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 integumentary system.
HOW DOES THE INTEGUMENTARY SYSTEM WORK?
Your integumentary system consists of your skin, hair, nails, and exocrine glands. The skin is the largest organ in the body, with the average person’s skin weighing about ten pounds. The skin protects internal structures from damage, disease, and harmful substances such as UV rays. It also is an absorbent layer, taking in vitamin D from the sun, as well as nutrients from other substances that land on your skin. Your hair and nails extend from your skin to reinforce the skin and protect your body from environmental dangers.
For example, hair is placed strategically around your body. The hair on your head protects the delicate skin from UV rays and helps to hold in much needed body heat through the winter months. Your eyebrows prevent sweat from dripping in your eyes. Your body hair allows you to detect weightless parasites (such as mosquitoes) on your skin. Your pubic hair prevents harmful microorganisms from entering the openings of your sexual organs.
Nails are hardened keratinocytes, and they protect your finger and toes from damage during daily activities. The hard structure allows for scraping and handling of objects without damaging the skin.
An exocrine gland is a gland that secretes a substance outside of the body, instead of within. (We’ll talk more about glands in a couple of months when we explore the endocrine system.) There are three types of exocrine glands involved in your integumentary system.
The sudoriferous glands are sweat glands. They release sweat to the surface of your skin. There are two types of sudoriferous glands. The eccrine glands release sweat to the surface of the skin as a means of regulating body temperature. When your body overheats, the eccrine glands secrete sweat that cools the skin by evaporation. Apocrine glands are not active until puberty, and are associated with hair follicles in the armpits and pubic region. These sweat glands are activated during times of high emotional stress, such as nervousness, fright, or sexual arousal. Bacteria on the skin break the sweat down into odorous fatty acids, causing what is known as body odor.
Sebaceous glands secrete a waxy substance called sebum to the surface of the skin. This gland is found throughout the skin, except for the thick skin on palms of the hands and soles of the feet. The waxiness of sebum maintains the elasticity of the skin, and acts as a water-proof barrier, so your skin does not dissolve!
The final exocrine gland is the ceruminous gland. This gland secretes what is called cerumen, or ear wax. Cerumen is a lubricant for the ear drum, and also serves as a protective layer that catches pathogens trying to enter the ear canal.
WHAT DOES MASSAGE DO FOR YOUR INTEGUMENTARY SYSTEM?
The most obvious benefit of massage for your integumentary system is aided removal of dead skin cells. Most people can exfoliate their skin just fine with a loofah in the shower, however for some people places like the back are hard to reach. For some people with disabilities, they may even have issues reaching their lower legs or feet. Many times in massage sessions, I have been working on a client’s back and as the lotion absorbs into their skin increasing the friction, small rolls of dead skin cells slough off. This allows the skin of the back to be healthier as the dead skin cells cannot block off pours and cause back acne.
The skin is the initial contact between two people. The therapist touching the skin of the client sends signals from the sensory nerves in the skin to the brain, telling the body that it is time to relax.
There is evidence that regular massage can also increase the elasticity and vitality of the skin as well. This is suggested because massage increases the flow of blood to the surface to skin, thereby increasing the number of nutrients carried to the skin. Remember, blood functions as a transport mechanism for oxygen and nutrients to the structures of the body. Therefore, massage can improve the overall health of the skin, and helps to promote clearer, softer skin. Increased blood flow also means that injuries on the skin can heal quicker.
Massage has a number of benefits for every system of your body. If you’d like to learn more, subscribe to my blog. I post informational posts every Monday! As always, please remember that massage is not an alternative form of health care. It is only complementary. Please always follow the advice of your primary care physician. If you have any question about what massage can do for you, just ask a massage therapist!
Body Systems Series
Benefits of Massage for the Integumentary System by Thomas Goodrich, Thomas Goodrich Therapeutic Massage
Human Skin by F. John G. Ebling, Encyclopaedia Britannica
Integumentary System by Inner Body
Integumentary System Benefits by Jacqueline Newholm, Galen Therapy Centre