The human body is an amazing work of art. It is an intricate network of cells, tissues and organs that have the uncanny ability to, under the proper circumstances, repair and rejuvenate. Given the right balance between diet, exercise, emotional stability and regulated stress, the body can maintain an environment conducive to healing. It’s when our bodies get out of balance that these physiological processes break down and cause problems. One of the oldest tools offered to humankind (or animal kind for that matter) is the art of Massage Therapy. It dates back 5,000 years to approx. 3,000 B.C.E with forms of massage emerging in India, also Egypt and China around the same time. We progress forward with Japan, then Greece and Rome. There was a time, before the more modern medical breakthroughs and the pharmacological industry, that medical doctors were actually trained in Massage Therapy as a method of healing injuries, relieving, pain, and preventing and curing illnesses. Unfortunately, there was a decline in the use of this healing method due to modern medicine. I won’t comment on the specific reasons that Massage Therapy is making a comeback as it pertains to the current medical treatment practices we have today, but I will comment on that fact that it is again being recognized as real viable option for helping the body heal itself. If we dive into the science of the body and the physiological effects of massage therapy we can begin to unravel why this art of soft tissue manipulation, coupled with many specialized modalities of massage therapy can help the body’s natural functions work better and promote healing.
The physiological effects of Massage Therapy are endless, ranging from effects on superficial muscle tissue radiating deep down to the cellular content of the body. Let’s take a common problem experienced by most people at some time or another, such as muscle tension, tightness, soreness, spastic muscles and so on. The cause could be anything from sleeping in a wrong position, a quick torque in the wrong direction, exercising, a structural deviation of the skeletal system etc. There are a plethora of reasons why our muscles ache. According to researchers at McMaster University in Canada, massage affects the activity of certain genes, directly reducing inflammation in the muscles – the same result you would get by taking aspirin or Ibuprofen that boosted their ability to recover from exercise. The body, through its own biochemical processes, can produce substances that have more affect on pain and inflammation than most modern pharmaceuticals.
Massage focuses on a couple of things. The first and most important is restoring the muscle fibers back to their natural balance. A therapist should look for shortened muscle fibers and through the implementation of certain massage techniques, one being deep tissue strokes, will stretch out the muscle fibers and help them bounce back to their proper state. This all by itself should relieve a great deal of muscle tension and pain. The other component to massage therapy is how it naturally stimulates the body’s own processes for healing and pain management. Massage accomplishes this by reducing the activity of proteins called inflammatory cytokines that cause pain and inflammation while also increasing the proteins that signal the muscles to produce more mitochondria (the cell structures that produce energy and help the muscles recover).
This is just but a taste of what Massage Therapy has to offer, and I am pleased that it is making a comeback. It has been a truly under rated craft. By working with the body’s own biological processes to enhance its function to promote healing and restoration just seems to make a whole lot of sense.