Friday, March 27, 2015

The Magic of Magic of Massage: How Touch Heals

 What do you do when you bang your knee? You rub it! What is a child's first impulse when she falls off her bike? She runs to her mother for a hug. 

We all know on a intuitive basis that touch is comforting, soothing and reduces pain. But as  Certified Massage Therapist and a curious person,  I wanted to know exactly how and why massage works. So I did some research and was amazed at the amount of information out there!

Exactly how does massage help sore muscles feel better? 

The standard answer to this question is that massage increases circulation which flushes inflammatory biochemicals from the muscles. This is certainly true, but science now shows us that massage goes even deeper, right down to our genes.

Mark Tarnopolosky, a neurometabolic researcher at McMaster University in Hamilton Canada,  injured his hamstring while water skiing. His doctor recommended massage therapy, and to his relief, he found massage to be effective at reducing pain.  This piqued his curiosity and so he organized a study:

Eleven men agreed to exercise for the good of science. They underwent a grueling workout riding stationary bicycles,  that left them with sore and damaged thigh muscles. After they finished, massage therapists massaged one of their legs. The researchers took three tissue samples from each leg:  one before the work out, one after the work out and one after the massage and compared the genetic profiles of the three samples.

The researchers found  more indicators of inflammation and cell repair in the post work out samples than the pre work out samples. This is not at all surprising. But was surprising was the difference in genetic make up of the massaged leg and the un massaged leg tissue samples. The massaged legs showed 30% more PGC-1alpha, a gene that helps our mitochondria (the energy producers in our cells). The massaged legs also exhibited less NFkB a substance that turns on genes associated with inflammation.

So it appears that massage turns on genes that promote cellular repair and reduces inflammation by inhibiting genes that associated with inflammation. 

As wonderful as this is......Massage does much more!

Massage has been found to strengthen our immune system, reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure and heart rate.

Basically, we have two parts to our nervous system: the para sympathetic and the sympathetic. The Para Sympathetic nervous system helps us to digest our food, rest, regenerate and restore. It is characterized by the Relaxation Response-lowered heart rate and respiration, relaxed muscles, and lower blood pressure.

The Sympathetic Nervous System prepares us to either fight a threat or flee. It is characterized by increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and muscular tension. 

Many of us are in fight/flight mode most of the time. This is because the demands of modern life: jobs, kids, trying to do so much in so little time, triggers our fight/flight response. Past traumatic experience,genetics and lifestyle can also effect our tendency to live in fight/flight. Our bodies do not know the difference between the stress of being  late to an important meeting and being chased by a tiger.

Massage activates the Para Sympathetic Nervous System and the Relaxation Response. As we move into the para sympathetic system, the stress hormone Cortisol is reduced. Chronically elevated levels of Cortisol reduce the strength of our immune system.

The immune systems of 45 healthy adults were measured. The adults were divided into two groups: One group got 45 minutes of light touch and the other group got 45 minutes of Swedish Massage.

 Researchers found that the group that received massage had substantially stronger immune systems. They had more white blood cells--including natural killers cells which help us fight viruses and other pathogens and less cytokines which can be associated with autoimmune diseases. 

Immune System fighting a Virus

Additionally, massage and touch in general, enhances the production of Oxcytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone which encourages bonding, relaxation and general well being. 

Finally, it may be possible to transfer positive emotions to others through touch

Dr. Dacher Keltner, Co Director of Greater Good Center at UC Berkeley,   wondered if emotions could be communicated by touch. In his lab, he built a barrier that separated two strangers. One person put his/her arm through the barrier. The other person was given a list of emotions and he/she was given the instruction to try and convey the emotion(s) through a once second touch. The person who was being touched had to guess the emotion. 

Given the number of emotions, the odds of guessing the correct emotion was about 8%. But surprisingly, the participants guessed the emotion of compassion with 60% accuracy and other emotions at about 50% accuracy. 

Touch is its own language and form of communication. Healing touch can benefit us on all levels. I always endeavor to communicate with my hands the intention to heal and benefit the person I am working on. I see the client already healed and whole, vital and happy. I share with them the energy of love and compassion. 

"To touch is to give life," Micheal Angelo said and he was right!

So next time you feel tired, stressed and sore 
book a healing relaxing Massage! 

In Health and Happiness,
Sue Schmidt CMt
Sue Schmidt CMT


"Hands on Research: The Science of Touch," Dr. Dacher Keltner, Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life,

"Touching Makes You Healthier", Norine Dworkin-McDaniel,

The Mystery of Massage Unmasked-Science Now, Gisella Tellis,