The Effects of Massage on the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)
Firstly we need to understand a bit about the ANS and what it does. From the Encyclopedia and Dictonary of Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health the word "Autonomic (aw"to-nom'ik) means - not subject to voluntary control. A.nervous system, the branch of the nervous system that works without concious control.
The ANS is responsible for controlling the functions of your internal organs and the glands that secrete hormones at a subconscious level. The ANS is split into two divisions that possess complementary responses. They are the Parasympathetic and Sympathetic divisions.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) dominates at reats and supports body functions that conserve and restore body energy. The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) requires body energy to respond as all the reactions of the SNS occur quickly. This is also know as the flight/flight response.
Now that we know some of the basics of what the ANS does we realise that massage can have effects on both divisions during a treatment session.
If the pressure from the therapist is to hard and uncomfortable or they are generallly rough, the SNS will produce it's flight/fight response making the client can become tense, ridgid, and voice a response or complain. Again if the touch is to light or in an area that is painful or the client doesn't like being touched the same response occurs.
If the therapist applies a comfortable pressure, make the client comfortable and relaxed, the client will become calm and the PNS will start slowing the heart rate, release endorphins and relax the whole body, mind and soul. This can help the client to contemplate additional options or solution to their everyday lives due to their relaxed state.
The Effects of Massage Strokes
Touching/Holding - Touch is important as it provides reassurance and comfort to a client. "Touch is more important than making physical contact with another person: it's a mindbody experience" (McCormack 1991). It is used to calm and relax clients as well as providing both physical and emotional comfort, used at the start and end of massage as a start and finish point.
Effleurage - The gliding stroke. This stroke is rhythmic and slow to facilitate the movement of fluid in the body eg blood and lymph. It can be used to assess the surface and underlying tissues of the body and as a bridging stroke between different areas. Effleurage helps aid the venous (heart) and lymphatic return, removal of chemical irritants and the interchange of tissue fluid. It also helps to increase and decrease muscle tone (deep & light) and can help restore mobility at tissue interfaces.
Petrissage - Has several different variations eg Kneading, Wringing, Rolling etc. Generally used to stimulate the nervous system and used after effleurage as it milks the tissues of metabolic wastes and draws in new blood and oxygen. Effleurage is usaually repeated afterwards to help flush wastes. Petrissage can help restore mobility between tissue interfaces and improve the appreance and mobility of subcutaneous tissue. It also helps to increase the strength and extensibility of connective tissue
Compression - Is a rhythmic pumping on muscles used to broaden the muscle and usually inducing the muscle to relax. It can be used to stimulate and area and increase local circulation. You can use Broad or Specific. Broad generally uses your palm or fist to asses tension level and can be used to aid circulation, muscle resting tension and lymph drainage. It can also be used in pre-event sport massage to stimulate muscle tone and arousal thus benifiting the athlete. Specific compression are non-gliding generally using thumbs, knuckles or elbows. Specific is more commonly used in trigger-point or myofascial release techniques.
Tapotment - Like Petrissage has several variations including Hacking, Pounding and Cupping to name a few. A very rhythmical firm-striking manipulation it is used to stimulate local circulation and muscle tone and to provoke muscle and tendon reflexes. Tapotment is used at the end of relaxation massage to wake the muscles up if the client has to go back to work or drive home. It should not be used immediatley after exercise because it can activate muscle spindles, causing cramp.
Vibration - Aslo has several differnt variations including Fine, Joisting/Course, Rocking. It is generally a shaking, quivering or rocking motion used to enhance relaxation and increase circulation. Vibration can also stimulate the peristalsis (muscular contractions) in the large intestines. It can reduce trigger and tender points and is activly used to wake up nerves.
Other Effects of Massage
Massage has lots of effects on different parts of the body, not only externally but internally as well. Evidence of this includes ;
- Increase of blood flow from strokes helping the circulation back to the heart. The increase also helps to deliver oxygen and nutrients and rid the muscles of waste products like lactic acid
- Blood Pressure is reduced due to the dilation or stretching of the blood vessels
- Lymph Circulation is helped through muscle contraction. As the lymphatic systems has no pump it relies on the actions of the skeletal muscles and breathing contractions to move around the body
- Muscle tension is relieved by making them more relaxed, reducing spasms by separating the fibres
- The pain cycle is interrupted and stress is reduced through the activation of the relaxation response and the release of endorphins, enkephalins and other pain-reducing neurochemicals
- Sleep Patterns , Concentration and Mood are changed through the process of massage. Low serotonum and dopamine levels have been linked to sleep/wake cycles, depression a lack of focus and poor attention spans to name a few. With the release of endorhins and the increase of serotonin and dopamine levels and the internal ebb and flow being slowed, people tend to sleep deeper and have improved mental health status and generally feel better in themselves. Massage is especially good for sleep if given late in the day
- Decreases adhesion formation on connective tissue to help facilitate normal pain-free movement of affected joints and muscle in the body. It also helps with the increased retention of nutrients in the bones like Sulfur and Phosphorus
- Digestion is improved through the activation of the relaxation response and the increase of peristaltic activity which moves bowel contents and intestinal gases
- Staisfies peoples emotional needs by catering to their attention, providing them with a caring and nurturing environment and a relationship that accepts them for whom they are, thus creating a bond through touch and communication. Massage can assist emotional expression with relaxation. Massage also increases oxytocin a neurohormone that enhances feelings of being connect and being taken care of
Spineuniverse retirieved 2 April 2009 from
The Physiological Mystery of Massage retrieved 2 April 2009 from http://www.ldpmt.com/My_Homepage_Files/Page10.html
Foundations of Massage - Charles & Vicki Tuchtan and David Stelfox - 2004
Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health - Miller and Keane - 1983
Massage Therapy - Salvo - 2009
Touch - Tiffinay Field - 2003