If you’ve read my blog before, you know that massage has incredible effects on all areas of your body, and can be a complimentary treatment for just about all medical conditions. Massage provides positive outcomes for each of the twelve systems of the body. In order to understand how massage can help you and any illnesses you may have, it is important that you understand how the systems of your body work and what effects massage has on them. Check back on my blog weekly for a series of entries on each body system. This week: Your nervous system.
HOW DOES THE NERVOUS SYSTEM WORK?
Your nervous system is broken down into two smaller systems. Your central nervous system consists of your brain and spinal cord, while all of the nerves that branch off into your limbs make up the peripheral nervous system. The nervous system as a whole is a complex network that sends signals to and from your brain. Your autonomic nervous system is a branch of the peripheral nervous system which controls the functions of your body that you don’t have to think about. Your heartbeat, digestion, and cellular reproduction are three examples of functions that are controlled by your autonomic nervous system. Can you imagine how difficult things would get if you constantly had to think about making your heart beat?!
Neurons are specialized cells in the nervous system. They are the nerves responsible for carrying signals back and forth throughout the body. There are different types of neurons.
Sensory neurons send signals up your spine via the afferent pathway. These neurons tell our brains about our environment; what sights, smells, textures, and sounds are near. These neurons are what are telling your brain that you are looking at a computer screen right now. Motor neurons send signals from our brain to our body via the efferent pathway. These signals are currently telling your eyes to move across the computer screen as you read the words.
WHAT DOES MASSAGE DO FOR YOUR NERVOUS SYSTEM?
The most important effect, and probably one of the most common reason people get a massage, is the relaxation of over worked nerves. In short, massage has a calming effect on the body, in particular the nervous system.
On the flip side of that, massage can also stimulate your nerves. Many athletes seek an invigorating massage called “sports massage” before the big event. This type of massage not only warms up the muscles, but rejuvenates the nerves – wakes them up, so to speak. This action makes the athlete more aware and quicker to respond. Whether or not massage calms or stimulates nerves depends on the type of massage given.
Receiving massage is also a vital aid for your sensory nerves in communicating painful areas to your brain. How many times have you been getting a massage and said, “Wow, I didn’t even realize I was sore there!” This is called the biofeedback effect, and it brings your attention to areas of the body where tension is being held.
Massage can have a stabilizing effect on the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for your “fight-or-flight” response. This system is responsible in the actions that use up energy in the cells of the body. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the restoration of energy used by the sympathetic nervous system. Both play important roles in human survival.
Fibromyalgia is a disorder in which the patient feels pain in their musculo-skeletal system. The pain is constant, and not completely understood. It is thought that the pain is caused by the brain processing pain signals in a way that amplifies the sensation. Massage has been shown to have a calming effect on the brain, and beneficial outcomes for fibromyalgia patients. This is probably due to the relaxing induced on the nerves throughout the body.
The short version of this blog is; “Just get a massage.” If you’re not sure if massage is right for you, talk to your doctor. I have never known a doctor to say that massage is against the rules of your health care routine. Always remember that massage should not be considered an alternative form of medicine, it is only complimentary. You should always follow the advice of your primary care physician. Hopefully, he tells you to get lots and lots of massages!
The Body Systems Series