Friday, March 27, 2009

The effects of massage strokes.

The effects of massage strokes.

1) The effects of massage on the autonomic nervous system: sympathetic & parasympathetic divisions.

“The nervous system responds to therapeutic massage methods through stimulation of sensory receptors” (Fritz, 2009, p.130).

The nervous system is categorised into two parts: the central and peripheral nervous systems.
i) The Central Nervous System consists of the brain and the spinal cord.

ii) The Peripheral Nervous System is further divided into the autonomic and somatic nervous systems.
· Somatic NS: is a conscious and voluntary system that accepts sensory messages from the outside. eg: skin, ears, eyes etc., and stimulates muscle and skin.

· Autonomic NS: is an unconscious, self governing and involuntary system that monitors the internal body environment to keep it in a state of homeostasis by the complimentary relationship of two sub divisions; the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
o Internal monitors that stimulate or inhibit motor impulses of visceral organs, lungs, smooth muscle, guts, glands and cardiac muscle, control these systems.

b) The Sympathetic NS is the action division and mobilizes activity or action, otherwise known as the ‘flight or fright’ response, fast. It increases blood pressure & heart rate, shuts down non-essential systems (e.g.: digestion), revs up the nervous system, and releases energy.

b) The Parasympathetic NS on the other hand is the relaxing, or resting and digestion division. It is most active when the body is at rest allowing energy conservation and undertakes the body’s housekeeping: digestion, salivation, urination, defecation, drowsing and storing nutrients for later use. When functioning it lowers blood pressure, slows and steady’s the heart, encourages digestion and elimination of waste.

The majority of massage effects, with slow repetitive rhythmic, broad based compression such as effleurage, are reflexive or indirect engaging the parasympathetic function promoting:
· General relaxation including sleep through
-decrease beta wave activity
-increase in delta wave activity –associated with sleep & relaxation.
-increase in alpha waves
· A diminishing effect on pain by the stimulation of the release of endorphins and pain reducing neurochemicals.

· Reduction of stress, anxiety and depression (by both the receiver and recipient) with
- a reduction in stress hormones cortisol, norepinephrine & epinephrine levels
-increase in dopamine & serotonin levels that are associated with stress and depression
· Improved circulation.-stimulates release of histamine.
· Improved immunity- decrease in cortisol
· Improved alertness- more balance.
· Feelings of well being or “feeling good’
Physically, mentally & psychologically.
· Neuro- endocrine effects- increases available level of Oxytocin (bonding) and Dopamine & Serotonin that are associated with stress and depression.

However this is not the first response of massage. The start of a massage promotes an instinctive protective reflex action, according to Fritz (2009) “initial massage stimulates sympathetic function”. The effect of which is decreased as “massage is slowed and sustained with sufficient pleasurable pressure” (Fritz 2009, p 138).
As the massage progresses, or is preferred, certain massage techniques are engaged, their “direction, speed and pressure’ (Salvo 2007) will further activate and stimulate sensory receptors and hence heighten the sympathetic function.

However no effects are exact, as there are many variants that will result in numerous differing degrees or levels of results.

2) The effects of massage strokes.

Touch /Holding: This establishes or ends contact, creating a calming reassuring effect ensuring no surprises for the client, helping reduce reaction or sympathetic response..
Effleurage: These are gliding stroke that begin, & end a massage or part thereof, as well as providing a transition between other strokes. It introduces touch, and enables assessment of the surface and underlying tissue engaging the parasympathetic nervous system.
Petrissage: Is a rhythmic kneading technique that milks the tissues of metabolic wastes and draws new blood and oxygen into the tissues.
Compression: or depth of pressure is applied in a rhythmic pumping action to a localised area of the muscle. It is used to stimulate circulation and nerves, and assists in breaking down connective tissue to make it relax and therefore more pliable.
Tapotement: Is a repetitive striking action undertaken in short bursts to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system. It increases the blood flow; aids in decongestion of the lungs by loosening and mobilizing phlegm, and among other things can desensitize hypersensitive areas after a few minutes.
Vibration: Enhances general relaxation by shaking, quivering or rocking movements and like tapotement allow access to deeper structures such as hip rotators.

3) Other effects of massage.

Blood Flow: Increases blood flow by dilation of blood vessels, improves blood flow by the mechanical action of the massage strokes and assists blood flow in the direction of the heart if massage is applied in that direction,
Lymph Flow: promotes the circulation of lymph and enhances the lymphatic system in the elimination of excess fluid and removal of waste.
Muscle tension: Massage relaxes the tense muscle thereby enhancing blood flow, and which may in turn relieve pain.
Connective tissue: Releases tensions and restrictions in scar tissue, the retention of nutrients, and promotes blood circulation around fracture sites and thus aiding the healing process and improving strength of healed tissue. It can also alter the shape of dimple causing cellulite but not its removal.
Sleep patterns: The stimulation of the parasympathetic ns facilitates relaxation and sleep with an increase in delta wave activity.
Digestion: Also activates the parasympathetic ns of which digestion is one of its functions.
Blood pressure: Massage dilates the blood vessels and thus decreases blood pressure.
Pain: Can be alleviated in three ways:
by the relief of muscle tension- instant relief,
the release of hormones-natural painkillers or endorphins- slow,
application of pressure- immediate but providing short term relief.

Mood: Activation of parasympathetic ns activity encourages relaxation, and increases level of Dopamine & Serotonin that are responsible for improving mood.
Concentration: an increase in oxygen levels from increased blood flow to the brain in turn enhances performance adn alertness, including concentration by the removal of stress, and relaxation of the body and mind in general.
Satiety: The feeling of satisfaction is a result of neuro- endocrine effects of increases in the level of Dopamine & Serotonin.
Bonding: As massage increases the available level of the hormone oxytocin associated with bonding, it therefore enhances improved bonding. While usually associated with birth and parent /child relationship it could also be applied to client/therapist relationship as according to Wikipedia 2009 one of its actions increases trust and reduces fear.

Class notes
Txt books

Fritz, S., (2009). Mosby’s fundamentals of therapeutic massage (4th ed.). Missouri: Mosby.

Salvo, S.,(2007).Massage therapy. Principles and practice (3rd ed.). Missouri: Saunders.

Wikipedia, retrieved March 27th 2009 from,

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