The Autonomic Nervous System is divided into two systems that have opposite effects on the body in stressful situations. The sympathetic nervous system which is the action division that speeds up body activity and the parasympathetic nervous system is the relaxation system that slows down body activity (Koslova-Fu, 2007).
The sympathetic nervous system serves all parts of the body and the parasympathetic nervous system serves the head and trunk.
Different situations can affect the effects of massage, such as the time of day it is being preformed, the therapist and how they are feeling and also if it is the first time the client has been massaged.
Depending on the strokes used, massage can have a stimulating or soothing effect on the nervous system. Applying vigorous manipulation, with light or heavy pressure such as compression, tapotement and vibrations will have a stimulating effect on the sympathetic nervous system. The slower, flowing, rhythmical strokes such as effleurage and petrissage are likely to have a stimulating effect of the parasympathetic nervous system.
The Effects of Massage
Different massage strokes have different effects on the body.
Touch/Holding - used at the start of a massage holding gives grounding for you and your client and at the completion of a massage confirms that contact is about to end . As this is the initial contact with the client it creates intention and trust. Touch is the only communication with the body and through this you recognise what is happening with the tissue. Touch can effect us physiologically, cognitively, psychologically, and emotionally. Jenni Fraser mentions touch as number 3 of 20 basic needs (Fraser, 2009). No wonder it effect us in so many ways.
Effleurage - induces relaxation and has a sedating effect on the skin. This is preformed with the whole palm and is applied with unbroken gliding movements that can be superficial or deep. Superficial movements used at the start of massage will prepare tissue for deeper massage and when preformed after deep massage it soothes the area. Also increases lymphatic and blood circulation while relieving tension. Effleurage can be preformed in any direction. Kris Proctor mentions transverse and longitudinal and explains the different effects they have on the tissue (Proctor, 2009).
Petrissage - is performed using kneading, knuckling, lifting, rolling pinching and wringing and will help to tone and relieve muscle fatigue by removing waste products from the tissues and increasing venous return of blood and oxygen.
Compression - is used for increasing circulation and warming tissue. By using compression on arteries and arterioles the flow of blood will stop. As the heart continues to pump pressure builds up behind the blockage. When compression is lifted larger amounts of blood rush forward warming the tissue. (Braun, Simonson, Howard & Sinclair, 2007).
Tapotement - comes in several different movements - hacking, cupping, pounding, which has a stimulating effect, helps to soften adipose tissue, increases sluggish circulation, stimulates sensory nerve endings and improves muscle tone and response. Used at the end of a massage it will awaken the body.
Vibration - are movements performed with fingers tips or hands that include shaking, quivering, trembling and rocking. Contact remains with the skin during these massage strokes. Vibrations stimulate nerve endings when they are coarse, and induce relaxation when they are fine. Circulation is increased, also accesses deeper structures and reduces trigger points.
Other Effects of Massage
Blood Flow - effleurage and petrissage manipulations increase the blood flow in the arteries causing the blood vessels to dilate. This causes blood pressure to decrease.
Lymph Flow - Lymphatic vessels form a one way system in which lymph flows towards the heart. Lymph flows depends on pressure from adjacent skeletal muscles and changes in pressure in the thorax when you breathe or apply pressure during massage. Massage promotes this circulation which increased elimination of waste products and toxins more effectively.
Muscle Tension - Increased blood circulation brings extra oxygen and nutrients as well as aiding removal of waste to muscles. Reduces fatigue, tones weakened muscles, muscles that are tense and shortened can be relaxed and stretched.
Connective Tissue - Promotes bone healing as massage increases circulation around a fracture. A network of blood vessels is formed at the site. Where the fracture occurs callus is formed between and around the broken ends. Cartilage is produced and spongy bone then starts forming which is then replaced by compact bone.
Sleep Patterns - Massage increases delta brain wave activity. These are linked to sleep and relaxation. Clients have mentioned that they have a deeper sleep especially if the massage is in the evening.
Digestion -Is controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system. When stimulated by massage digestion is activated and not interfered with by the sympathetic nervous system.
Blood Pressure - this is the pressure within the large systemic arteries of the body. Systolic pressure is the peak pressure as the pulse passes. Diastolic pressure is the pressure between pulses. These both decline with massage as the blood vessels dilate and blood pressure decreases.
Pain - Massage activates general relaxation which has a diminishing effect on pain. Pressure on a specific area being massage will relieve pain.
Mood - With the effects that massage has on all the systems of the body, mental health status and mood has got to improve.
Concentration - By relaxing body and mind massage increases mental alertness and academic performance.
Satiety - Satisfaction can be gained by massage as it increases levels of hormones such as dopamine which reduce levels of stress and depression and also decrease levels of hormones such as norepinephrine that increase stress. Therapeutic massage can also satisfy the emotional needs such as touch, caring and acceptance for the client.
Bonding - Satisfying emotional needs along with touch will form bonding between the therapist and client.
My experience of massage is mainly for relief of pain and this has always been achieved. The different strokes do have different effects on the body as mentioned above. At this stage I consider massage to be an on going treatment for me due to the type of work I do, my posture and the conditions I have. Specific exercises along with the treatments help give extended relief from pain.
It is quite amazing how it effects the entire body and that within one massage session you can feel so different after the massage than you did before it. I am convinced that reqular massage maintains a healthier body.
Braun, M.B., Simonson, S. J., Howard, D. C., & Sinclair, M. (2007). Introduction to massage therapy. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
Fraser, J. (2009). The effects of massage strokes. Retrieved April 14th, 2009, from http://jennifraser-healinghands.blogspot.com/
Koslova-Fu, V. (Ed.). (2007). Cressy's beauty therapy fact file. Australia: Elsevier.
Proctor, K. (2009). The effects of massage strokes. Retrieved April 14th, 2009 from http://krisprocter-massagetherapy.blogspot.com/