The Benefits Of Massage
|The general function of the body is enhanced when it is in a relaxed state. Massage, therefore, influences the whole body in many different ways. Some of its beneficial uses are to increase the circulation to an area like a muscle or a joint; to reduce pain; to relax muscles; to relax the recipient; to increase the circulation away from an area and assist drainage of fluid.|
| It is very instinctive and natural to "stroke" someone if you want to make them feel better. Equally natural and involuntary is for the person receiving the stroking to relax.|
The process is likely to be a two-way emotional exchange. Receiving a massage gives the recipient a feeling of being cared for. Giving may subconciously impart the feeling of being accepted to the giver.
The Body's Nervous System
| The body contains a system of nerves whose job is to monitor its own internal and the external environment. Information, in the form of electrical impulses, travels along the nerves to the brain which, in turn, stimulates the body to adapt to any changes. For example, if the external environment is cold, the body will adjust by shivering to produce heat and by shutting off the blood supply to the skin to cut down further heat loss.|
This very complex system is called the autonomic nervous system. It is responsible, on an unconcious level, for all bodily functions and for maintaining the body at optimum health, called homeostasis. If the external or internal environment spells "danger" then the system responds by raising the blood pressure, preparing the muscles for work and increasing the breathing rate. When the "danger" is over, the system causes the muscles to relax, the breathing to slow down, and the blood pressure to lower.
Thus, relaxing the body and the mind stimulates the autonomic nervous system toward achieving optimum health by enhancing bodily functions. Digestion improves, blood pressure reduces, painkilling chemicals are released, hormone action is balanced. Massage can have a great influence on the autonomic nervous system through its soothing effect on the nerve endings in the skin and the calming down of the whole body.
| Most massage involves the direct contact of hands on skin. The massage affects structures lower down. Underneath the skin is a layer of tissue containing nerves, arteries, veins, lymph vessels, and varying amounts of water and fat. The latter two give the skin its quality and appearance, and a re responsible for the great variety of external shapes. The next layer down is the muscle layer which covers almost the whole body. In some areas there are three layers of muscle; in others only one or two. All the layers are worked on and influenced by massage.|
Muscles can take a fair amount of pressure and stretching. It is therefore safe to massage all areas covered by muscle as long as the pressure is acceptable to the recipient. Areas like the abdomen and neck need careful treatment, and bony areas should be avoided, as pressure on them can cause pain. Massage affects muscles in many ways. It increases the local circulation, helps to get rid of waste products in the tissues, reduces spasm and tension, and tones up muscle tissue.
| In an adult, 10 pints of blood circulates and supplies every tissue and organ. The heart circulates more than 1500 gallons of blood every day, pumping it first into the large arteries and then into smaller vessels called arterioles and capillaries. Continuous with the capillaries are small venules which carry the blood into larger veins and back to the heart. Having first visited the lungs for its oxygen to be replenished, the blood is pumped out again.|
The heart exerts enough pressure to push the blood along the arteries, but by the time it arrives in the veins, the pressure is reduced considerably and the blood needs the compressing action of muscles to help it along. The movements of massage help to push blood long the veins. Some strokes also improve the circulation along the arterioles and capillaries to areas like skin, hands, and the feet. Enhancing the general circulation is perhaps the most important effect of massage.
| Lymph is a fluid which is distributed throughout the body with the blood. As the blood passes through the very tiny capillaries, the lymph seeps out, taking with it oxygen and nutrients. In the tissue spaces, it surrounds every cell and supplies it with nourishment. On its return to the heart, lymph picks up the by-products of cell functions, waste products, viruses, and bacteria and takes them through a separate system of vessels to the blood called lymphatic vessels. These lead to filters called lymph nodes, where the lymph is treated and filtered before returning to the heart.
Lymph also relies on the action of the deep muscles to create compression and move it along its vessels. However, in the layer just below the skin, the lymph fluid has to find its own drainage, as very little muscle action exists there. If there is any blockage along the way, or if too much fluid is produced, lymph tends to accumulate creating swelling, known as edema. Very light massage strokes help to drean lymph fluid and so reduce edema.