissues, thus enhancing tissue movement and blood flow. It is a mildly invigorating stroke to the nervous system. It is also a warming stroke.
Compression: Produces a hyperemia or an increase in the amount of blood stored in the muscle tissue. (Beck 2006 p 301). By either rhythmic pressing movement directed into muscle tissue the hand or fingers, compression can be done over clothing and without the use of lubricant. Palmer compression is done with the whole hand (palm side) or the heel of the hand over the large muscular areas of the body.
Tapotement: Helps stimulate muscles causing reflex contractions and increasing blood supply. It is an excellent follow up to strenuous exercise. Tapotement and Petrissage techniques increase local skeletal muscle blood flow (Hovind/Neilson Author 1974)
This involves sharply striking the body in a rhythmic, typically rapid pattern with loose wrists and fingers. Tapotement movements include: tapping, slapping, hacking, cupping, and beating.
Vibration: This stroke is refreshing, relaxing and stimulating to a weary body. Vibration is often used to desensitize a point or an area. Nerve trunks and centres are sometimes chosen as sights for the application of vibratory movements. This is usually done with the pads at the ends of the fingers or the soft touch of the palm of the hand. This involves the use of shaking, jostling, trembling, and oscillating, or rocking movements of the body.

Other effects of massage

Massage movements affect blood and lymph channel in the following ways. It speeds up the lymph flow clearing blockages in the system that otherwise could cause edema, or swelling. Massage can cure painful swelling and other problems caused by blocked or sluggish lymph system.
Lymph flow – Capillaries & Veins absorb waste and excess proteins in the spaces between body cells, which return to the bloodstream from which they can be metabolized & excreted. Gentle superficial massage is recommended.
Muscle tension: Massage encourages the nutrition and development of the muscular system by stimulating its circulation, nerve supply, and cell activity. Regular and systematic massage causes the muscles to become firmer and more flexible. Massage is also an effective means of relaxing tense muscles and releasing muscle spasms.
Improves connective tissue healing occurring only with deep-pressure massage, proliferation and activation of fibroblasts were noted. Fibroblasts generate a connective tissue matrix, which promotes tissue healing by increasing collagen production and increasing the tensile strength of healed tissue.
Stimulates Digestion: Relieves colic and intestinal gas.
Blood pressure: Decreases blood pressure by blood vessel dilation. Both diastolic and systolic readings decline and last approximately 40 minutes after massage.
Pain: Reduces ischemia. Ischemia is linked to pain and trigger-point formation. Massage also releases Endorphins which is a natural pain killer. A positive effect of relaxing massage interrupts the transmission of pain.
Sleep patterns: It is well known that massage ralaxes patients inducing a deeper sleep, especially a later day massage.

“Massage is very much indicated for the person experiencing insomnia. One of the finest gifts massage can offer is a good night’s sleep, brought about by the restoration of balance between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems. For insomniac conditions brought about by pain, massage can serve the dual purpose of soothing the sympathetic reaction, while helping to set the stage for optimum healing of the injury, as long as the pain-causing problem does not contraindicate massage.” Ruth Werner. A massage therapist’s Guide to Pathology.

Mood: Massage increases levels of serotonin and dopamine which indicates decreased stress and depression and an elevated mood. It affects a sense of well being.
Concentration: Massage improves concentration.
Satiety: An excellent relaxing massage leaves a client with a sense of happiness and well being by releasing endorphins.
Bonding: A moment of quietness with the client creates bonding.


Bahr, R. (1986). (Good Hands Massage Techniques for Total Health.): New York: New American Library.
Beck, M.F. (2006). (Theory & Practice of Therapeutic Massage 4th edition.): New York: Thomson Delmar Learning.
Maxwell-Hudson, C. (2001). (Massage the definitive visual reference.): London WC2E 8PS: Dorling Kindersley ltd
Mumford, S. (2006). (The new complete guide to Massage.): London: Hamlyn -Octopus Publishing Group ltd
Sayre-Adams, J. & Wright, S. (1995). (The Theory and Practice of Therapeutic Touch.): New York: Longman Group Ltd.
Werner, R., A Massage Therapists Guide to Pathology

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