Most people wouldn’t dream of driving their car without ever changing the oil; a car is a major investment, and ignoring warning signs could lead to expensive repairs, right? Ironically, many overlook important warning signs from their own body. A driver may be so attuned to their car to notice a slight pull to one side; yet the same individual doesn’t recognize a slight pull on their lower back that’s unbalancing their body’s structure. There’s an assumption that as we age, our bodies should feel more aches and pains. Any car aficionado will tell you that proper maintenance will keep a car running for decades, why should our bodies be any different? Massage therapy is a viable option for body maintenance.
A therapeutic massage could, in essence, be compared to a twenty-one point oil change: regular maintenance for better handling daily excursions. In today’s society, stress is abundant. There are demands at home, at work, and even “smart” technology that gives others twenty-four hour access to our personal time. Though it has a negative connotation, stress is necessary- chronic stress is not. We need the sympathetic system to kick our bodies into action when needed: avoiding an accident, athletic competitions, and for adrenaline based activities. While the parasympathetic state does seem like a form of paradise, we wouldn’t want to be an ambulance passenger with a driver stalled in parasympathetic response. Finding a balance between the two systems is essential for our body’s well-being. How do the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems affect the body, and, what role does massage therapy play in their balance? Glad you asked.
The sympathetic system is also known as the “fight or flight” response. In this state heart rate increases, pupils dilate, sweating increases, saliva production decreases, and digestion decreases. What does this mean? Essentially, the blood is circulated away from core organs, muscles tighten, and digestion slows. Not only can this state leave you feeling fatigued and with sore muscles, but it can put tremendous pressure on the heart. Remaining in this state can lead to chronic stress conditions such as headaches, backaches, neck pain, eyestrain, poor concentration, anxiety, depression, irritability, anger, high blood pressure, heart disease, ulcers, physical and emotional exhaustion. Essentially, a “check-engine soon” warning.
On the contrary, the parasympathetic system elicits the opposite body responses: slower heart rate, improved digestion, increased circulation, reduced muscle tension, boosted immune system, and improved mental clarity. While living in a constant parasympathetic state is unrealistic, massage therapy can help the sympathetic system take a much needed rest.
Relaxation, or Swedish, massage is a good introduction to the world of massage therapy. Using oil or cream, the massage therapist will manipulate tissue through a combination of kneading, effleurage, friction, tapotement, and vibration. All of these techniques are aimed at improving circulation, range of motion, and promoting relaxation. Improved circulation helps bring necessary nutrients to, and toxins away, from muscle cells, additionally, the body’s natural painkillers are released. Common responses and benefits of therapeutic massage are decreased fatigue, reduced pain, increased immunity, reduced stress, alleviation of headaches/migraines, improved digestion, greater range of motion, improved posture, reduced anxiety, increased energy, better quality of sleep, and an increased sense of well-being. Often, those under chronic stress have decreased body awareness, and are unconscious of tension patterns. Aside from reducing pain and muscle tension, massage therapy helps bring awareness and focus to the body so that individuals are better able to self-correct unneeded stress.
While we do need stress in our lives, chronic stress, without the body’s opportunity to rest, can be detrimental to health. When was the last time you scheduled your body maintenance appointment? Take time to rejuvenate and relax, get a massage. Your body truly needs it!