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Benefits of Massage and
Soft Tissue Manipulation
Massage falls under the wider banner of soft tissue manipulation (STM), which are techniques designed to influence musculature, connective tissue (such as ligaments and tendons) and the nervous system. The techniques can range from light strokes for lymphatic drainage, to very strong applications such as neuro muscular technique for breaking down fibrotic tissue. STM has reported benefits right down to the cellular level, which explains why massage can feel so good.
Muscle Function is Improved
Muscle function is controlled by mechanoreceptors which detect the strain and the rate of movement a muscle is undergoing. In our modern lives, these receptors adapt to the positions that we sit, stand and work in, resulting in stiff, shortened muscles. STM re-sets the receptors to the correct level, allows tense muscles to relax and in time allows flacid muscles to regain their strength. This then creates a feeling of balance and an ease of movement, since opposing muscle pairs work in harmony and not against each other. This also leads to an enhancement in performance and skill.
Increased Metabolism and Tissue Repair
The increase in blood flow to an area and improved drainage enhances metabolism, by increasing the rate of supply of nutrients and removal of metabolites. Hormones can more easily reach their target cells when fluid flow is enhanced. This improvement in function encourages faster tissue repair. In the case of injury, STM provides the stress patterns for organised laying down of collagen. This scar tissue is then stronger and more likely to be replaced by functional tissue. Old scar tissue can also be broken down, allowing chronic injuries to be improved.
There is evidence that STM produces endorphins in the brain. These are the natural hormones that make us feel good and are mimicked by opium and heroin. They provide a natural high. The rhythmic stimulation of STM can also induce lower alpha brain wave states such as found during meditation, rather than the faster beta states of normal life.
Pain is Reduced
The 'Pain Gate Theory' is based upon the fact that the nerves supplying touch sensations transmit faster than receptors that transmit pain. Overloading the touch sensations blocks the pain signals in the spinal cord, the brain therefore does not receive the pain messages and it is no longer felt by the individual. The increase in fluid flow also removes from the damaged area the substances that cause pain.
Venous Return and Lymphatic Drainage is Enhanced
This is performed through the external pressure supplied by STM and also by the changes it makes in the Extra Cellular Matrix (ECM) - the connective tissues surrounding every cell in the body. The ECM becomes less dense and allows tissue fluid to pass through it more easily, bringing nutrients to the cells and removing their toxic waste products.
Organ Function is Improved
STM affects not only the muscles but also the organs of the body. As blood flow is enhanced and tissues function more effectively at the cellular level, they also function more effectively at the organ level. A.T.Still , the founder of Osteopathy, manipulated organs from the outset, and this practice exists today as Visceral Osteopathy.
Fat may be Broken Down
It has been reported that adipose tissue may be broken down by the direct mechanical pressure of STM. The evidence is by no means conclusive, but the increase in fluid flow and metabolism will have a secondary effect in using up energy.
Hitchin Osteopathic Clinic, Old Park Dental Surgery, 72 Old Park Road, Hitchin, Hertfordshire SG5 2JT 01462 432609